“500 years. 500 years that the Native Americans have been ridiculed by Whites, it’s been so long and yet nothing has changed: money before human beings.”
Thirteen-year-old Cristina Torres has been reading a lot of speeches in Mr. Fischer’s class and knows that she wants to start her speech about the Dakota Access Pipeline with a bold statement. Torres knows she can support those strong words with strong evidence because she has been studying the history of indigenous peoples in one class and the history of man-made environmental impacts on the U.S. in another.
Like all eighth-graders participating in the Common Core, Cristy Torres is learning to write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence. Because she is a student at the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC), an International Baccalaureate public school with an environmental and social mission, Torres is developing these skills through concepts that are relevant to her time and place within an interdisciplinary unit of inquiry.
AGC language and literacy teacher Mr. Fischer feels that the political context helps draw students into the unit. “The speeches that we have been writing have been very helpful for students perspective taking skills. I think there is a great deal of empathy being developed by our students. I notice that many students are writing things like, ‘To us the land is more that just soil and water.’ They are thinking in terms of their place in the broader society, and getting a taste of what it feels like to use their voice in a structured, supported, serious way.”
AGC has found that, when developmentally appropriate, topics in social justice and environmental stewardship promote academic excellence and student-led learning. AGC has a rule: “No tragedies before third grade.” In the early years, AGC’s curriculum fosters the natural empathy and curiosity of children, inviting them to fall in love with nature and find wonder in the diversity of the human experience.
Torres has been studying this issue from many angles and perspectives for six weeks. In science class, she is studying the energy industry and climate change, in individuals and societies, she is studying the history of indigenous peoples in America, and in language and literacy, Mr. Fischer’s class, she is reading and writing first-person literature about both topics.
During weekly meetings, Cristy’s teachers plan how units will align with Common Core Standards as well as AGC’s sustainability program, and global citizenship continuum. These content standards then fit within the International Baccalaureate framework and AGC’s cycle of inquiry.
“We have deliberately planned the use of resources to work in conjunction with each other,” says Mr. Fischer. “We made sure that we were focusing on complementary events and time periods. We planned our assessments to complement each other but assess the students on different aspects of the criterion.”
Individuals and societies teacher, Berenice Salas (who is also an AGC parent) appreciates collaboration because “we are really prioritizing holistic learning and the authentic learning process…not to mention the level of academic rigor that it demands!”
“We are studying shared concepts, yet teaching our own disciplinary skills. We do not purposefully tell students, ‘you are learning an interdisciplinary unit,’ they make those connections on their own, and when that moment happens, it is amazing!”