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Tuesday, 29 January 2019 12:45

From Personal to Global: Weaving Student Experience and Reflection through Interdisciplinary Unit learning at The International School of Helsinki

Grade 9 students at ISH have recently finished an IDU entitled “Why Do we Turn Away?” The unit strategically paired academic lessons in psychology, the novel Exit West, and global migration with more personal learning opportunities in both performance and service. This unique combination allowed students to challenge their opinions and develop authentic understanding. 

Lessons in English and Individuals and Societies classes, pushed students beyond a standard historical or geographical account of the migration crisis to consider their own answers to the unit question, “Why do we turn away?” Simultaneously, service learning opportunities encouraged students to support the migrant population in Helsinki to develop long term, meaningful relationships with unaccompanied minor asylum seekers. Students were challenged to widen their moral circle by assisting with English lessons, providing child care for new migrants so they could attend legal interviews and volunteer at mixers for young migrants to break down the barriers between communities within our city.

The crescendo of the unit was the development of the class’ theatrical performance of understanding for a blended audience of the school community and young asylum seekers. This dramatic production aimed to break through apathy to bridge understanding while cultivating our students’ creative voices as storytellers and performers. Summative Assessments included the production of commercial quality podcasts on individually researched migration crises, and artist’s reflection on their final performance of understanding.

Evidence of learning came through students’ reflection on the impact of combining service and hands on learning with academics. One 9th grader commented, “This unit seemed really important and sometimes challenging in terms of the collaboration skills. To listen respectfully to different opinions, take them into consideration and sometimes even change something in your own believes.” Another noted, “I used the Cafe Night as both a real life learning experience and an opportunity to meet new people. I realised that getting to know people who are outside of my ‘circle’ and community isn’t a bad thing. I, myself, have moved many times in my life and I came to understand that many people migrate in their lives even if it isn’t by choice.” These reflections demonstrate the authentic connections students make when they have the chance to combine academic studies with action and creation.

Developers of the unit, Ellen Heything and Rachael Thrash will run a workshop at the upcoming CEESA conference in Warsaw to showcase the IDU “Why do we turn away?” as a model for service that pushes students to challenge their assumptions and expand their empathy. They will discuss practical approaches to developing learning experiences that meet and ultimately exceeds the MYP criterion.