What we're working on: Human-Centered Interdisciplinary Subject

Our goal is to answer the question: how can we prepare learners for a world that needs them to enact change?


7 min read
What we're working on: Human-Centered Interdisciplinary Subject

In March 2022, Human Restoration Project was awarded a grant from Holistic Think Tank, a Polish non-profit foundation, to create a curriculum based on their interdisciplinary subject (IDS) curriculum. We're creating a framework of lessons, experiential learning, and pedagogical understanding that centers purpose-finding, cooperation, and the common good. Our goal is to create an entirely free resource that investigates solutions to local and world problems, leading directly to an improvement in one's community.

This subject is interdisciplinary, meaning that it connects across multiple subject areas. We are designing the package as something that could be administered as a separate class during the day. That being said, we believe it can easily be administered in an advisory, homeroom, or other common meeting time that offers extension activities for all common subject areas: science, mathematics, social studies, English, art, and physical education.

Pictured: Starting activities surrounding analyzing "fast fashion" – where do our clothes come from? What impact does this have on people and the environment? This lesson looks at the environmental impact, working conditions of those involved, and chemical byproducts of quickly produced clothes.

Further, the curriculum is international. Although we certainly offer a United States-perspective, we wanted the curriculum to feature stories, perspectives, and events from global sources. And the curriculum is aimed at 6th-8th grade, but could easily be adapted to older or younger students. A facilitator guide, included with each lesson, offers advice on adapting lessons to one's context.

Our goal is to answer the question: how can we prepare learners for a world that needs them to enact change? Developing change-makers means that they 1) have a sense of wonder and curiosity, 2) recognize the problems facing the world today, and 3) have a sense of hope toward changing the world. In an optimal scenario, this curriculum would be used in-tandem with other subjects to coordinate all subjects in the school toward common goals (led by students!)

Pictured: Options for students to take a lesson and extend it toward experiential learning, further media discovery, or within traditional classroom subject areas. In this example, a hands-on activity looks at understanding "code switching" and complicates the concept of "professionalism." An extension activity in English examples Conversation Analysis through the lens of an Autistic individual.

Layout

Our IDS framework has three sections:

  • Action (first half of the course): A series of 45+, 2-3 day PDF/Google Document lesson plans that can easily be adapted for one's context and community. Students are presented with various hands-on activities, reflections, media, and more to create a portfolio of lessons learned. These are not "traditional" lesson plans that are meant to be administered to the whole class at once. Instead, they are designed to be modular so that individual students, small groups, or at times the entire class, can tackle lessons that interest them the most. We trust (and know) that educators almost adapt online resources and we wanted that process to be as easy as possible.

    Across each lesson completed, students will add pages to their learning portfolio. Authentic evidence gathering includes, but is not limited to: a self-assessment, student/teacher conferences, Socratic seminars, reflections, and more.

    Plus, each lesson contains extension activity ideas for each common subject area, places to get started for the Impact section (below), and extension media sources such as podcasts and YouTube videos.
Pictured: An introduction activity in the Google Docs version of "Discovering Knowledge Gaps", which focuses on pop culture: what makes something popular? what about things that aren't popular?
  • Impact (Showcase - second half of the course): A framework focused on creating experiential learning opportunities. Examples include: hosting a community panel to learn from those doing work helping others in their community; researching the practice of “code switching” and creating an action campaign that informs and complicates what it means to be “professional"; conducting a research study to collect a series of interviews from an older generation, documenting their knowledge on a historical event or space; or generating a petition/call to action aimed at a company to change their practices regarding fast fashion.

    Students will use the design thinking process to explore a topic that interested them in the Action section, working by themselves or in groups to tackle something that makes a difference. Students brainstorm, research, and design their own Impact plan which is showcased at the end of the semester or year.
Pictured: The first section of our extension activities on "Discovering Knowledge Gaps", which includes potentially preparing a research study that documents an older generation's knowledge on a specific topic. An extension activity in mathematics examines: why do we learn math? What's the point of conceptual mathematics? What debates exist about math?
  • Pedagogical Understanding: It's very important to us that any resource we release furthers the cause, understanding, and necessity of progressive education. Therefore, our curriculum will release with a pedagogical guide that guides educators through the process of teaching the course. Obviously, educators are free to interpret and implement any curriculum in a classroom, but our goal is to design a framework that institutes human-centered change. The focus of the IDS is on implementing a universal design for learning (UDL), promoting student self-direction and determination, as well as promoting a hands-on experience. In addition, HRP will be contracting a disability specialist to ensure our resources are accessible.
Pictured: An early draft of our IDS working model, consisting of Action (individual self-, peer-, and class-driven lessons); Impact (working through the design process on a specific interest); Pedagogy (concepts which will inform the process, such as UDL and self-determination theory).

The Focus

The IDS is guided by our interpretation of the standards laid out by Holistic Think Tank, as well as embedding of the UN Sustainable Development Goals:

  1. How to confront themselves with challenges - Students will learn how to break down information to solve the many problems that face the world today, including personal, reflective concepts all the way to critical world issues.
  2. How to function in relation to the world and nature, as well as with one’s own body - Seeing oneself as a member of a local and global community is vitally important, and students will see how they relate to those around them, including promoting and sustaining a healthy world.
  3. The ideas of science and scholarship (learning) - In addition to understanding facts, we recognize that students need to know scientific inquiry, scholarship, and critical analysis, furthering their understanding of unreliable data and information. Our goal is to create an intrinsic excitement for inquiry.
  4. How to function in society - Understanding how to cooperative, compromise, and at times - stand up for oneself, are all important elements of living in a shared community. Further, we must be able to respect differences, recognize bias and privilege, and the power of interpersonal relationships. We are presenting a solution-oriented goals to deal with conflict and promote the common good.
  5. Aesthetic and cultural awareness - Whether using auditory, visual, or other communication methods, we must be able to clearly communicate in a compelling fashion. In order to be an effective communicator, we recognize the appreciation of various aesthetic forms, as well as awareness of cultural values and preferences.
  6. How to function in variable contexts and environments - A 21st century skills education needs to go beyond the narrow-focused career training that has become common in schools. Students must learn the transferable skills of collaborative problem solving and gain experience in applying these skills across multiple contexts. This includes thinking about problems on local, national, and global scales, as well as across various cultural contexts and respecting differences. We must be adaptable.
  7. How to function in relation to the state - In addition to understanding how governments work, students must understand their role and responsibilities as a citizen, examine how policy decisions get made, and determine how they can best effect change. Students must learn the principles behind democratic action and understand the structural roots of social inequality.
  8. Entrepreneurship - Whether students go on to work in a private business or a public service role, students should recognize the core competencies to launch entrepreneurial ventures. This includes long-term planning, taking initiatives, and understanding financial cost/benefit analyses. Additionally, students should develop techniques to adopt tenacity and resilience to pursue their goals.
  9. Interpersonal communication - Modern problems require collaboration – students need interpersonal communication. This includes verbalizing their thoughts with clear, appropriate vocabulary, but it also requires that students become culturally sensitive, understanding how messages are perceived differently in different cultural contexts.
  10. Self-development - Finally, students must develop a practice of self reflection and improvement. They must become lifelong learners who constantly strike to improve themselves and have the tools to do so.

Release

We are thrilled to share this resource later this year, distributed entirely for free through Holistic Think Tank. Be on the lookout for updates as we grow and expand our project. We look forward to continue being able to supplement and improve your teaching expertise, as well as offer guidance in progressive pedagogy.

In addition, we encourage you to follow our progress on the Sharing Power With Students Handbook, which will release for free this year. This resource will document pedagogical and action-driven items to build thriving classroom communities where adults and students trust and learn from one another.

In the meantime, be sure to...

Pictured: The cover of our Sharing Power With Students Handbook, featuring an astronaut being split in two facing an abstract space scene, one side black and white, the other filled with color.

Stationery Mockup PSD created by CosmoStudio - www.freepik.com

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