New interdisciplinary courses set to inspire students
Posted 04/16/2019 02:09PM

By Jessica Thompson, Newswire

"We're designing these courses to increase student choice and learning opportunities, and we're really seeking to offer courses that are more aligned to real-world experiences and take learning outside of the school walls," says Kelsey Giroux, one of the leads in an innovative program of interdisciplinary learning at the International School of Beijing (ISB).

ISB has designed a new menu of High School courses for 2019-2020 based on the principle of learning that integrates different traditional academic disciplines, rather than teaching them in isolation.

As ISB nears the end of a pilot year for two such courses – Science and Engineering, and Action Research – the school is introducing two more in the academic year beginning August 2019. And with the sign-up period for course choices including these four having just closed, students are looking forward to some exciting opportunities.

Next year, ISB will offer Science and Engineering, currently only taught to grade 9 students, to grade 10s. It will also offer the Action Research course, currently taught in grade 10, to grade 9 students as well.

Course choice - students in Flex Space

Interdisciplinary courses evolve

Close to five years ago, ISB started its Futures Academy in the Middle School, which didn't change what the students were learning, but instead how they were learning.

As the program grew, the school started a Futures Academy in the High School with a different approach. "Students designed their own projects and experiences, and it was based on their passions and interests and we helped facilitate that," Giroux says.

With a full-day time commitment, the program didn't attract many students, though they liked the idea of interdisciplinary learning.

And since ISB has its own curriculum, it has the flexibility to adapt and change its programs to best meet the needs of the students and ensure its future is a successful one.

"We discovered what was important in those classes were some aspects of interdisciplinary learning, students having a choice and that real-world context," Giroux says. "We kept those as cornerstone pieces in these new courses."

The new courses are in-depth, year-long programs which take up a double block rather than the full day. Students receive credit for a core content area plus an elective credit.

"The elective is what gives us flexibility in these course designs," Giroux says.

And according to ISB student Noah M, the new courses offer a more hands-on approach to learning.

"When I was choosing courses, I noticed a course that took up two blocks and was a lot more hands-on than the other courses," Noah says. "You also got to go on two trips to Cambodia [pictured below]."

He chose to enroll in the Action Research program for 2018-2019.

Course choice - Cambodia 1

New courses offer different pathways

"Every student is unique and we want to offer different pathways and opportunities to each student," Giroux says.

Once they've selected their courses, students have choice in where they take their learning.

"Some students learn better when they can make connections across subject areas or some students really learn by doing or creating," according to Giroux. "My class took two trips to Cambodia. You don't get much more real-world than that."

And it's this hands-on experience that has truly stuck with Noah.

"I found the course really great because it makes the stuff we're learning applicable to our lives because going there and seeing things first-hand such as how people live, the amount of money they live on, the resources they need, the facilities they have and what we can do to help, it makes my research much more personal," he says.

"Currently, I'm looking into solutions to the water crisis in Cambodia and how that can be fixed in a realistic and feasible way."

Course choice - Cambodia 2

Noah, in addition to having his eyes opened to authentic issues, has gained better researching and writing skills through Action Research.

"Learning how to combine my personal passion of history and social studies with writing and research, it's enabled me to be a much better writer in English, but also a critical thinker and researcher for social studies," he says. "It's really applicable to everyday life and helps prepare me for my future."

And as the teacher of the Action Research program, Giroux has seen the effects on these students, with many wanting to volunteer to help out next year's classes.

"For them to be involved next year, that's their choice, that's not a class they're taking, that's them personally saying, 'I've been really engaged in this work and I want to continue with it'," Giroux says. "The conversations I've had with students who want to come back next year, those have been the 'wow' moments for me because, in some way, shape or form, it's had an impact on them."

And isn't that a good indicator of effective teaching, creating a learning environment where students actually want to learn? "Our goal at the end of the day is always what is best for students and how can we improve student learning," Giroux says. "That is the goal in education, so it always comes back to that."

Click here to watch ISB's new video on the interdisciplinary courses.

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