Theory of Knowledge

Amundsen High School

International Baccalaureate Program

Theory of Knowledge

Course Description

Central to the educational philosophy of the International Baccalaureate Program, the Theory of Knowledge course challenges students to reflect critically on diverse ways of knowing and areas of knowledge, and to consider the roles which knowledge plays in a global society. The class encourages students to become aware of themselves as thinkers, to become aware of the complexity of knowledge, and to recognize the need to act responsibly in an increasingly interconnected world. 

Intended Outcomes

Having followed the TOK course, students should be able to

·        analyze critically knowledge claims, their underlying assumptions and their implications

·        generate questions, explanations, conjectures, hypotheses, alternative ideas and possible solutions in response to knowledge issues concerning areas of knowledge, ways of knowing, and students’ own experience as learners

·        demonstrate an understanding of different perspectives on knowledge issues

·        draw links and make effective comparisons between different approaches to knowledge issues that derive from areas of knowledge, ways of knowing, theoretical positions, and cultural values

·        demonstrate an ability to give a personal, self-aware response to a knowledge issue

·        formulate and communicate ideas clearly with due regard for accuracy and academic honesty.

Required Materials

·        1 binder for course handouts, texts, notes, etc.

·        Highlighters

·        Post-it notes 

Grading Policy

·        Grading Scale as provided by Amundsen High School

Grading System

·        30%: Informal and formal writing assignments, including the TOK paper and Extended Essay

·        30%: Oral presentations and discussion

·        20%: Creativity, Action, and Service reflections and projects

·        10%: College application portfolio (includes personal statements, letters of recommendation, applications to at least five colleges or universities, including one out of state

·        10%: Development of research skills (measured by use of a variety of sources appropriate to college research; MLA or APA style documentation of sources in all writing and presentations)

Course Requirements

·        TOK responses due weekly

·        One formal Extended Essay of approximately 4,000 words due in December

·        One formal TOK essay of approximately 1,600 words due in September

·        One formal TOK presentation of approximately 10 minutes due in February

·        One CAS Project due in February

·        CAS Reflections due monthly

Academic Responsibility

You are aware of the importance of academic honesty. In TOK, your independent analysis of concepts, issues, and questions through writing and speaking makes up the core of your class work and overall grade. Any student who attempts to turn in work that is not his or her own will receive a zero on the assignment and be referred for disciplinary action. 

Outline of topics (please note that everything in life is subject to change, including this syllabus) 

Semester One



Introduction to Theory of Knowledge:

Overview of goals for the school year: TOK, Extended Essay, CAS, College Portfolio. 

Review of TOK, EE, and CAS rubrics. 

College writing and research

TOK paper writing conferences 

Assignments: Reflection #1; TOK paper


2 and 3

Introduction to Theory of Knowledge

What is knowledge and how do we know it? Justification of Knowledge Claims: Belief, Certainty. Culture, Evidence, Experience, Explanation, Interpretation, Intuition, Truth, Value, Technology 


Pinker: How the Mind Works

Excerpts from The New York Times

Excerpts from The Best American Science and Nature Writing, Natalie Angier, ed.

Descartes, First Meditation 

Assignments: Reflection #2; TOK paper; Extended Essay writing conferences


4 and 5

Ways of Knowing: Emotion


Ackerman, excerpts from An Alchemy of the Mind

Goleman, excerpts from Emotional Intelligence

Frankl, excerpts from Man’s Search for Meaning 

Assignments: Reflections #3 and #4;Final draft of TOK paper; CAS project proposal


6 and 7

Ways of knowing:  Perception


Articles from The New York Times

Wallace Stevens: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Classics of Buddhist thought

Others to be announced 

Assignments: Reflections #5 and #6; Personal Statement


8 and 9

Ways of knowing: Language


Pinker, excerpts from The Language Instinct 

Neruda, The Word

Bryson, excerpts from The Mother Tongue

Bettelheim, The Holocaust

Lakoff, You Are What You Say

Articles from The New York Times 

Assignments: Reflection #7; Extended Essay draft due; midterm exam


10 -13 

Ways of Knowing: Reason


Excerpts from The Little, Brown Reader; The Bedford Reader; The Informed Argument

Assignments: A written argument; presentation


14 and 15

Areas of Knowledge: Mathematics

Readings and assignments to be announced


16 and 17

 Areas of Knowledge: Natural and Social Sciences

Readings and assignments to be announced


18 and 19

Areas of Knowledge: History

Readings and assignments to be announced

Week 20 

CAS presentations