Mr. Grosfeld-Katz uses real-world examples to teach social studies

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Vivian Yeh

Mr. Noah Grosfeld-Katz, known to his students as Mr. GK, has been teaching IB Theory of Knowledge (TOK) 1 and 2, U.S. History, and Latin American History at RM for six years. In his classes, he encourages his students to seek out a variety of knowledge, often incorporating real-world examples to help his students relate to the topics.

Mr. GK’s lessons are often more about investigating the nuances of a subject than accepting set facts. This is especially true of his TOK classes, in which his students examine different sources and share their ideas in order to generate their own conclusions about the origins and reliability of knowledge. “I sometimes find it hard to write my thoughts down, and being able to vocalize them and bounce ideas off of other people is something that I really appreciate about his class,” said junior Magali Ngouabou.

Mr. GK’s TOK classes are all about learning to see issues from other perspectives. “It really shows you how easy it is to be wrong about something, and forces you to question your values,” explained Ngouabou. “He showed us some clips of Stephen Colbert in his satirical The Colbert Report—we mock the kind of mentality portrayed there, but it’s important to understand that some people are genuinely coming from that perspective, and we should try to find common ground.”

Many of these TOK ideas centered around knowledge are relevant to Mr. GK’s history classes. “I want students to ask questions like, where does this history knowledge come from?” he revealed.

Senior Jenny Zuhl, who took Mr. GK’s U.S. History class as a freshman, recalls the hands-on activities that he organizes to help students better understand historical progressions. “He made us cut out ‘G’s’ by hand while he used a press, to explain how the press works a lot faster than you can with your hands,” she revealed.

Another strategy that Mr. GK uses to push students to examine knowledge from a real-life standpoint is by integrating his own hobbies into his lessons—for instance, by using baseball statistics as an example to investigate the reliability of statistical measurements. “I try to use relevant current events to show that TOK concepts aren’t just philosophical, or hypothetical; you need to know how to do these things to be an engaged thinker, citizen, and person,” he emphasized.

Mr. GK seeks out information in his personal time by watching the television and reading nonfiction books, picking up “fun little nuggets of information” to share with his students. “He likes finding random articles and interesting things—things that I wouldn’t really find by myself,” said junior Stella Masucci. “He likes learning about random things in the world, and it’s always really interesting to hear his thoughts on them.”

Above all, Mr. GK hopes to teach his students to be better thinkers and critics in their everyday lives. “I want that to become second nature: to think about what they’re reading and hearing and seeing, not to just accept them,” he explained.