One of the greatest opportunities I have been given in my teaching career has been to teach Theory of Knowledge in the International Baccalaureate program. I simply love it. The concept of examining how we learn and why we learn are fascinating in and of themselves. One additional benefit it that I see students in this course being able to show me what they know and how they can apply. When I teach a standard class I often think that I asking students to show me what they don’t know.
Such was the case for me yesterday when I finished up a series of presentations that the students had been working on. We began by looking at Galileo and examining what he learned and how the people around him reacted to his new ideas. I asked the students to do something similar, to look at a ‘great thinker’ and talk about the challenges this thinker faced as well as why this thinker appealed to the student.
In the end it was this last bit that turned into the key to making this something that my students really enjoyed and, it must be said, I enjoyed a lot as well. Initially I had thought it might be a good idea to have students research a great enlightenment thinker: Bacon, Voltaire, Newton, etc. In the end though I decided that it might be more interesting to broaden the focus and let the students choose someone that they were interested in. My students’ choices were awesome, and it must be said totally different from what I would expect: Florence Nightingale, Coco Channel, Helen Keller among them.
I have to admit to knowing almost nothing about any of these historical thinkers, and I learned a lot. I learned a lot about these thinkers, their challenges, their ideas, and their need to overcome. I also was reminded that one of the most important things that we can do is let our students explore their interests. As teachers we are likely to be amazed, and we are not looking to find out what they don’t know, but what they know.