“Ready… Fire, Aim!” 

In the first minutes of the course, even before any formal introductions are made, attendance taken, or class expectations are set, why not jump right in and actually do some TOK?  Start by asking the class to identify only by touch three carefully chosen TOK mystery objects hidden in pillow cases.


The plastic octopus is easy, of course, and will be revisited later. The remaining two objects are much trickier. I ask students not to confer and write their response on a small piece of paper and hand it to me. Much to the chagrin of students who think they have guessed correctly I refuse to reveal the answer and reveal the objects until the following class. Tension and release and theatrical possibilities are heightened by the promise of nominal but very tasty chocolate prizes to the winners. 

1. Plastic Octopus
2. Mobius strip made with oven baked modeling clay
3. Real fossilized knuckle bone of extinct Giant Ground Sloth found in Patagonia

The Mobius strip is a famous mathematical object with only one side and only one edge. Students encountering the Mobius strip for the first time should be given the opportunity make one of their own by joining a strip of paper after giving it a half twist. The emergent topological properties are quite counterintuitive. The Mobius strip combines a Kindergarten level of hands-on fun with an introduction to an arcane branch of pure mathematics. There is no harm in revealing to students at this level that a donut is called a torus by topologists. The Mobius strip activity is well worth a five minute detour and can generate some purposeful discussion. 

The fossilized bone is the most challenging. From several angles it looks like an erotic human figurine and appears to have many of the characteristics of fine Inuit sculpture. Despite the powerful resemblance to a miniature sculpture, the bone is a found object rather than a human artifact. Strong opinions about the nature of art and the importance or not of an artist's intention may arise.


The structure of the Units of Inquiry on this site mostly consist of some kind of engaging hands-on activity, or a counterintuitive stunt or "happening," that will kick start purposeful, on task partner, small group or whole class discussion.  

Teachers are invited to appropriate the ideas rather than attempt to clone every detail. For example it would be very difficult to replicate all three of the above mystery objects but relatively easy to find equivalents close at hand. Similarly for the What do little kids know? unit: not every school has a Kindergarten onsite, but most students could contrive access to a little kid or two as a modified homework task over the weekend.