TOK in Geography

TOK in Geography

This page provides and introduction to TOK and how it relates to Geography. It sets out Geography's place in both the Natural Sciences and Human Sciences and then relates the types of knowledge and ways of knowing specifically to Geography.

Geography's Place in the IB

Geography is unique in the IB in that it bridges both the Natural Sciences and Human Sciences. The design of its syllabus clearly places an emphasis on the Human Sciences with some of the Physical Geography themes limited in depth, in terms of systems and causality. However there remains a great deal of flexibility within the themes for schools and teachers to build a balanced curriculum of both physical and human based Geography. The consequence of this unique position means Geography has a broad range of methodologies. These methodologies can be explored further here.

TOK in Geography

How you go about developing TOK in Geography is entirely up to you. The easiest way is to develop TOK Knowledge questions within your teaching. These can be 10 minute segments. Alternatively you may wish to explore certain themes and dedicate more time into your teaching schedule.

A knowledge question needs to be based on a real experience or event and should draw on different perspectives. This needs to be done through two different disciplines, so Geography can easily be one. Some students like to develop their TOK essay with the approach of claim and counter claim, but for geographers this is likely to be way too simplistic. A black and white view on the world often misses much of the point. There is more often a spectrum of positions to take and it's the role of the Geographer to explore them. It's my TOK coordinator's opinion that students develop an approach that explores different perspectives based on different schools of thought. In Geography we might call these stakeholders. This approach lends itself brilliantly to Geography and so many themes within Geography link well to TOK.

You can explore some of my bespoke TOK Reflections in Geography through the TOK Reflections page

Shared and Personal Knowledge

Shared knowledge refers to the knowledge of the wider community. It is highly structured and systematic and the product of more than one person. Personal knowledge comes from the individual and their own experiences. Both types of knowledge interact with each other and both types of knowledge evolve over time with new developments in shared knowledge and new experiences and perspectives for personal knowledge. A rapid change in knowledge is known as a paradigm shift.

What's in a Map?

What does one map tell us about the true identity of a place? The following map from Londonist does a pretty good job. Just click on it an you can zoom in?

However to what extent does this map represent the shared knowledge of London of Londoners or of tourists visiting it. This depends on perspective


Most people have a general understanding of world geography. This understanding comes both from shared knowledge and from personal knowledge. we are taught Geography in school and if we are have the opportunity we travel to different places. We connected to the world around us in so many ways.

The map below shows the Mercator Projection and is the most common example of world maps in text books. It is an important map in terms of influencing shared knowledge of how the world is connected, but to what extent is it a true representation of the world? Or is its projection floored and misrepresentative?

The following map is the Peter's Projection, which shows the true size of South America and Africa in relation to the North America and Europe

This map shows the Peter's Projection overlaid with the Mercator Projection

In all these examples the maps represent one view of the world. The reality is that  the spherical globe when projected onto a flat map always distorts it in some way. Most maps of the world are deficient, because projection involves compromise. Either the land area proportions are incorrect, or the oceans are skewed, or it’s great at the equator but distorted at the poles. Other key questions relate to the central feature of maps. Both these examples centre th map on the prime meridian and the top of the map is the northern hemisphere.

Knowledge Questions relating to Maps

To what extent does power and privilege dictate our knowledge of the world?

Does North represent a hierarchical relationship with South? To what extent does North represent geopolitical strength?

Is our shared knowledge of the global world another example of imperialism at the expense of the personal local knowledge?

Award Winning Map: The AuthaGraph World Map

The map designed by Japanese architect Hajime Narukawa’s world map project was inspired by a desire to faithfully represent not just the land, but the polar regions and oceans of the world as well, especially in light of global environmental problems. What’s especially cool about the map is the ability for it to be tiled in any direction without visible seams (known as tessellation), allowing for the creation of a triangular, rectangular or parallelogram outline of a world map with different regions in the centre.

Knowledge Question

Does the AutoGraph World Map remove perceived power?

Dynamic Knowledge!

Knowledge is dynamic and evolving and is influenced by many factors. We typically receive knowledge and process it. It can be dismissed and lost or constructed. How we construct knowledge will depend on our level of personal development, intellect, education, perceptions, experiences, values and attitudes. This construction can change and modify our received knowledge. How we choose to communicate knowledge in the way we share it also modifies our knowledge.

Dynamic knowledge

Exploring the Eight Ways of Knowing in Geography

It's just as important  that students understand the way they know as much as what they know. The IB talk of eight ways of knowing. and suggest that students should study four ways in depth.

8 ways of Knowing


Language is an essential factor of a society. Language is central to cultural identity and to its establishment of a clear belief and value system. Inherent in language is an individual's or society's traditional knowledge. With loss of language comes loss of traditional knowledge. Loss of language is an important geographical trend today through urbanization, forced displacement and loss of indigenous lands.

Sense Perception

There is much discussion on how many senses we have from the 5 traditional senses to an array of senses including sense of hunger and balance. An interesting geographical link to sense perception comes through our sense of place. Our sense of place is developed through a range of information and judgments. It's landscape, its population and activity, the emotions and stimuli of a place and to what extent we feel safe. Sense of place can be measured and observed.

Another example of sense perception and one that could be argued is a way of knowing in its self, is our spatial intelligence. In geography spatial intelligence is the way we see connections between places. The ways processes can be visualized and modeled in diagrams. How we memorize maps and directions and retain this knowledge. Why is it that some people remember routes so easily and can reach a place from one glance of a Google map, whilst others get lost all of the time and struggle to remember how one street connects to another. This ability to mentally map places is a really interesting way of knowing.


The IB refers to emotion as feelings, moods emotions and emotion as meaning the same thing. For the geographer our understanding of processes and places is enriched by emotional intelligence. Our ability to empathize with individuals and understand different perspectives is key to understanding complex and dynamic geographies. How we develop relationships with people, communities as well as the environment is key to providing sustainable solutions to some of the world's contemporary challenges.


Reason is the ability to seek causes, explanations and justifications. This is central to higher level discussion on the processes in Geography. Geographers are required to assess, justify, examine, evaluate and discuss themes and processes. Reasoned argument, an awareness of different perspectives, and assessment of positive sand negatives all informs the way Geographers reason.


All geographers by the nature of their profession or interest are imaginative thinkers. They see the world around them and ask questions. That inquisitive intelligence has led the discipline into broad ranges of multidisciplinary fields. We often start lessons by exploring and questioning and it's this continued questioning which pushes the boundaries of the subject.


Of course this term most commonly refers to religious belief but is also used as a synonym for trust. An alternative view is when faith is used to represent a commitment to a particular interpretation or school of thought. Sometimes faith refers to an individual's or society's ideological view and political belief. In more recent years we have have seen in determining which side of the debate individuals fall in terms of proponents and skeptics of human caused climate change.


Meaning knowing something without knowing why. I would suggest that I have excellent intuition, I think this comes from being a 'High Sensitive' person. I read emotions in people easily and always have a strong sense of the environment around me. This intuition is, in my belief informed by my strong sense perception. In this way we see how ways of knowing are not isolated, they interrelate and inform each other. Intuition in geography relates well to developing balanced and reasoned argument as well as sound decision making. Tragically, if only the staff of Okawa Elementary School in Japan had used their intuition rather than rule book perhaps more of them might have survived the tsunami of 2011.


Memory is our ability to retain information or as Christopher Hitchins suggests, it is also our ability to forget. Of course memories are an essential aspect of learning in any subject but as every Historian asks, to what extent can we rely on first-hand account. In short, what factors influence what people remember. Memory (remember) has been influenced and modified by what an individual or society has chosen or been able to remember based on their level of personal development, intellect, education, perceptions, experiences, values and attitudes.

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