Wednesday, March 24, 2010

mathematician refuses $1m prize

You will remember our discussion (further down this blog) on the millenium challenges in Mathematics set by the Clay Foundation in 2000.

Read the following for an interesting update:

Any thoughts about this?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

milgram experiment updated

Hi everyone,

Take a look at:

Does this simply replicate the original psychology experiments on obedience by Stanley Milgram, or are there important differences?

In Milgram's work, authority was represented by a "scientist" figure. Who or what represents authority in this instance?

Does this "game show" tell us more about the power of individuals in positions of authority (Milgram's primary focus) or the power of institutions as a whole to mould our behaviour?

Do you think the reported "Nazi comparisons" could be justified? Is it OK for "lay people" to make such comparisons on the basis of this "game show" but not OK for a professional psychologist like Stanley Milgram to make similar comparisons?

If Milgram's findings on human behaviour are valid, what should be done in order to avoid the negative consequences that seem to stem from them? Are we drawn to the conclusion that society must somehow be "engineered" in ways that prevent certain circumstances from arising?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

weekend presentations

Dear TOK presenters,

You will get some further feedback on Friday concerning the presentations that you gave during the TOK weekend. This will include the scores awarded by the TOK teachers. You may notice some discrepancy between your self-evaluation and the judgements of the teachers. There may be a number of reasons for this.

First of all, this was your first “real” experience of giving a TOK presentation (the micro-presentations in November aside), and so it might well be a little difficult to know the standard expected for the highest levels of the criteria and grade descriptors. Thus the scores given by the teachers will be useful in providing a realistic benchmark in this regard.

Secondly, perhaps we don’t do enough student self-evaluation in the school, and therefore the task was not a particularly familiar one. The purpose is not to offer a high score in the hope of influencing the teacher!

Thirdly, we need to focus on the content of the presentations itself. We already gave you some important feedback at the end of the weekend, but I’ll summarize some of it here.

As an IB student, keep your eyes and ears open. You need to be observant and open to what is going on around you locally and in the wider world. If you do that, it becomes much easier to identify promising real-life situations for TOK presentations, not to mention examples for essays, articles for economics portfolios, research topics for extended essay and so on.

Use your real-life situation as the backdrop for your presentation. If you introduce it and then drop it like a stone, it suggests that it was just an excuse for your presentation and you haven’t thought it through, seen how it can support or illustrate the points you want to make at the “TOK level” in the diagram you were given.

Don’t replace your situation with an endless stream of unrelated examples. The result here is too much breadth and not enough depth – a “butterfly approach” that gives the impression that you hope that at least one of the examples will hit home. It is up to you to choose wisely your central real-life situation. You need to commit.

Remember that your presentation is supposed to analyze, not merely describe. Make sure you have thought through the implications of the points you raise. Consider alternatives, but make a stand for your own conclusion, even if you think it is partial or tentative or you might change your mind later. Show how we can make progress in our thinking even if we can't be totally sure about everything.

A real-life situation or a knowledge issue doesn’t need to be about something weird. TOK is not supposed to be about crazy things; it is a method of conducting enquiry into issues that matter in the world by trying to expose their roots. Often these roots are tough and knotted but we need to examine them if we are really to understand how knowledge works in the world. Review the “understanding knowledge issues” document for more on this.

Prepare well. Know the material. If you do, there will be no need to read to your audience. Reading from a script suggests that you haven’t done enough work to be confident about what you are presenting. Think about alternative ways of presenting your material.

Start your presentation slowly. Give your audience time to understand what is to come. Don’t rattle off your knowledge issue and real-life situation in about 7 seconds and leave everyone scratching their heads and trying to remember what you just said the whole point of the presentation was about.

I hope that these comments will help to explain some of the weaknesses that can be eliminated for next time. Your contributions to class, to follow-up discussion at the end of presentations – and particularly the very high quality of many contributions to this blog – indicate that you are capable of performing at the highest level in this course, so let’s continue on that journey up the mountain.

Monday, March 1, 2010

"the island"

Dear Everyone,

I hope you are settling back into the school routine after such a busy weekend. We all hope that you found a satisfactory combination of work and enjoyment (and the intersection between).

Let us turn to our Saturday afternoon activity (before the storm). In effect, we had 5 "worldviews" interacting - liberal, religious conservative, capitalist, xenophobe and eco-pantheist! These might have been caricatures of more nuanced positions, but I think the principle is valid and leads us to the following questions:

Despite our differences as humans, are there some core values that we can all accept? Many of you expressed your response to the activity as a set of rules, but those rules surely arise out of underlying values. What were some of those values on which you think we can all agree?

How difficult was it to identify these common values, and what are the implications of your answer to this question? If it was extremely difficult, does this mean that our efforts in the modern world to create functioning multicultural societies are doomed? Is all this "international-mindedness" a grave error, an impossible dream? Or is there some way of nudging people towards acceptable compromise - perhaps through legal or political means?

What would be the consequences of believing that our sense of morality arises from abstract principles such as fairness and the avoidance of harm, or from an external authority such as a god, or perhaps from our feelings and conscience? How did these alternatives affect your group's work?

Let's explore the issues here and see where they lead...