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Real-world issues about mathematics

Real-world issues about mathematics

These real-world issues about mathematics will help you to explore knowledge questions, analyse the latest events and issues related to this AOK, and apply TOK terms, ideas, and concepts to authentic situations.

You can also use these issues as discussion points within lessons, examples to support your essay arguments, and case studies to show how TOK manifests in world around us in your exhibition commentary.

Real-world issues on the nature and scope of mathematics

  • These issues on the mathematics relate to Big Question 1, our first BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to the nature and scope of mathematics, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Use the Exploration Points document below to unpack the media sources and link them to the TOK course (available to members of the site)
  • Members can also use our Investigating Issues resource to look at related stories, and widen their understanding of how TOK manifests in the world around us

A Big Think article, which draws on the ideas of Kurt Gödel, and thinks about whether mathematics is built on unproven foundations.

Mordechai Levy-Eichel in Aeon considers various aspects of mathematics for – its “joyful, beautiful” nature, its role in shaping modern society, and the way in which it often neglected when people consider the history of ideas.

This Medium blog comparing mathematics and the natural sciences, and offers some very useful definitions for both these areas of knowledge. It also considers the role of inference in creating knowledge.

New York Times article, that explores the reason why the equation 8 ÷ 2(2+2) = ? went viral (and why mathematicians hate it).

This is one of the biggest science stories of the last few years (decades, perhaps) – the images of the M87 Black Hole, created from the data created by various telescopes positioned around the world. Here is the coverage from Time, The The GuardianVox, and The Washington Post.

A Conversation article, applying mathematical knowledge to the Euro 2020 Panini sticker album.

Real-world issues on the relationship between mathematics and values

  • These issues on mathematics relate to Big Question 2, our second BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to mathematics and ethics, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Use the Exploration Points document below to unpack the media sources and link them to the TOK course (available to members of the site)
  • Members can also use our Investigating Issues resource to look at related stories, and widen their understanding of how TOK manifests in the world around us

This Atlantic story looks at a new algorithm-based tool, COMPAS, that is supposed to be able to calculate (ie predict) a defendant’s risk of committing another crime. However, it seems that the tool is no more accurate than “random volunteers recruited from the internet”.

This Wired article looks at how a ‘predictive policing tool’ – a database created by London’s Metropolitan police – is being used to calculate the risks posed by individuals, and determine the actions taken against them by the authorities.

Real-world issues on the communication of ideas in mathematics

  • These issues on mathematics relate to Big Question 3, our third BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to methods, tools, and practices, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Use the Exploration Points document below to unpack the media sources and link them to the TOK course (available to members of the site)
  • Members can also use our Investigating Issues resource to look at related stories, and widen their understanding of how TOK manifests in the world around us

A Discover Magazine article about the way most people use the word and concept ‘average’ in a misguided way.

A Vox article, showing you the mathematics behind Covid-19, and why this is essential to understanding the pandemic. 

Real-world issues on mathematics, perspectives, and context

  • These issues on mathematics relate to Big Question 4, our fourth BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to perspectives & context, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Use the Exploration Points document below to unpack the media sources and link them to the TOK course (available to members of the site)
  • Members can also use our Investigating Issues resource to look at related stories, and widen their understanding of how TOK manifests in the world around us

A Discover Magazine article, evaluating what statistics can reveal about the scale of serial killers who were never caught.

This Aeon essay examines how we generate figures of probability, pointing out that there are different possible approaches, suggesting that the concept of probability is not as simple as we think.

This short Aeon video by Cathy O’Neil ponders the nature of algorithms, and challenges the idea that they represent “indisputable mathematical truths”.

Real-world issues on the creation of new ideas in mathematics

  • These issues on mathematics relate to Big Question 5, our fifth BQ units for TOK
  • They also link to methods, tools, and practices, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Use the Exploration Points document below to unpack the media sources and link them to the TOK course (available to members of the site)
  • Members can also use our Investigating Issues resource to look at related stories, and widen their understanding of how TOK manifests in the world around us

A Conversation article, looking at how research in mathematics is a deeply imaginative and intuitive process – aided by AI.

This Smithsonian article considers how the discovery of the Möbius strip in the mid-19th century launched a brand new field of mathematics: topology.

This Science story looks at the claim by Sir Michael Atiyah that he has solved the Riemann hypothesis, a mathematical problem relating to prime numbers that has existed for more than a century and a half. It examines why this solution is unlikely to actually have been discovered.

A Veritasium video, which outlines the Collatz Conjecture – the simplest mathematical problem no one can solve.

This Vox article considers the ‘genius’ of the discovery of the concept of zero, and the implications behind this step forward for mathematicians.

Oliver Roeder at FiveThirtyEight looks at the discovery of the largest ever prime number, and how such discoveries have proceeded over the years. He also considers why we are compelled to continue looking for these special numbers.

Real-world issues on becoming a discerning knower about mathematics

  • These issues on mathematics relate to Big Question 6, our final BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to methods, tools, and practices, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Use the Exploration Points document below to unpack the media sources and link them to the TOK course (available to members of the site)
  • Members can also use our Investigating Issues resource to look at related stories, and widen their understanding of how TOK manifests in the world around us

An Aeon video, looking at why Bayes’ Theorem has an increasing relevance in the world of ‘big data’, and how it can help us to “reprogramme our intuition”.

A New York Times article that explores the reason why the equation 8 ÷ 2(2+2) = ? went viral (and why mathematicians hate it).

Explore related events and issues

Investigating Issues offers you a completely new way to plan and teach TOK. The resource gathers together over 120 major global issues, provides a collection of media sources to explore each one, and suggests ways to link them to the different elements of the TOK course and to the 12 key concepts.

Unpack these issues & link them to TOK

Our sixty-six Exploration Point documents (updated every month) help you delve deeper into TOK via media sources, unpacking ideas, guidance on the key concepts, and other tips. HERE is an example of a EP document (for history & perspectives) – join us to gain access to the other sixty-five!

Subscribe to the TOK newsletter

Our TOK newsletter helps you explore the most important events and issues going on today, and fully grasp how TOK concepts manifest in the real world. Read a recent edition here, subscribe to the free version here, and gain access to the premium version by joining theoryofknowledge.net.