One of the biggest challenges of teaching the IB Diploma Program is finding impactful ways to integrate the different subjects of the DP and the three core components, CAS, Theory of Knowledge, and the Extended Essay. Students undoubtedly receive the most benefit from their classroom endeavors when they can see the theoretical material they are studying enacted in the real world and vice versa.
At CAS Trips, we aim to educate, challenge, and inspire students to become internationally-minded, conscientious young adults by harnessing the excitement and power of travel to introduce, explore and engage with real global issues in real-life situations. We believe CAS offers students the chance to cultivate their existing passions while applying what they are learning creatively and through activities that benefit the community.
To bolster this process, thoughtful and dynamic integration of the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) is vital. In brief, TOK helps learners reflect on knowledge, make deeper connections between ideas, and interrogate how they know what they know. This translates into students being able to challenge existing theories and practices, think critically, and deconstruct the learning process.
Crucially, it also provides a productive approach to intellectual and practical debate, teaching students to express their ideas respectfully. It is a meaningful and rewarding way of learning—but can be difficult to put into practice. Let’s take a closer look at the foundations of TOK and how they can be combined with CAS for learning and teaching success.
Aims of TOK
The primary aims of TOK, as outlined on theoryofknowledge.net, an innovative and empowering online resource, are as follows:
- To help students to discover the richness of knowledge, and to realize how empowering knowledge can be.
- To examine how knowledge is built up, examined, and evaluated by individuals and societies.
- To reflect on how we learn – both inside and outside school – and to make links between the academic disciplines and our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
- To reinforce the idea that there are many different ways of thinking and perspectives, and assumptions we have because of our cultural and individual positions may obscure the way we see the world.
- To suggest some of the responsibilities that may come with knowledge.
In the TOK classroom, emphasis is placed on the role that knowledge plays in an increasingly complex, global, and technology-driven society. Activities should be geared towards critical reflection on the diverse ways of knowing (reason, perception, language, and emotion) and the diverse yet interconnected areas of knowledge (Natural Science, Mathematics, Human Sciences, the Arts, History, and Ethics).
Although at first the theoretical nature of TOK may not seem entirely compatible with the type of direct engagement that underpins CAS, it is worth remembering that the ‘4Cs’ of education—critical thinking, collaboration, commination, and creativity—are central to both.
At its core, TOK aims to enable students to appreciate the multiplicity of cultural and historical perspectives and challenge and broaden their global understanding—an objective it shares with CAS.
Combining CAS and TOK
In commenting on pathways to the integration of TOK with other subjects, Michael Dunn, the Creator and Director of theoryofknowledge.net, explained that “one way of doing this is to think about the process of knowing that individual learners go through, or—how each of us develops an understanding of the world. CAS provides an opportunity to approach knowledge in an empirical, first-hand way, gaining knowledge about the world experientially.”
Indeed, CAS and its culminating project are designed to give students the chance to explore and discover links in their curriculum through the various initiatives they pursue. Students are encouraged to encounter new cultures, develop life skills, engage with multiple art forms, and share their experiences with their school and the broader community.
The 12 key TOK concepts, recently introduced by the IB, are another productive way of transferring TOK ideas into CAS and other aspects of the DP. From Mr. Dunn’s perspective as a TOK educator, he explains that “many of these concepts—truth, responsibility, culture, and values—for example, are all worth discussing within the context of CAS.” He also emphasizes how asking the right questions (a foundational tenets of TOK) provides fruitful ground for integrating the two subjects. His suggestions for inquiry include:
- How do we apply our understanding of the areas of knowledge (AOKs), such as the natural sciences, history, the human sciences, etc., to plan and carry out CAS projects?
- What insights do creativity projects provide us about the arts?
- What role does language play in helping us to be successful in CAS?
- How do CAS experiences change our perspectives as knowers?
TOK beyond the DP
The ultimate goal of integrating CAS and TOK is to give students a deeper appreciation of both elements and to enhance their capacity for independent thinking, which will, in turn, teach them how to respect other people’s opinions and express their own. By engaging fully with the IB DP Core, students can add enormous value to the other subjects they are studying currently and will encounter in the future.
Establishing the inherent connection between TOK and CAS highlights several principal outcomes of the IB DP: holistic and interdisciplinary learning, exceptional critical thinking skills, and an application of learning that benefits society. Students who complete their TOK and CAS requirements will be empowered to think from different perspectives and apply what they learn in a useful and ethical way.