11th-Grade DP Students Begin ToK

by Julia Klein

As the semester comes to a close, there are some new beginnings as well as some endings. One of these is the transition to the course of Theory of knowledge, also known as TOK, for the junior class, while the seniors wave farewell to the class forever. TOK is a two-semester course that is compulsory for anyone enrolled in the full IB Diploma program. The course’s objective is to educate and discuss different types of knowledge and inquiry. This encapsulates, identifying and considering bias, sources of knowledge, what counts as knowledge, and so forth. 

The course stretches across 1 semester in 11th grade, and 1 semester in 12 grade. While the course may seem daunting for the upcoming seniors, they shouldn’t fret, for they will only have to turn in two assignments throughout the course. The first,  submitted in 11th grade, is the TOK exhibition. The exhibition involves choosing among 35 IA prompts that are kept the same each year and finding 3 objects in the real world that represent the concepts of the IA prompt, all in one 950-word commentary. Typically, this exhibition plays a great role in determining the first predicted grade given to students at the beginning of their senior year. This exhibition is then physically displayed on a series of collage boards, and parents, teachers, and other students are invited to explore different exhibitions and discuss with the students about their work. Often 11th graders may not realize the importance of this exhibition as its importance is often downplayed in the shadow of the second and final assessment of TOK: The TOK essay. 

The TOK essay is a 1600-word essay completed over the span of 2 months during senior year. This assignment is often branded as “the single most important task of the TOK course” and is worth 67% of a student’s final grade on a scale of A- E. The IB releases a list of 6 new prompts each year which are different from all other prompts which have appeared in previous years. These prompts often pose a question followed by “discuss in relation to two areas of knowledge”, and in some cases, “ discuss in relation to area of knowledge X, and one other.” In response to the prompt, students must then identify one or more areas of knowledge that they would like to investigate, and then choose specific real-world examples (such as experiments, theories, events, axioms, etc. ) from said areas of knowledge and explain how these examples to support/negate their thesis statement.

Since ToK is a two-year course, the student’s opinions tend to change/develop from the beginning to the end, as the premises and requirements of the course aren’t always clear to begin with

A survey of the 11th- and 12th-grade students shows  a great disparity with respect to the attitude toward the value of ToK as a class. Though 41.7% of the 11th grader surveyees responded that they do not have a fully developed understanding of what ToK really entails, most commented that they think that ToK will be “boring”, “useless”, and “takes up time that could be used to study for exams, do research for extended essay or IAs.”  This is not unusual, as many people hear the term “ theory of knowledge” and are instantly confused by the abstract title. Nevertheless, a large majority (83.3%) of the juniors reported that they were interested in seeing what the class has to offer rather than dreading it.

The 12th graders were asked to somewhat share what advice they would give the junior class before entering their first ToK class this past week. The seniors seem to encourage active participation and contribution to class discussions and try to appreciate the value which TOK has. For example, Shery W. says, “Take part in the conversations, challenge your peers. It can actually be fun.” Beni, another senior states, “In the beginning, it might seem like a hassle or an unnecessary class, but it is very fun and you learn about quite a few cool things, not to mention that having a class with Mr. Welborn was a lot of fun and I’m sure most of us are going to miss him.” 

In regards to assignments themselves, a wise piece of advice was given by one of the senior respondents, “Think very well before you pick your PT for the TOK Essay. The PTs that might appear easy at first tend to be harder when it actually comes to writing it. Think of the possible arguments for each before choosing the one that you think is best.” This advice will also be heavily reiterated by the students’ ToK teachers, because of the “ToK Prescribed Title commitment’, which virtually ties a student to their choice of prescribed title which would require a great hassle to switch. Therefore most would caution that students figure out viable examples to use in their essay prior to selecting their prompt rather than vice versa. 

ToK may not be everyone’s favorite class, and some of the busier students may find it challenging to note its importance amidst their hectic schedules. However, the seniors of this year believe that there is always something positive to be said about the class and the teachers. So the last piece of advice that the 12th graders want to leave with the 11th graders is – “Good luck,  there is no wrong answer in TOK.”


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