MYP Humanities Unit Question: Do humans control the Earth or does the Earth control humans?
It’s still strange when my unit plans overlap with real life. My grade 6 students worked on a unit of study about natural disasters earlier this school year. The unit question was “Do humans control the earth or does the earth control humans?” Looking back, more than three weeks after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear radiation scares this unit question seems even more real than I imagined when I put together the unit plan. Freaky even. For me, I’m even less secure in my belief that we have any control over nature. Japan is the most prepared, most ready, most safe country to experience an earthquake. And the losses are beyond imagining. I am not sure if I’m ready to go back to this question with my sixth graders. But I will. I will do it for no other reason that I usually find real comfort in the practical nature of 11 year olds.
Grade 6 Summative Assessment: Postcards from a Hotspot. You have recently started to write postcards to a person living in Yokohama,Japan. You love your home. It could be that your home has great weather, fertile soil for farming, beautiful scenery, or just because it’s somewhere that your family has lived for generations. However, there are risks that you face every day, which could be an earthquake or an active volcano or another natural disaster.
In the same vein, I find it strange when my assessments overlap with real life. One of the assessments for the natural disaster unit, students had to write postcards from the point of view of someone who lived through a disaster. They studied the floods in Mozambique, the earthquake in Kobe, and volcano in Montserrat. They wrote about the physical geography and the short-term and long-term effects of a natural disaster.*
The instructions for the fifth postcard were as follows: “This is postcard telling your pen-pal whether you are leaving your home because of the risk of another natural disaster or if you are staying in your home. YOU MUST EXPLAIN WHY YOU MADE YOUR DECISION.”
We are all living this decision here in Japan.
After three weeks away from Japan, I am back in my apartment and getting ready for a teacher workday tomorrow. Kids show up on Tuesday. I can’t wait to see my students. I imagine a lot of our discussion will be about why we decided to leave Japan or why we decided to stay. We will talk about our friends who aren’t back yet and the friends who may not come back. It’s not easy. When I felt my first earthquake on the day I returned, I checked to make sure I had room on my credit card “just in case”. I am going on a potassium iodine run. I ordered a sweet earthquake kit from California, to make up for my hastily thrown together kit which is far from complete. I’m not an alarmist normally, but I want to be ready. And if these preparations do nothing more than make me feel a little bit more in control, so be it.
I don’t have deep roots here in Japan, to say the least. I’ve been here for about eight months, I don’t have family ties like many people, and can’t speak a sentence of Japanese. I came here for a great job. Leaving Tokyo three weeks ago was the right decision for me. But now it feels like the right decision to return. I’m not sure how life is going to be different, but I make the decision to stay. There are professional reasons and a moral responsibility I feel to my students. There is the trust I have in my administration that they wouldn’t put me in an unsafe position. There are friendships I want to nurture. There is a stubbornness to stay put. There is the desire to see the cherry blossoms, travel in my adopted home country, and help. And, perhaps ironically, experiencing this earthquake made me fall a little bit more in love with Japan.
And there is my own postcard from my very own hotspot.
———-*By the way….I loved this assessment when we were doing it and always planned on writing about it. The kids did fantastic work and was quite easy to differentiate for different ability levels.