News, Info and IB Student and Staff Blogs

November 21, 2015
by Ann Lautrette

How do we know what you know?

The answer to that question in an educational context is fairly obvious – Assessment. 

Exams, tests, IAs, Extended Essays, TOK presentations, orals, writing….

What seems to be a stream of never ending assessment.

And why?

Well, I suppose the reality of most of the assessment types I mentioned above is to sort students out, to rank them, to know who can get into what university, who’ll be able to study what subjects and so on. A lot of teachers, me included, don’t fully agree with standardised assessment. We encourage different ways of learning but we give them all the same exam in the end. The system is flawed if we make both fish and monkeys climb trees to show what they can do…


Of course, we are driven by the system. University requirements are what they are – they want to measure students against each other in the same tests to know who can do what in the future. But, of course, we need differences. If all students could score 7s in the sciences and maths and get into medical school we’d have a world full of doctors but no patients. If everyone could paint a masterpiece, compose a symphony or write a best seller, we’d have no more masterpieces or best sellers.

So being good in some areas is good, and not being so good in other areas is also good. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and that’s a very good thing for our world to function.

But doesn’t that mean we’ll do badly in some assessments?

Yes it does.

And that’s ok. We need to get over the notion that we have to do well in everything all of the time to be successful.

The important question is not ‘what did you get?’ The important question is ‘Did you do the best you could with the resources you have right now?’

And the next question is ‘ok, how do I increase resources to do better next time?’ Those resources might be knowledge, skills or something else depending on the context.

We’ll consider a context in a moment. But first it’s important to note that not all assessments are created equally. Final exams and things are assessments that we put a grade on to measure students by, but another type of assessment is happening ALL THE TIME!

The type of assessment we do to see if you know what we are teaching you, and decide if we need to teach it again, support you individually, try a different method, or we can move on because everyone knows.

This is the really useful assessment, and these happen all the time informally and on the way to final assessments. These are the assessments we use to know what and how to improve.

So a context for this discussion: We asked our year 12 students to do an assessment specifically to see where they were in their understanding of the major concepts in TOK. They had to write a blog post assessing claims made in their subjects using the Ways of Knowing and Areas of Knowledge. The results are, as expected, variable. TOK is not easy, although its easier for some more than others, as with everything else. However, as teachers reading their posts it’s given us the information we need to move forward from here.

What I want to discuss, however, is why we used the blog for an assessment, because I know some students didn’t like that. I think they didn’t like it because they didn’t want to feel like they are being publicly assessed.

However, IB assessment is not private. There is always an audience. Work sent to examiners has an audience. The Extended Essays go in our Library collection, and oral assessments are either live in front of an audience or recorded and sent to an audience. So instead of fearing that audience, students have to learn how to appeal to them. Students have a tendency to think that submitting a piece of work just to a teacher doesn’t require them to think about appealing to their audience – that the reader doesn’t matter in a piece of writing that isn’t published (I’m an English teacher: I’ve marked thousands of boring, badly proofread, poorly structured essays in my time) but nothing could be further from the truth! Posting on the blog heightens awareness of the reader – it makes it not ok to write something filled with errors, rushed and with no attempt to interest the reader. Quite simply, writing with the reader in mind will make for better writing.

There’s another important reason too for using the blog for this assessment and that’s the power of shared knowledge. Individually our students know a lot, but together they know a whole lot more. This is especially true when it comes to TOK. Students are beginning to notice that TOK has no content as such. You can’t just read the textbook and learn everything about TOK then write that all down in an essay. TOK is in fact, a mode of thinking. And what makes for success is the ability to apply that mode of thinking to content from other areas, like the IB subjects a student takes. So, if I was a student I may have chosen to write about claims made in English, Maths and Economics and I now know something about how TOK might apply in those areas, but I haven’t thought about how TOK thinking might work in Computer Science, Physics and History. Luckily I can head over to Wilson‘s blog and read what he thinks. I might agree, I might not, but if I don’t I will be exploring counter-claims, a very important aspect of TOK.

The other thing about TOK is that there is no one right answer. There is an infinite number of discussions which could take place in any of these Areas of Knowledge and so reading the thoughts of other students allows me to expand my own thinking, I can add to their claims, I can counter them, I can see how, for example, I might write about a claim in English very differently to the way I did it by reading Nathania’s post.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again here – reading each other’s blogs is one of the best ways to improve in TOK. If you want to improve your knowledge in Physics you read what Physicists think. Well there aren’t any ‘TOKists’ whose journal articles you can read to help you improve. I can’t help you understand how you might assess Mr Metter’s claim that “auxins in the root cause a negative geotropism because they are polarized.” (I don’t even know what two of those words mean), but Michelle can.

I definitely can’t tell you how to assess Mrs MacDonald’s claim that the number of atoms in 12 grams of Carbon-12 will be 6.02×10^23, but Arjun can.

I wouldn’t know where to start with Mr Master’s claim that ‘Economics is a study of how to make society and the world  a better place and maximise society’s welfare’ but Marcus did.

The point is, when it comes to TOK and how you can apply it to your subjects, what examples you can use to support your points, you (as a collective group) are the experts, not your core teachers. If you’re not reading each others blogs on TOK you’re missing out on the very thing which will make you good at TOK.

Remember the key question:’ok, how do I increase resources to do better next time?’

The answer here is: read the blogs highlighted above. And these ones…





They all did a good job of using the WOK in assessing claims.

No awards this week because of the assessment.

Next week – a review of our first student-run ATL Conference!


October 30, 2015
by Ann Lautrette

Claims and cold coffee

TOK is everywhere for TOK teachers. A simple visit to the mall turns Year 12 Cold Coffee experience thanks to Mr Thirkell, who tried some coffee in Bintaro Exchange and decided it would make a great real life situatio20151030_125821n for our Year 12 students.

So today, Kopi Ranger came in and presented their cold coffee product with a fascinating explanation of the way coffee is produced in Indonesia and a taste test of three different varieties of coffee. I learned something – I thought cold coffee was essentially just cooled hot coffee, but no. It turns out that cold coffee is made by soaking the coffee in cold water for 18 hours and this produces a smoother coffee which has less effect on the stomach.20151030_130637

They did make a lot of claims though. The use of Arabica beans, a halal product, different coffee flavours. How do we know any of this is valid? Well, as good TOK students would our students asked these questions and I was pleased to see that they’ve learned not to take claims with a pinch of salt.

We also had Ms. Williams come over to do some live science! – testing the PH values20151030_134327 of three different types of coffee. We’d really like students to reflect on how many different Areas of Knowledge and Ways of Knowing could be involved in what they experienced today:

Natural Sciences: How do the chemical and biological properties of the coffee products affect our sense perception?

The Arts: How does the creative labelling and language used to describe the product affect our beliefs in its validity?20151030_130654

Human Sciences (Geography): Does the geographical situation of the coffee beans influence the way we imagine it to taste?

Ethics: How ethically is the product produced from bean to beverage?

Indigenous Knowledge Systems: How did anyone ever know to make coffee? The visitors today told us indigenous peoples realised the effects on their goats from eating these strange ‘berries’. The goats danced! What would traditional coffee making practices look like versus the scientific process we explored today?

Is there any connection between coffee and emotion? Show any emotional distress in front of a Brit and they’ll ‘put the kettle on’ because we all know that a nice cup of tea makes everything better – is it the same with coffee?

Hopefully thinking about this can be part of a larger process of our Year 12s connecting their thinking in Core to their subject lessons. What kind of claims are made in Biology, in History, in English? And how are they validated differently in the different Areas of Knowledge?

This weeks blog posts have been connected to claims and the validation of them because that has been the major focus of our week. Audrey wrote a lovely post on the realisation that butter may not be bad for you after all (or so says The Daily Mail) and Andrew wrote about how altering pig DNA could provide organs for humans. Rayhan wrote an excellent post abBlog post of the weekout how we might personally disprove claims – even as a young child.

But the Post of the Week this week belongs to Winston for this informative, but highly engaging post about how to validate a claim.

Students, I urge you to read these posts and think about what makes them great: it’s not only the understanding and application of learning that is shown, it’s mainly the style – a blog post needs to be directed towards a reader, it needs to draw you in by talking to you in your own language, by using amusing examples, or things you can relate to. It isn’t academic in style, it’s not an essay. Make it your goal to think about the reader when you write.
Comment of the Week this week goes to Audrey, for reminding Josh that he should award himself Digital Badges! Thanks Audrey!BadgeComment




This week’s Blogger of the Week is Puspa, who not only shared a post about claims but wrote an endearing description of her mesocosm in Biology, her little beanstalk called ‘Jack Frost Anderson’ and posted a wonderful picture of herself proudly posing with her survivor from ‘the middle of the dry dirt and the dirty waters’ of her mesocosm.

bloggerofthe weekbadge







So bloggers, what does next week bring? Where will you push to develop your ATLs? How will you apply TOK thinking to your subjects and life in general? And how will you engage your readers?

Over to you.


October 29, 2015
by Ann Lautrette

On TOK and Chickens

On Tuesday morning I held a workshop for parents on TOK which I thoroughly enjoyed because I didn’t have to just present information. (Which, quite frankly, I mostly don’t enjoy because I feel like I’m boring everyone, including myself!)

I had quite a small group of parents who were perhaps taken by surprise with the format, but entered well into the spirit of the workshop with excellent discussions on key concepts in TOK.

We explored knowledge claims, the flaws of the Ways of Knowing, the perspectives of the Areas of Knowledge before attempting what is perhaps the greatest challenge of TOK: formulating knowledge questions. In this case the Real Life Situation was the existence of vegetables which I think is a genius idea for getting kids to eat them. In my house it goes something like this:

Child 1: ‘Mummy why do you always make us eat vegetables?’

Me: ‘I don’t’

Child 2: ‘Yes you do, we always have vegetables every day.’

Me: ‘No you don’t

Children: ‘we do…look at all the vegetables on this plate!’

Me: ‘Vegetables don’t exist…eat your food.’

And the Lautrette children happily eat all of their things we call vegetables which are not actually vegetables because they don’t exist.


Aside from that though the article does raise interesting knowledge questions, like:

Does a classification system validate knowledge?

Does language limit what we can know?

How can we define ‘existence’?

If you are interested in the basic concepts of TOK, here’s the presentation:

So what do chickens have to do with TOK?

Well, this week in my Core class we talked about rational and irrational thoughts, and the argument I put to them was that irrational thoughts are, in fact, based on a rational process, however that rational process is flawed. This is why irrational thoughts are often so believable.

So, let’s take an irrational thought: ‘All my teachers hate me!’

This is based on a process of reasoning which may go like this:

‘Mr x wasn’t happy with my effort’

Mrs x said my work could be improved’


‘All my teachers hate me.’

This is what we call inductive reasoning and in TOK reason is one of our Ways of Knowing. And we use inductive reasoning all the time. Stereotypes are a result of this as is anything where we leap from specific examples to a generalisation. But it is also a major Way of Knowing in the Human and Natural Sciences. We test and experiment on a representative sample, and then we generalise:

‘Studies show that women live longer than men’ (well maybe only ‘most’?)

‘All metals expand when heated’ (well, all the ones we know about)

So, this is why irrational thoughts are quite believable to us. We have gone through a very valid process of rational thought based on inductive reasoning. Yet, no one would support the notion that ‘all teachers hate me’ in the example above. Teachers give constructive criticism to help students improve, not because they hate students. Teachers complain about student effort because they know that there is no success without effort, not because they hate students.

So how do we deal with thoughts like this?

In my class we talked about using a visible thinking routine called ‘True for who?’. In this routine, you step away from the thought and think about all the other perspectives there may be on this thought. So, what would my friend say? My mum? My dad? My teacher? And then ask, ‘so, who is this thought true for?’ We thought that using a routine like this could help us to get some perspective on our thoughts rather than falling for the problem of induction.

The chicken represents the problem of induction. 

The happy chicken rushes out every day to greet the farmer, because every day the farmer brings the chicken grain. The chicken assumes today will be just like every other day, but…

So, are we to become chickens? Victims to our assumptions? Or do we question our assumptions, step back and cast a critical eye over them?

This is what TOK is about: questioning what we think we know.

So the next time you hear a friend moan ‘all my teachers hate me…’, just say ‘ok, but how do you know?’


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