Integrating TOK into the IBDP

A summary of my week hosting #DPChat focussing on the integration of TOK into the rest of the IBDP.

With much thanks to the many educators who got online and joined the discussion that week and provided the ideas that I have collated here. These are people to follow on Twitter:

@tuckbarrows @alexbclearning @agudteach @simunderhill
@melloluiz2 @natalie_carman @jdesegonzac @soloelsie
@ian_huffaker @richard_royal @malikah_sheriff @AdrianvWJ
@JungnitschM @UzayAshton @steppescience @Elfdaws


The general consensus was that TOK integration is thought to be important for furthering students understanding of the subjects they are studying and also for helping students inquire more meaningfully about their subjects. A focus on TOK in subject groups enables concept centered and inquiry focussed teaching.

The need to justify ideas and insights is central to most classes and that integrating TOK terminology into our lessons on justification presents a great opportunity.

DP teachers need to understand they’re more than single subject specialists. Too many DP teachers see themselves as “just X” and separate themselves from TOK.

Teachers cannot understand TOK any better than the students if they have had no specific training on it. They think it is the subject whenever a problem is debated. So to use GMO in foods or not becomes a TOK link. This is NOT TOK and saying this is unhelpful.

Ways to integrate TOK

  • Train the faculty on TOK. The Cat 3 “TOK for subject teachers” is a great way to do this when deployed as an in school workshop.
  • Link TOK to CAS by asking TOK teachers to explain and discuss early in the DP year the term “ethics” in context and how this knowledge can be applied by students when reflecting on one of the CAS learning outcomes: “consider the ethics of choices and decisions”.
  • Collectively brainstorm the essay titles with the DP teachers. Can be conducted informally and allows for rich discussion. Insights from different subjects can also help the advice we give students.
  • During whole faculty  time, create an opportunity for DP subject teams to complete a blank template for their AOK’s knowledge framework. Promotes great discussions and helps Ts to learn about TOK reqs.
  • Carve out common planning time for TOK teachers and subject teachers. Have open conversations and invite staff into your classes is a great way to start a conversation.
  • Have a small TOK icon to signpost RLSs and TOK concepts in student materials in other classes- this is a visual reminder for all of us that there is potential for making TOK connections which we flesh out together in class.
  • Concept based teaching is one good way to incorporate more TOK into lessons. I also ask my students what they are currently studying in TOK & try to build lessons around that. Good way to get our kiddos involved, too.

Resources

IBDP University Admissions and English Language Requirements

A few weeks back, I ran across a US university admissions policy that required a TOEFL score for any international student applying to the college. This in and of itself isn’t necessarily unusual but I was surprised that this policy mentioned that only TOEFL and IELTS were acceptable as part of admissions to the campus.

When I followed up with my colleague on the other side of the desk, explaining that my students had IGCSE 1st language English and was studying English A as part of their IBDP program, I was told that they would still have to submit an IELTS or a TOEFL score.

I was really curious as to the reasoning behind this policy.

Now, I want to be clear, I get that putting together an admissions policy around language is not easy and presents a significant challenge. I also get that universities want to be fair and transparent to all of their applicants. I also understand that admissions colleagues are under pressure and accountable for the levels of English that the students have that are admitted onto their programs.

I also understand that in some cases there may be visa and immigration requirements that require an institution to make students take the IELTS or TOEFL.

But, when these factors don’t apply, it seems like madness to my mind to be asking students to undertake another test even it is one that they can “bag” easily.

Firstly it adds another (unnecessary) cost to families during a process that is already expensive. Secondly it adds another level of uncertainty and stress to students who don’t always understand the reasons for it. Often they see it as another test that they need to take multiple times to get the best possible score even though the university is only looking for a score above a certain number. Thirdly, IB students are busy! They have coursework in 6 subjects, plus their Extended Essay (4000 words) plus their CAS projects plus their TOK essay (1600 words) and presentation (10 minutes).

By asking these students to take an extra test just because that’s what your policy states and for no other reason than, this is what other institutions we compare ourselves to are doing then that shows that:

  1. You don’t understand the IB Diploma Programme
  2. You don’t know what students are actually studying in Group 1 subjects of the IB Diploma Programme
  3. That you really don’t care.

Aside from the very good detailed subject briefs that show the sheer volume of literature group 1 subjects require students to engage with the IBO has even gone so far as to produce a signed letter by the director general explaining the equivalence of language A subjects and what these subjects actually assess.

If you are a university and requiring IBDP students who are studying English in group 1 to take an additional test for the sole reason that they reside in a country where English isn’t the national language then I will be counseling my students to not apply to you. At the very best it shows that you don’t value international students enough to actually find out what they are studying and at worst shows that you don’t really care.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts…

IBDP induction

The last week in September was a week of firsts.

It was the first time that I presented at a conference and the first time that I ran an IBDP induction morning for my new year 12s.

Most induction programs happen at the start but what I know about how people learn tells me that spacing information out over a period of time is probably best for their long term retention of the facts.

There is a trade-off then, between front loading inductions which save time but probably doesn’t help attendees remember the material all that much and spacing them out which may maximise retention but takes a lot more time.

In fact one of my prior schools used to do just this, new staff induction was spaced out over the first term.

This year, I ran the induction morning at the end of week 5. This, I hoped, gave kids the chance to get used to the new routines and social dynamics of year 12 but was near enough the beginning of the program to not render the information meaningless.

The following were the objectives of the morning:

  • Introduce students to key information about the IBDP
  • Introduce our students to the Academic Integrity Policy
  • Introduce students to the idea of assessment, specifically formative and summative assessment and the difference between them.
  • Introduce students to the library, Questia and citations
  • Introduce some key ideas surrounding study habits

For the assessment activity we had a paper airplane competition where students were judged on the criteria below. If students asked to know what the criteria were we shared them but if they didn’t and just proceeded to make an airplane using their own assumptions about what the assessment criteria were.

Download (DOCX, 13KB)

When they came to be judged they were given one set of “feedback” against the rubric and a chance to resubmit.


The advent of educational genomics?

One of the first overseas school trips I accompanied was to the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference. Looking back, I feel immensely privileged to have been able to work in a school that supported giving students in year 12 the opportunity to visit a world leading scientific conference.

Most of the material was way above the heads of even these academic high achievers, however I could see the value for them in pure inspiration. For many kids the days contained many lightbulb moments. Kids would be super charged with ideas that, while they may not have understood all the details, they could see how they connected to what they were learning in school. These were certainly intellectually high challenge events for a 17yo.

I remember, as an accompanying teacher, feeling like I was undergoing solid subject specific CPD and many of the workshops that I attended as a Masters-degree holding biologist were concerned with a topic known a pharmacogenomics. This was 2009, the Human Genome Project had concluded four years earlier and there was much discussion about the applications of this research.

Pharmacogenomics holds, crudely, the promise that essentially, one day, we will be able to have our individual DNA sequence read quickly, in a GPs surgery, and drugs tailored to our particular genome. That medicine can be tailored to us so that we all get treatments that are most effective for each of us individually.

There is no doubt that this is the way that medicine is moving, albeit slowly and it is likely that if the light’s don’t go out on civilisation we will see some version of this in the next 100 years.

Reading Robert Plomin’s Blueprint it was striking to read a psychologist begin to explain how 50% of the variance of intelligence within a population can be explained by genetics. This means that the biggest, stable, correlation of educational outcomes is with the DNA within an individuals genome. Plomin goes on to explain that the shared environmental influence of children attending the same school and growing up in the same family accounts for only 20% of the variance in school achievement (and only 10% at university).

This claim begs the question as to what are the implications for education if genetics is the best predictor of educational success?

As  Plomin is keen to stress these predictions are probabilistic and not fatalistic. Just because genetics is accounts for 50% of the variance of educational outcomes, this does not mean that kids with the “right” genetic mix are pre-determined to do well, just that, on average, they will. He argues for going with the grain of genetics, and, in the case of parenting, working in a way that exposes children to opportunity but develops children alongside what they appear to be interested in.

I found many of these ideas fascinating and I am left with the question – will we soon be in the time of educational genomics? Will we be able to sequence our DNA and from the information have an insight into our psychology in such a way that we can tailor instruction to be optimal for us?

I suspect that the differences in the DNA and psychological make up in the 1st and 2nd standard deviations of the population will be so small as to make tailoring of instruction as effectively meaningless. The fact is, that children need, for a host of reasons, to be educated communally, and this creates a whole host of issues with regards to the personalisation of education.

Still it is an interesting idea..

My Favourite Quotes

Over the last few years I have been collecting quotes that I help me reflect and think about my thoughts, emotions and judgements in particular situations.

Acknowledging uncertainty

“I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken” Oliver Cromwell

I first came across this quote in the Ascent of Man – quite possibly one of the best television series ever made – and again recently while reading. Not only does this quote help me temper some of my own thinking about situations I encounter but it also helps me to evaluate my own claims about things I think I know.

I now think about knowledge in terms of certainty and uncertainty – for everything I claim to know I like to ask myself how certain I am that this is true, with the maximum being 95% – even the claims we think are completely true, could, ultimately turn out to be false.

The power of curiosity

“Be curious, not judgmental” Walt Whitman

I first encountered this quote as the desktop image for a colleague. I think it is safe to say that this colleague is one of two educators that have had a profound and lasting impact on my engagement with and thinking about teaching as a profession.

For me this quote challenges me to ask questions and hold back from arriving at conclusions. When we reach a conclusion about anything, we tend to close a door on that something and therefore lose some of the potential it may hold. For example, an idea I meet a lot when talking to families goes something along the lines of “the only universities worth attending are the Russell Group or the Ivy League” This is a value judgement but is this really true? How do we know this?

Killing my paranoia

“Never assume malice, when stupidity will suffice” Hanlon’s Razor

This is a new one for me and I came across it in Julian Baggini’s “How the World Thinks”. It went straight up on the IBDP common room wall (although I changed stupidity to ignorance). A great way to check one’s paranoia and emotional response to stressful situations life throws your way!

Confidence check

“The less someone knows, the more they think they know, and the more someone knows, the less they think they know” The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Are you over confident?

A a senior colleague once attended a conference on university admissions and guidance with me. They had said prior to going that this was an area they knew they wanted to improve in because they knew so little about it. A fine thing to admit. Admitting to gaps in our knowledge opens us up to new learning.

After our first meeting with parents where we discussed the generation of predicted grades, this colleague turned to me and remarked how much more confident they felt in dealing with parents about these issues.

Classic Dunning-Kruger.

Just a little extra knowledge (how much can someone glean from a day and a half professional conference) lead this colleague to immediately over estimate their own knowledge of the issues.

Beware your own confidence – if you think you are an expert on something or just think you know a lot about something, it is probably an indication that you don’t know that much at all and you need to keep learning!

Note to school leaders: you don’t need to know everything – in-fact admit what you don’t know – you will gain more respect and open yourself up to the possibility of learning.

What are the quotes that got you thinking?