29 November 2022
IDS GRANTS SUMMARY: to design Interdisciplinary Subject
Holistic Think Tank’s mission is to make schools around the world raise learners ready for the challenges of the modern world. To achieve our purpose, we need to break away from the conventional way of thinking about school, in which the acquisition of hard knowledge and passing numerous tests are considered the most crucial. In fact, the key value students should take from schools is social competencies, which would be the solid basis for gathering knowledge. With this intention, we created the What School Ought To Teach (WSOT) list, which specifies social, psychological, and emotional competencies as well as practical skills lacking in schools. Holistic Think Tank is working on a project that is aimed at transforming current education methods and practices by devising a new, interdisciplinary subject (IDS) to be taught at schools worldwide.
We have invited educational organizations to join us in developing it. The HTT provided $300,000 in grants for the winning projects. Grantees’ materials were analyzed, taking into account the following aspects:
- How does each grantee portfolio contribute to the development of the IDS Curriculum;
- What are pedagogical methods and tools offered as part of the interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning;
- What are the learning activities/scenarios as best examples to disseminate across the education community;
- What do we still need to build a comprehensive curriculum and bring a positive impulse for change in line with human-oriented holistic education?
In the course of our analysis, we decided to identify three organizations with which we started cooperation:
- School of Education – The University of Sheffield (UK)
- Human Restoration Project (US)
- The Fab Foundation (US)
Each submitted their achievements in August/September 2022. It is time to summarize the received handouts.
Overview of grantees’ materials
1. “My Media, My Power, My World”, School of Education – The University of Sheffield
School of Education in the Faculty of the Social Sciences of the University of Sheffield designed the Interdisciplinary Subject (IDS), which helps to develop in students of primary school competencies that would help them function in the contemporary world in a way that is both conscious and socially sensitive. Considering the HTT’s What School Ought To Teach (WSOT) list, the project’s authors created a concise, tripartite structure curriculum consisting of the following subject areas: “My Media,” “My Power,” and “My World.”
The area titled “My Media” consists of two sets of lessons: “Purpose” and “Safety.” The separation of these two collections is essential as, in the opinion of the project’s authors, the existing curricula relating to the subject of the media focused mainly on the issues of online threats and challenges. The authors’ ambition goes much further; the set of activities created in their project provides tools to support students in using digital media to learn, discover, express, advocate, teach, interact, communicate, create, play, relax, and much more. The “Purpose” section encourages students to critically explore the purpose and practice of various types of media. The “Safety” bit of the curriculum puts particular emphasis on two issues: keeping safe and information sharing. According to the authors’ intention, this set of lessons expands the student’s skills in the safe use of media, mainly digital, while contributing to critical thinking and communication skills.
The curriculum segment titled “My Power” is a group of activities that provide the students with various ways to explore and enhance their ability to affect change in multiple areas of social life. They encourage students to recognize their ability to embody social conscience and antiracist practice, understand the nuances of privilege, envision and carry out their campaign, research how to improve environmental practice at school, and finally realize their creative potential.
The third part, “My world,” is divided into two sets. The first of them, “My World Makes Me,” displays the impact of the social world on the individual. It also teaches a more conscious way of interacting with literacy throughout learners’ lives. In the “I Make My World” segment, students realize how they shape the people and the place around them and how to reflect on their feelings and behavior.
2. Human Centered IDS, Human Restoration Project
The driving force behind HRP’s creation of the proprietary curriculum was the need for a new education that responds to the challenges of the modern world. The course is based on values related to students’ search for a learning goal, cooperation with classmates, and achieving worthwhile social goals. The authors wanted to move away from outdated teaching standards, with a pervasive climate of competition in the classroom that causes students to prioritize their achievements measured by grades rather than contributing to the enrichment of the community. The global change in education advocated by HRP requires schools where democratic principles are respected. The education offered by HRP aims to educate people who understand the need for change and, at the same time, are competent to implement it. The goal of the teaching process is not to impose more and more abstract and unrelated knowledge on students but to awaken the students’ willingness and ability to learn. According to HRP, the best way to achieve this goal is to give students as much freedom as possible to choose the topics and activities they are passionate about.
All lessons in the Human-Centered Interdisciplinary Subject are alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which are to reach by 2030. The curriculum structure proposed by HRP consists of two main segments: “activity” and “impact.”
The “activity” part, carried out during the first part of the course, is a set of lessons and activities undertaken during them, designed with two main assumptions: awakening students’ curiosity about the world in which they live and awakening a sense of belonging to a community. Each lesson consists of an introduction, practical exercises, tips for discussion, a media section related to the topic, and a question for reflection. In addition, each lesson is accompanied by a guide for facilitators, along with extensions to the curriculum.
The second part, “impacts,” starts when students pick up the subject to make it into a project. Students present their plans to the educators and classmates and begin to work on them after obtaining approval. The exemplary projects take a form of:
- The social campaign;
- The preparation of a school display;
- The proposal for government policy change;
- The project of business with social relevance.
It is essential considering the envisioned form of the preparation of Project-Based Learning, i.e., would it be single subject/cross-curricular, teacher-led/student-led, uniform/jigsaw, the final project provided/open-ended? The other issue is a proper time preassigned for the accomplishment of the particular tasks and how the assessment will be done (portfolios, community feedback, presentations, reflections, teacher critique, remediation, functionality).
The HRP project differs from commonly used educational systems by recognizing students’ independence, creativity, and responsibility. The central assumption is that the student does not learn to obtain an external assessment but rather due to the awakened and unfettered cognitive curiosity.
3. Thrive Project, The FAB Foundation
The notion of “thriving” is key to understanding the main idea behind the FAB Foundation team’s elaboration of the designed curriculum. This concept should be a starting point for developing several teaching activities for individual lessons that comprise the entire curriculum. According to the grantee, “thriving” includes a learning process based on a holistic understanding of reality, detecting existing ties of human beings with the environment, and nurturing healthy interpersonal relationships.
The IDS project created by the Fab Foundation is based on the assumption that interdisciplinary education and project based learning is the most effective way to help students learn the 10 HTT competencies, along with digital literacy.
IDS project created by the FAB Foundation refers to: interdisciplinary education, holistic and socio-emotional education, digital literacy, and Project-Based Learning. The assumption of “interdisciplinarity” is understood here as combining various disciplines in one curriculum while focusing on one topic with particular emphasis on practical knowledge. The school curriculum developed by the FAB Foundation team combines the Project-Based Learning methodology with the development of two skill sets: socio-emotional competencies and digital media literacy. Thus, it aims to educate students as people who understand the importance of empathy in social contacts, internalize the values of a democratic society, and at the same time are well prepared for living in an advanced technology reality. The envisioned role of the teachers in the project is to help students develop curiosity and the capability to solve problems.
The curriculum developed by the FAB Foundation consists of two parts: “Thriving communities” and “Thriving relationships.” Each includes three curricula adapted to three grades, namely grades 1 and 2, 3 and 4, and 5 and 6, covering all primary education levels. Each syllabus consists of a set of educational activities carried out in the classroom, along with a description of the educational goals and the assumed learning outcomes. The syllabi summary explains the purposes of the implemented educational projects. Therefore, the final project designed and implemented by students is a “capstone” of all activities planned for a syllabus to date. At the same time, it meets the educational assumptions of its authors. The additional educational materials prepared by the FAB Foundation team include, among others, a student assessment template covering all elements of the syllabus.
The “Project Thrive – Community” includes projects aimed at a positive change in the functioning of the local community. FAB Foundation created the syllabus for grades 1-2 to prepare children for an educational walking path through the local environment. Curricula for older learners are aimed at solving specific problems of the local community, such as proper management of water resources. Projects prepared for each age class as part of the “Project Thrive – Relationships” aim to improve interpersonal relationships at school while making it “thriving” for each participant in school life. For this task, students use digital skills. Nevertheless, the project’s authors considered the level of digitization of various schools; therefore, some tasks can be carried out using alternative means available under the given conditions.
Similarities and differences.
Pedagogical approaches grounded in IDS materials and tools
To understand the Interdisciplinary Subjects proposed by grantees, we need to analyze the pedagogical approaches which inspired them. In the first instance, Fab Foundation referred to three pedagogical approaches: Constructionism, Understanding By Design (UBD), and Project-Based Learning (PBL). From the constructionist perspective, every class student brings unique cognitive resources. The constructionism theory stresses the importance of social contributions in acquiring knowledge as learning occurs through social interactions, peer feedback, and a collaborative learning environment. Understanding By Design (UBD) emphasizes deep learning gained from the teacher’s role in facilitating inquiry and problem-solving. Project-based Learning (PBL), in turn, is understood as a holistic instructional approach in which students actively participate in projects based on their interests and real-world challenges.
The PBL, along with experiential learning, was also used by Human Restoration Projects for the proposed IDS. Furthermore, the HRP approach is also substantially grounded in Universal Design for Learning (UDL). This teaching approach accommodates the needs and abilities of all students and eliminates unnecessary hurdles in the learning process.
University of Sheffield’s concept of IDS, in turn, is based on various educational settings and approaches. It focuses on children’s empowerment and considers student ownership of learning as a way of increasing learning effectiveness. As illuminated by many research studies, greater learning gains occur when students are engaged and interested in what they are learning.
The similarities between our grantees’ approaches point to a fundamental point: the learning process is student-controlled and requires his involvement and curiosity. The role of the teacher is to guide and organize this process rather than strictly provide knowledge, as cited in HRP Pedagogical Handbook words of Seymour Papert: The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.
Although grantees share similar values and a humanistic vision of education, their proposed IDS materials are slightly different. These similarities and differences are presented in Table 1.
Table 1. Main features of IDS materials worked-out by Fab Foundation, Human Restoration Project and The University of Sheffield – Similarities and Differences
|Key elements||Fab Foundation||Human Restoration Project||The University of Sheffield|
|Title, concept, philosophy or principle behind||Thrive Project, “Thriving Communities” and “Thriving Relationships”||Human Centered IDS||“My Media, My Power, My World” drawing on a variety of subject knowledge and skills and expanding them in new ways, including non-academic|
|Pedagogy and learning approaches||Constructionism, Project-Based Learning (PBL), Understanding By Design (UBD), digital fabrication||Universal Design for Learning (UDL), PBL, experiential learning, Critical Pedagogy & Democratic Classrooms, self-determination theory, constructivism||Based on a variety of educational settings and approaches, focus on empowerment of children and student ownership of learning, wide use of digital media|
|Target audience||Primary school students (5-12 years)||11-12 years and Secondary school students||Primary school students (5-11 years)|
|Content of materials||Six courses, each approximately 30 hours (class periods ~ 1 hour), Teacher’s guide, Assessment Rubric||43 Core Activities (facilitation and student guides) along with Take It Further Activities, including project ideas, additional media, Impact and pedagogical guidebooks, ungraded handbook||50 scenarios of activities, Teacher materials|
|Definition of IDS||A method of integrating the curriculum to bring different disciplines to bear on one topic/theme/issue and centers teaching and learning on the creation of meaning in the context of real-world issues or topics||Course structured around the values of purpose finding, cooperation, and the common good to teach skills that are essential for thriving in a 21st-century world||IDS “centers on critical thinking and social justice, and aims to provide young learners with the tools to understand global literacy, in preparation for their future engagement with ever-changing digital, virtual and physical landscapes“|
|Activities||Self-sustain courses on interdisciplinary topics||Stand-alone curriculum usable for a new subject, activities can be modified to teach traditional subjects||Discussion-based activities enhancing existing curricula, enabling children to build on existing knowledge and bring it into classrooms context|
|Understanding of teacher’s role||Facilitating inquiry and problem-solving||Co-learn, facilitate, inspire, and advise||Facilitate, inspire, and advise|
|Understanding of student’s role||Child-centered, students as active actors, central members of their world, utilizing the child’s strong, inherent desire to make sense of his/her/their environment||Active learners through the whole learning process from engaging in all design thinking phases to self-assessment||Creators of knowledge, students being global citizens, who engage with peers from various nationalities and cultural backgrounds not only through media consumption, but within the realms of their own classroom|
Comparison of activity scenarios
To a large extent, each grantee’s curriculum applies to all the assumptions from the WSOT list. Some of the grantee’s curricula scenarios are directly inspired by a specific value, focusing mainly on its development, treating it as the central topic of a given lesson. On the other hand, most of the proposed scenarios combine in their content several ideological assumptions formulated by HTT. Metaphorically comparing the effects of the grant holders’ projects to a musical work, e.g., a symphony, we can tell that the presented educational projects are three separate parts, written for different scores, which, however, share a common theme of holistic education.
Three spheres are clearly visible, which have been considered by their authors.
Undoubtedly, the first one is the broadly understood emphasis on developing competencies for active, responsible, and safe use of the world of digital media. Considering that the necessity to have it will become even more indispensable soon, it is understandable that the authors of the projects place so much emphasis on developing it as part of the practical toolkit for students’ life. However, the way they do this differs per specific project. In the program prepared by the School of Education, there is a separate part on the world of digital media (My Media) intended for three different age grades. In the HRP project, despite distinct scenarios on this topic (Artificial Intelligence, Breaking Across Social Media), students independently acquire appropriate competencies during the entire educational process, which is still firmly focused on accurate and up-to-date knowledge about digital media. In this context, the project proposed by the FAB Foundation deserves special attention. In the scenario of each lesson, there is a separate part related to the development of digital technology skills, including the use of digital devices such as 3D printers, plotters, and laser cutters. Moreover, some of the lesson plans prepared by the FAB Foundation can, at least partially, be conducted in a virtual world using, for example, augmented reality applications.
The second area that grantees studied in their projects is several issues that can be described in a unified term as “participation in society.” This term covers several educational goals that inspired the authors of the projects, such as: developing pro-social attitudes, activism, influencing the shape of local and global politics, or supporting social sensitivity. Although the FAB Foundation curricula largely meet these criteria, they mainly focus on solving problems in the local dimension, perceived from the perspective of the school and its immediate social and environmental surroundings. For example, in the curriculum (Design Community 5-6), the so-called “capstone project” summarizing this program’s entire set of activities is aimed at doing the project created by the students positively affecting the local community. HRP and the School of Education, in addition to the local dimension, consider the global aspect of the issues studied. This is particularly evident in the HRP approach, which emphasizes the links between social problems and current governmental or world policies. Characteristically, the themes of both projects largely overlap in this area (touching on such issues as democratic activities, prejudices and privileges, and racism).
The third subject area clearly visible in the educational scenarios presented by the grantees is the field of emotional self-development. This concept covers a wide range of meanings relating to shaping interpersonal relations based on empathy and kindness or cultivating the ability of emotional self-regulation. Such interest is understandable if we take into account the fact that soft skills are considered indispensable in the current labor market. Each scholarship holder undertook such a topic as an essential part of the curricula submitted, presenting various ways of implementing theoretical assumptions in practice.
In the FAB Foundation’s project, as in the case of scenarios developing social sensitivity, the emphasis is on the local dimension. Part of the project is mainly about building healthy interpersonal relationships at school. According to the project’s authors, the condition for this is to recognize and understand the mechanisms of developing one’s emotions along with the feelings experienced by others. These programs culminate by creating a physical space at school to resolve conflicts and build a consensus based on empathy and emotional self-regulation.
The School of Education dedicates a lot of space to emotional development in the “My Media” section, among others. The pedagogical goal, in this case, is to make students think about how they should behave when, for example, someone distributes photos of other people on the Internet without the consent of the photographed person. In this case, the stake is not only getting used to social media etiquette but, more importantly, understanding someone else’s feelings and emotions.
In the case of a project proposed by HRP, some scenarios directly relate to the issue of emotional self-development. This topic is explored explicitly in a “Soft Skills” scenario where students can assess their ability to experience empathy. As in other cases, the HRP scenarios appeal to philosophy. For example, in the “Human Thinking” scenario, the authors define humanity as “causing no harm, and exhibiting sympathy, empathy, and self-control, as well as kindness and benevolence.” The scenario “What Makes You You” prompts students to undertake a deeper self-analysis of their mental construct, including how they perceive other people’s needs. One of the most “philosophical” scenarios presented by HRP is undoubtedly the scenario (Making Choices) in which the authors examine the concept of “goodness.” Each grantee addressed the issue of evaluating students in a different way. HRP has proposed an innovative approach that takes into account student self-assessment to a large extent. The Sheffield University did not take up this problem, assuming that it is more important that the taught competencies meet the assumptions of WSOT. The Fab Foundation provides three forms of assessment: 1. for teachers to test if a student has acquired specific skills; 2. for students to do self-assessment via “I can…” statements, and 3. a template for an extensive rubric for assessing to what degree a student has acquired the ten competencies (WSOT).
The issue of student evaluation, along with its established criteria, requires a separate discussion and should be the subject of further joint efforts of the scholarship holders.
i.e. what do we still need to build a comprehensive IDS curriculum and bring positive impulses for change in line with human-oriented holistic education?
The first thing worth noting is that – while we all dream of a holistic, human-centered education – ideas on creating it are different. They result from many factors, mainly from the adopted pedagogical assumptions, philosophical inspirations, or practical educational experiences. On the one hand, it is natural, and on the other positively and creatively influences the development of new teaching concepts and models. After comparing the three presented projects, we get a kind of “cross-project,” inspiring discussion. We hope that soon this discussion will become lively among our grantees who, by consolidating their forces, can work out one comprehensive IDS based on previously developed projects.
The HTT-approved definition of IDS is an “adaptive, reality-based system of guidelines for teaching all subjects.” Treating this as a starting point, the projects submitted by scholarship holders allow us to clarify our expectations in two dimensions: teaching methodology and educational assumptions implemented in the teaching process. In addition, each grantee fully considered the assumptions of WSOT, though placing them in different contexts. This is an excellent advantage of these projects as they provide the necessary variety of approaches and inspirations for practical application.
However, we have still not answered how to teach specific school subjects, such as mathematics, history, or biology. The HRP project seems to come closest to answering this question in the “extend” part for facilitators, as there are direct indications of how teachers should use a scenario to teach a given subject. Assuming the fellows will continue working with HTT on preparing the IDS, this looks like one of the main directions for further work.
On the other hand, there is another way to look at IDS. Namely, as a completely new, universal subject taught worldwide. It can be added to all existing curricula regardless of the differences between education systems around the world. It is a subject that teaches the necessary competencies and skills needed to function in the modern world. This topic should emphasize the development of the ability to navigate correctly in the networks of the digital world, strengthening the attitudes of social activism and social sensitivity, caring for the natural environment, and nurturing the sphere of emotional development and interpersonal relations.
In conclusion, the following areas of IDS development need further development:
- Testing and piloting the activities in various contexts worldwide;
- Preparing a comprehensive IDS handbook to teach IDS as an integral part of the school curriculum (to answer questions on how to incorporate the IDS approach in all school subjects) or carry out learning IDS as a separate course;
- Make a coherent approach to evaluation and grading approach towards IDS;
- Find accurate methods to prepare educators to teach IDS in line with holistic human-based principles.