Our 6 Big Question framework builds on the success of our previous ‘8 Big Questions’, which offered a far more integrated, engaging, and approachable way of delivering the course than the traditional way of teaching TOK.
By basing units on questions, students are prepared from the first moment of the course for the assessment tasks (particularly the essay), multiple elements of the course are drawn on to explore key concepts and ideas, and all teachers within the school can get involved in TOK much more easily.
The Big Question framework comprises 72 classroom-ready Google Slides presentations, the , the DP integration tool, the knowledge lexicon, the 10 Minute TOK lessons, and a host of other resources, including a vast amount of notes and support on the site. The BQ units are as prescriptive as you want them to be: just turn on your laptop and projector, and you’re good to go; or, adapt and edit extensively, using our other resources, or your own materials.
But how well do our BQ units, and our other resources, align with the new syllabus? This page answers that question, and demonstrates that our approach to TOK will continue to offer – by far – the best way of delivering the course, and provide students and educators with a genuinely life-changing experience.
1. The aims of the TOK course
The subject guide for the 2022 TOK syllabus identifies seven specific aims for the TOK course, as well as seven assessment objectives. TOK also plays a key role in helping students understand and adopt the ten different learner profile attributes. There are also other implicit aspirations mentioned throughout the guide.
The BQ framework tries to distill all these objectives down to four aims – which align to the ‘Four Cs’ identified by educational and business thought-leaders as the crucial skills to be honed in students in preparation for their lives beyond school and university. These aims are, to hone critical thinking, develop communication skills, encourage collaboration, and inspire creativity. The rationale behind this is to demonstrate that TOK has very strong credentials as a course that provides students with authentic skills that can be applied to the real world. In this document, we indicate how these four aims align to the ‘official’ course aims, assessment objectives, and learner profile attributes.
2. The AOKs, and core & optional themes
TOK 2022 comprises three elements: the core theme (called, ‘knowledge and the knower’), the five optional themes (knowledge and indigenous societies, language, politics, religion, and technology), and the five areas of knowledge (the arts, history, the human sciences, mathematics, and the natural sciences).
This diagram that shows these elements of the course, indicates the role they play in the course, and hints at the relationship that exists between them. As you can see, the optional themes and areas of knowledge play a different role, the former shaping the way we acquire knowledge, and the latter being the categories into which we place that knowledge. The core theme is best thought of as a more immediate and personal nexus between us and the knowledge we possess. Students are expected to explore all five areas of knowledge, and two of the optional themes, as well as developing a clear understanding of the core theme.
We apply the 6 BQs to all the elements of the TOK course, and explore them within the context of contemporary real-life situations, the ideas of key thinkers, and students’ own experiences. In this document we indicate how this works in practice.
The final slide of every lesson presentation shows how that particular lesson links to the course. You can see this for yourself by downloading our free sample lessons on this page of the site; for example, Lesson 3.9 (‘Seeing what we want to see’) links to the core theme, language, and the human and natural sciences.
Every BQ has a unit outline, which lists the name of each lesson, its learning objective, and the key ideas and thinkers explored within it, so students know exactly what they’ll be studying over the course of a BQ unit (which takes around 6 weeks). In addition, within BQ1, we also spend time considering the structure of the course, and how the BQ framework allows us to explore it effectively, so students never feel lost using our framework.
3. The knowledge framework
Our BQ framework aligns very closely to the knowledge framework, which the IB strongly suggests you use as a way of exploring the course. Our questions provide a little more direction for students, and use more engaging terminology.
‘Scope’ aligns to what we look at in Big Question 1 (Foundations). ‘Perspectives’ is the same as BQ4. ‘Ethics’ is very close to BQ2, which we call ‘Values’. ‘Methods and tools’ is very wide-ranging, and aligns to several of our Big Questions, most of all, BQ5 (Creativity). We also touch on this aspect of the knowledge framework in our last BQ (Experts).
In addition to these five Big Questions, BQ3 (‘Spin’) considers the role of language and other forms of communication in conveying (and often manipulating) ideas and knowledge. Although this is not referred to explicitly by the knowledge framework, it is an essential element of understanding knowledge – now more so than ever – and aligns to the last course aim, the fourth and fifth learning objectives, and at least two of the learner profile attributes.
4. The assessment tasks
The two assessment tasks for the 2022 syllabus are the essay and the exhibition. The essay is written and overseen very much like its previous incarnation, with a few minor differences; the exhibition is a new task, requiring a big rethink for TOK teachers. We delivered a webinar on the assessment tasks, which you can access here.
We believe that the best approach to TOK assessment is first, by embedding small tasks with lessons that develop skills; second, by setting larger, formative assessments; and third, by following the IB guidelines for teacher support thoroughly (for example, making full use of the three essay interactions, and providing guidance for the exhibition).
So, we embed a large number of small-scale lesson tasks to familiarize students with the two assessments, such as getting them to write a TOK essay-style introduction for the first lesson of each unit, and a conclusion for the last. Exit tasks repeatedly ask students to justify their positions. Group work encourages them to communicate ideas, and consider the opinions of others. Even the images we use for our lesson presentations can be used to demonstrate what objects work for the exhibition.
Our formative assessment tasks include a TOK journal, and an essay plan, for the TOK essay (BQs 1 and 3), and practice ‘mini-exhibitions’ in BQs 2 and 4. We provide full instructions and rubrics for these tasks, as well as plenty of exemplars, so you can model what an effective assessment task looks like.
5. The 12 Key TOK concepts
For the 2022 course, the IB has identified 12 ‘key concepts’ that students need to be aware of. These are: certainty, culture, evidence, explanation, interpretation, justification, objectivity, perspective, power, responsibility, truth, values.
The relevance of several of these terms to our BQs will be immediately apparent: ‘perspective’ and ‘values’ both form elements of our big questions; ‘responsibility’ and ‘power’ links to BQ2; understanding ‘objectivity’ and ‘interpretation’ is at the heart of BQ4, and being an expert knower (BQ6) involves having a clear awareness of ‘certainty’, using ‘evidence’ effectively, and knowing how elusive ‘truth’ can be. You’ll also see that our four aims also link closely to the 12 concepts: for example, critical thinking requires us to be ‘objective’, and being a communicator means providing ‘justification’ in order to ‘explain’ ideas clearly.
However, it’s only by viewing and using individual BQ lessons that you’ll be able to see how frequently we draw on the 12 key concepts. We have highlighted the key concepts in red on our lessons slides, something you can see for yourself in Lesson 4.8 (‘Navigating the post-truth landscape’). In this lesson, we mention and consider explanation, interpret, power, certainty, and evidence. Virtually every lesson draws on at least one of the key concepts, and most of them look at multiple concepts.
There’s a lot more we can say about the BQ framework, and we’ll be happy to do so if you have any questions. Remember, you can download a selection of sample resources here, and find out about membership on this page, or contact us directly using the contact form.