A summary of the structure of knowledge

In the final term of this year, I completed an online course on “Theory of Knowledge” from the University of Oxford’s department for continuing education. As part of this course, I have to submit two assignments. The first, which is a summary of the structure of knowledge and limited to around 500 words, was due on the 5th June and I am posting a copy of it below.

A summary of the structure of knowledge

According to Pritchard (2014), we can distinguish between two types of knowledge: knowledge of something or knowledge of how to do something also referred to as propositional knowledge and ability knowledge respectively. It is the first of these that we are interested in in this summary.

Knowledge is valuable because knowledge has instrumental and non-instrumental value. Having knowledge is instrumentally valuable in the sense that it helps us achieve our goals, but it is also non-instrumentally valuable in the sense that having knowledge enriches our lives in and of itself.

To claim to know something is to make a claim or a proposition that a) you believe something and b) that your belief is true. If I claim that it is raining in London while I am living in Lausanne, and assuming that I have no ill intent to deceive those I am talking to, I am making a proposition which I must ultimately believe – how could I claim it was raining if I didn’t ultimately believe it to be so? Intuitively it seems that we cannot claim propositional knowledge if we don’t first believe it.

The claim that we know something “aims at” truth, to use Pritchard’s (2014) phrase. Claiming knowledge intuits at the truth of reality. We don’t normally count someone who holds a false belief as holding knowledge of something. For example, in a pub quiz, someone could be said to be knowledgeable of the topic in question if they hold what is commonly accepted as the “correct” or truthful response. Someone who incorrectly or falsely believes the answer is another proposition cannot be said to know the answer.

Thus, we can say that truth and belief are necessary conditions of knowledge. However, a guess (like a bet) that gets to the truth of the matter (that turns out to be true) is also a claim that contains truth and belief but is not considered knowledge. Under normal circumstances, someone who wins at roulette with the number 29 can’t be said to know that 29 was the correct number, but they did have a true belief that 29 was the number.

Therefore, to count as knowledge, a claim needs have more than truth and belief, it also needs to be justified. Knowledge has historically been counted as justified true belief. All three of these elements are necessary conditions for knowledge but on their own, they are not sufficient conditions for knowledge.

For example, Gettier cases show us that justified true belief isn’t always enough for knowledge. By luck, some agents can still hold true beliefs that are justified but that we would not normally count as knowledge. In the case of an agent who “knows” the time by looking at a stopped clock, if they look at the clock at the “correct” time even though the clock has stopped they will have gained a justified true belief, but they will have done so by luck. If they had looked at the clock five minutes later or five minutes earlier they would have acquired a false belief (Pritchard, 2014).

So, we also need more than justified true belief. We still need to consider the type of justification that is used when combined with true belief. More specifically we need to consider what supports our beliefs in order for them to be justified. There are normally three ways of considering this: a) beliefs do not need to be grounded on anything b) beliefs can be founded on an infinite chain of justifications c) beliefs can be grounded on a circular chain of beliefs. The different schools of thought of infinitism, foundationalism and coherentism offer different responses to this trilemma.

Justification and the support needed for belief is closely linked to rationality. Normally only rational beliefs would be considered knowledge. We can think of a judge who reaches their decision either by weighing up the evidence presented or on the basis of their emotional or prejudice. A judge who rationally weighs up the evidence to reach a verdict can be justified in their true beliefs but a judge who doesn’t, can’t be. However not all rationality is linked to finding the truth and to justify our beliefs we should be concerned with having epistemically rational beliefs. Pascal’s wager is a good example of the difference between epistemically and non-epistemically rationality. In the same vein, we need to consider whether agents can or should be held responsible for their beliefs.

Are people responsible for paying attention to how their beliefs are formed? Can we count a belief as knowledge if the agent in question has not considered how they have formed their belief?

References

Pritchard, D. (2014) What is this thing called knowledge? 3rd edition. Routledge.

 

TOK Logical Fallicies Activity

I am a regular listener to the skeptics guide to the universe podcast, which aims to promote science and critical thinking. I am not 100% sure how I came across this podcast but I think it was one of many that I initially subscribed to when I was in the planning and generating ideas phase for the delivery of my TOK course for the first time – just over a year ago now.

I do this thing with podcasts, where I subscribed to lots of them at any one given time and will listen to an episode or two before deciding whether to continue the subscription or unsubscribe. The SGU has borne a lot of fruit for my teaching. It is genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny and packs punch. The panel of speakers are engaging personalities and the topics fairly diverse, readily supplying classroom material for my Biology and TOK classes.

A recent episode (#574) of the SGU featured a segment discussing a 1st July 2016 Washington Post Editorial written by a psychiatrist who believes in demon possession. The article itself is a great resource for any TOK classroom discussion but the SGU discussion adds an additional dimension by walking students through sections of the article and explaining the logical fallacies implicit in those sections.

In the TOK classroom this article and the SGU discussion would fit in nicely after a lesson that introduces students to Reason as a WOK and logical fallacies. The SGU has a resource page that describes different types of logical fallacies, and this website also provides a nice interactive description of common logical fallacies.

So next year I when covering this topic I will introduce the idea of logical fallacies to students using these resources and with some activities that require students to identify the type of logical fallacy present in a variety of statements.

In the second lesson I will give them the Washington post article and ask them to identify one or two logical fallacies in the article individually before pairing up to share the fallacies they have identified before snowballing up to a whole class discussion of the article. We can then listen to the SGU segment focussing on the same article to see how much agreement we have in the class.

I provide a clip from the SGU episode as well as a pdf copy of the Washington Post editorial.

Article

Download (PDF, 257KB)

Podcast clip

 

 

15-16 Term 3 Week 2

Monday

An early start 0630 into school, after washing the minibus in order to bring the IA kit back into school. Much time spent hanging up tents and re organising the kit store, making a list of items that need to be re purchase. My G10 lesson was swapped with English (I will have it back in two weeks) which freed up much of the morning for planning the next stages of the IA as there is another expedition leaving at the end of term and this time we are taking students to an area that we have not used before. Therefore maps need to be purchased, campsites booked, checkpoints identified, photographed and recced. I also used this morning to put an impassioned plea to SLT about need for support for IA to be protected next year. I am still awaiting a response…I also managed to discover and book a new campsite in the Valleé du Joux for the G11 Focus week happening this September. This place seems quite exciting as it is a tipi village and looks like a great place to take the kids to have fires, marshmellows and BBQs in the late summer for one night. I have also made some progress in planning that event which happened quicker than I thought.

Just before lunch my line manager and I had training with BridgeU, the new university guidance platform that we will utilising as a school going forward and the upshot from this is that we have arranged a session in May to roll this out to our student group in grade 11.

In the afternoon I took my G11 Biologists. We ran the following practical before the kids began preparing presentations on antibiotic resistance in bacteria and the changes in shape of Finch beaks on Daphne Major.

Download (DOCX, 37KB)

I took these videos of the practical in action

Tuesday

Tuesday morning was spent primarily on planning G11 and G10 Biology. I produced this workbook for DP Biology:

Download (PDF, 6.85MB)

I then went to a TOK planning meeting with my co-teaching colleague to plan the structure of TOK up until the bank holiday.

After lunch I taught TOK and G10 Biology. In TOK we continued with our investigation of religious knowledge systems; the students giving their presentations, before breaking out into a discussion that compared various features of the religions in the presentations.

In G10 Biology we recapped meiosis and homologous chromosomes before beginning to look at monohybrid crosses and simple patterns of inheritance.

Wednesday

In the morning I had a short cover of G7 French class before my colleague arrived. After that I had a two hour Biology class. Here we finished looking at Natural Selection. I opened the class by looking at the next 20 mins of Carl Sagan’s cosmos episode 2 (I had shown the first 10 mins in a lesson described here.)

Students then delivered their presentations that they had prepared in our previous lesson before break. After break we reviewed the exams that students had taken last Friday. Students used the rubric to review the questions they got wrong and to develop a strategy for revision before I went round and addressed individual concerns.

Download (XLSX, 13KB)

After this I had another cover lesson but after 15mins of waiting for the class I discovered they were actually having map testing and so there was no need for the cover…

In the afternoon I carried on planning DP Biology and created a workbook for topic 5.3 and started on one for 5.4.

Download (PDF, 47.24MB)

Thursday

On Thursday morning I finally finished packing up the dried tents from the international award expedition from the weekend before.

I spent most of the morning on administrative tasks: a little bit of time was spent on finding out about using BBC Horizon programs in my teaching. I have a lot of this digitally and I currently store them on a hard drive that I bring into school, however I would like to get them onto the internet so that I can share them with my students and I wanted to know how I could do that because all BBC Worldwide videos are blocked on YouTube. A short telephone call and I had an email address. I think that this may be possible if I have a password protected website.

I am also in the process of organising the schedule for a Dance production that will be shown in school the week after next. Well, I was under the impression that my role was simply to organise the schedule for classes to come and see the dancers performing a piece about the action potential in neurones and the affects of motor neurone disease on those neurones. However I seem to be the go to person for any questions about this event. I think it will be a great production but to be honest with everything on my plate at the moment in terms of international award, careers guidance and university guidance, I just don’t have the energy to bring to this task. I started the ball rolling this year, as I was involved in it last year, but other colleagues I would have expected to be more involved with it than me have been absolutely no assistance mainly because they are organising their own festival that is happening the day before, so I don’t blame them – but there is only so much I can bring to this production myself. Anyway some of the scheduling needed to be changed because some performances were clashing with the whole school photo because, despite approval for this event being given by the Head, no one placed this event in the school calendar. Basically its a mess, and I have to salvage what I can and move on.

In addition to this and a much higher priority in terms of my role at the school, I am organising a careers week for G10 and a careers afternoon for G8-11. I have had some parents offer their support and this week I started to pull on the university contacts I have and so on Thursday morning I began the process of contacting these universities.

I also spent a lot of that time this morning also finishing the IBDP Biology 5.4 workbook on cladistics as well as a powerpoint, shown below, which I will be teaching the week after next.

Download (PDF, 18.57MB)

the powerpoint:

Download (PPT, 12.56MB)

I have subsequently found a clip from BBC Inside Science about the Kakapo which I will use to introduce the topic of biodiversity and cladistics

In the afternoon I drove over to College Du Leman to attend an admissions talk from Oxford University. Here were my notes:

Oxford

No 1 in Europe or no2 in the world after caltech

Do they have a course that is right for you – got to be something you love and are passionate about

8 weeks. 40% more work – academic challenge are you ready for the academic challenge

High predicted grades

Academic and theoretical courses

Broad and compulsory courses at the start then students have more choice becoming more specialised

Joint courses are also available although not pick and mix

Normally these add on languages

Course vs career

60% of jobs do not specify the types of degree  you need

Careers service website

Tutorials the heart of the Oxford learning experience

Supervision at Cambridge

Weekly meeting – tutor talk about what you have read and essays that have been written. Got to love your subject. You have to talk and have to do your reading.

Choose course first, choose college or open application. Start UCAS application early deadline 15th October test registration written work and tests. 2 weeks notice for interview. Usually first 2 weeks of December results announced in January. Choose firm and insurance choices

Looking at possible academic ability and potential. Genuine subject interest need to be demonstrated outside of school and a suitability for chosen course

Don’t look at particular students or schools or don’t look at irrelevant extra curricular activities don’t look for well rounded individuals just in relation to the course unless it’s super curricular those that demonstrate subject interest

38-40 depending on course 6or7 in higher level subjects these are minimum requirements

Personal statements

Plan it over the summer first

Sell yourself

Check spelling

Check grammar

Be honest

80% academic – what have you done in school and out of school to demonstrate your subject interest

Work experience, future plans, extra curricular should focus on transferable skills

Tests stretch and challenge you used for interview shortlisting.

May want to see some written work to

Practise the past papers tests are timed

Interview lasts 2 or 3 days can be 2nd 3rd or 4th.

Test self motivation and ability to think independently. Tutorial rehearsal. Want to see how they problem solve. Practice thinking out loud. Speak about why they think certain things. Practice expressing thoughts verbally.

Everything is looked at as a whole. Engage and explore your subject. Listening to podcasts, reading and watching.

After the admissions talk I drove back to school for a meeting with my line manager and programme coordinators to discuss the school policy for allowing students time off lessons to attend visiting university presentations and days off to attend open days.

Friday

Earth Day. A humiliating start to the day when at 0805 a senior colleague frantically runs over to the coffee machine as myself and another colleague are helping ourselves to the days first beverage and says “We need to turn this off; we are sending a terrible message to the kids”. I assume that they were talking about the electricity the machine was using and not the fact that we were guzzling coffee before we could even greet each other in the morning…

Today I introduced my grade 11 DP students to microbiology and aseptic techniques. I used the following protocols taken from the nuffield foundation website to run the practical:

1st An introduction to Aseptic techniques

Download (PDF, 331KB)

2nd An introduction to making streak plates

Download (PDF, 229KB)

We didn’t actually use any live bacteria in the practical but my technician had prepared a pretend inoculation mixture of sterile water.

Students were able to follow the instructions for the first part very well but when it came to streak plating they showed a reluctance to read the protocol (an ongoing phenomena I have observed this year – I don’t think I have ever taught a class so resistant to reading and following instructions).

The protocols could do with modifying to make them more student friendly.

After this the rest of my day was spent on international award planning. This time, I was checking and recce’ing the routes and checkpoints for our bronze qualifying journey as it will be in a new location this year. Last year we took the students to Verbier, but the terrain was far too difficult for this level and the team ended up very demotivated. So this year we are taking them to the Valleé du Joux in Vaud. I spent most of the day in the area, hiking up to checkpoints I identified and photographing them.

Back at school around 3pm I was able to upload the pictures and prepare the checkpoint handouts that we will give to students along with the maps and route cards so that they can plan their own routes through the checkpoints.

With the campsite for the expedition now booked all that remains is to give the materials to the students and create the actual checkpoint cards, with the photographs, so that we can give these out to our students.

15-16 Term 3 week 1: Adventures with shopping trolleys..

Last week on Monday we returned to school for the final term of the year. At least my colleagues did; I was hauled up in bed with a stomach bug that I had caught from my 11 month old daughter! When I returned to work on Tuesday I was left feeling drained, washed out and wiped out – a feeling that took a surprising number of days (and early nights) to get over. Anyway this is what happened in my working life last week:

Tuesday:

A hard start to the working week. Seeing as I had missed Monday sue to illness I had also lost the planning time that I was banking on to get ready for TOK. TOK is a new subject for me to teach this year. While I relish the challenge of teaching a brand new subject and I am very interested in the subject content, I would be lying if I was to say that teaching this subject had not put me under a lot of strain this year. Not only is the concept of the subject wildly different to teaching a science subject, the style of teaching needed to make the subject inspirational is very different to what (I think) one needs to bring to a science classroom. It is unusual at to say the least. Basically it has been taking me at least two hours to plan each lesson, sometimes three, sometimes more. But it has been excellent at pushing me to go further with my teaching style; forcing me to make my teaching more discussion based. This week I had agreed with my co-teacher that I would introduce Religious Knowledge Systems as an AOK. After reading the relevant chapters from several textbooks I decided not to reinvent the wheel. After a google search I came across ideas on the links at the end of this post. Using mostly the ideas I found here plus those from the Dombrowski textbook, I created this powerpoint activities:

Download (PPTX, 57KB)

The video that is removed from the slide is religion good or bad can be seen here:

I also taught my grade 10 Biologists. In this lesson we recapped mitosis. I started the lesson with this hook which is essentially a review of the material we had covered at the start of this current unit:

I then had the students review the posters that they had made at the end of last term before working together to piece jumbled images of a nucleus undergoing mitosis together into a coherent, labelled sequence. Finally we completed a wordcloze exercise, summarising mitosis

Wednesday:

Originally I had a trip out this morning with several grade 10 and 11 students to go and hear some presentations from UK universities. However there was a  last minute cancelation which left me having to cobble a two hour DP lesson together in about an hour. This was actually a relief as I was worried about missing my G11 DP Biologists all this week as I would be out on Friday as well. This lesson was a great opportunity to get some review in of the topics covered so far this academic year. We started by brainstorming all the concepts and word related to biology with no filter as they came to our heads. We then quickly placed these into the relevant topics of the DP syllabus on the board. Students then created tedious links – you pick to concepts and have to link them together in a concept map via as many steps as possible. Finally students had to pick one word and definition to write up for the G11 word wall in the lab.

After break we returned to the second lesson where we recapped topic 5.1 “evidence for evolution” before watching the first 10mins of carl sagans cosmos episode 2 – one voice in the cosmic fugue as a hook into the concept of natural selection:

We then moved on to complete the first few pages of this workbook. In our first lesson next week we will carry out a beak finch practical and students will create the natural selection presentations.

Download (PDF, 11.22MB)

In the afternoon I had my first university visit. We hosted members of the European Universities Consortium – EHL; Bocconi; IE and Carl Benz School of Engineering. The presentations were engaging and following from my visit to Esade last week, they added to my growing knowledge of the possibility for studying in English on the continent for an undergraduate degree. I am very much enjoying networking and building relationships with communities outside of our school. I feel a real sense of pride when I meet these guests and give them a tour, while explaining what we are trying to do at our school. I was disappointed by the lack of turn out. We only had three students and three parents, but the universities seemed pleased at the end. I was also pleased to have more options for summer schools for engineering outside of the UK, but still in Europe. After the meetings I had a chat with one of our parents who lamented the fact that some of the parents of our G11 students were not aware that this even was happening. We discussed communication and I wondered what I could be doing better but I do think when it comes to comms less is more. This mum was suggesting further avenues that I could communicate to parents with but I already have four or five chanels through which I send info: ManageBac, Newsletter, Letters home, emails and messages in HR. I conclude that schools need to streamline the information they send out to one or two sources and encourage the teachers and parents to all utilise those. If different groups start using different avenues, information gets lost.

Thursday: 

This day saw me running round like a headless chicken with final preparations for the International Award Bronze Practice Expedition all morning, bar 15 minutes at homeroom time where I ran round, G9, G10 and G11 homeroom to publisce the visit from Westminster College UTAH and their talk on the US Education System. After that and checking with colleagues that they were happy to release kids early for the talk and then firing off a few emails to the spokesperson, I had a contract meeting with my line manager. At 10am I began the process of IA prep – printing off the maps and information for my supervisors and putting the staff briefing in place, before raiding the IA stores and organising the needed kit all into an IKEA shopping trolley so that it was ready to roll on Friday morning’s kit check. This was topped off by a lovely department meeting before lunch.

In the afternoon I taught my Grade 10 again. We began by reviewing the wordcloze exercise before using word, phrase sentence to learn and discuss about chromosome structure.

After the lesson, I had my second visit of the week. This presentation was much better attended and my guest gave a very succinct and helpful overview of applying to the states.

Download (PPTX, 3.9MB)

After the presentation, we had a tour and discussed the differences between teacher and counselor recommendations, and what type of information should be included in each. I thought that next time I do this then I should a) film the presentations to be included on this or another website and b) perhaps record a podcast interview of any specific questions like the difference between counselor and teacher recs.

Friday & Saturday:

International Award Expedition! Met the kids in the morning in the Dining hall at 0830. Collared by parent at 0810 would wanted to ask what happens in a lightening storm (can I have my coffee please!). Kit check and then on to the minbuses to start the hiking at 1000. I was ably assisted by some very reliable colleagues. All in all this was a successful expedition despite a very wet and wild night. I will not forget my G9 students up at 6am in the morning cooking noodles for breakfast on the Saturday morning.

This year we had built in an afternoon training session with the students in early October which I think really helped the process for many of the students.

Challenges for moving forward with award: route planning time (its currently to pressured in school) proposal to use HR time; time to produce presentations at the end of the journey; managing the stores.

Ideas from the week:

  • Next time we have university visitors to the school I will arrange to film their presentations and begin to build a library of these for the school website.
  • I may also arrange to run an interview in the recording studio and make a short podcast. Topics could range from admissions procedures to overviews of the education system in different countries to advise on writing personal statements.
  • The International Award is running well at school but we still need to tighten up a few areas like goal setting with the students and I need to find ways that next year we can do this. A closer working relationship with the CAS coordinator needs to be developed but currently there just isn’t the support structure to make that easy. In particular we need to identify more long term service activities that students can get involved with.