As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started appreciating the intersections of philosophy and film but not as a way to “understand a deeper meaning” in a film (which implies that the creators had that specific intent, and I’ve always disliked doing more than speculating on that in terms of philosophical intent). I like seeing it in the way that we try to understand the choices that a character makes and why they make those choices; it’s a skill that works out nicely for becoming more understanding of the decisions that others make in the real world and in the study of history.
In the Matrix series, there’s a strong focus on the importance of causality (“action… reaction, cause and effect,” as The Merovingian puts it). There’s a huge focus on whether or not our lives are based on free will or self-determination, which are concepts that we’re constantly applying in so many ways (economics, current events, historical events, etc); seeing these in fiction, particularly in visual media, help to explain them in a broader context (and, maybe, help us to understand our own beliefs and why we believe them).
A small warning for (censored) language on this video, though it’s really quite minor.
In social sciences, this is a huge focus for a lot of topics. We discuss the causality of different events, though this is most often done with units about wars (and less often found in units that revolve around civil rights movements or belief systems). Sometimes, it’s easier to see the links that connect events, helping us to understand them. Yet, it’s still worth asking one question: Is that event really what triggered that one?
For example, in American history, we often believe that the United States attacked Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to force Japan to surrender earllier. This is printed in every single history textbook that I’ve ever read as a student or used as a teacher. But there are a few glitches with that story. Namely, Japan had already surrendered before the bombs were even dropped. Their military was already beaten, while there are also arguments that the Soviet invasion was potentially a bigger cause for their surrender because they would’ve assassinated the Japanese royal family. In reality, many historians disagree with the often cited belief — that dropping the bomb forced an early surrender — is far too simplistic and misleading.
So will we choose door that opens onto what appears to be the easiest to understand? Or will we choose the door that allows us to see a more complex world and to gain a better understanding of it, thus learning what is closer to the truth?
One of the things that I really want to get my students to be able to do, especially when I start working with them on Community Projects, is to get them to be able to write their own units on topics that they care about. One of the people that I credit with this is someone who I follow on Twitter: Prisonculture. They’re super involved in projects related to education, prison reform, shifting views on crime and violence, and many more. I’ve seen a lot of unit plans or educational plans come from their related projects, but I recently saw one that was made for Survived and Punished, a group that aims to help stop the criminalisation of survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
Now, I’m not planning to bring that exact unit plan into my classroom (because the target audience for it isn’t meant to be for students of my age range), but it made me think: What if they took topics that they really cared about and were pushed to create a lesson about them? What if they became the teacher, even for one lesson? For students who will be doing Community Projects (Grade 8 next year, possibly Grade 9 this year to prepare them for next year’s Personal Projects), I feel like this would be a really good component to their work because it will force them to present it in an engaging way (and also, maybe hopefully, teach them what it’s like to be on my side of the equation).
Also, more than with a presentation, they might find that it is much more enjoyable and interactive, finding ways for them to exhibit what they know while trying to be inclusive of learners who may be unfamiliar with it. For my students who are very proficient in English but also get annoyed by language learners in their classes, it might be a helpful way to teach them patience and empathy while also helping them to understand the work that their English-learning peers are working to both understand language and content; hopefully, it’d work as a bridge to make them more become more understanding and less frustrated, especially if they worked with multiple teachers in order to learn strategies for students who have different needs (language, learning difficulties and disabilities, etc).
Plus, it might open more avenues to explicitly including the IB learner profile attributes that we’re supposed to be mentioning as we teach our curriculum: caring, open-minded, and risk-taking.
When my students find out that I, too, like video games, it always sends them into asking the same handful of questions. Do you like Fortnite? (Not particularly.) Have you played Overwatch? (No, MOBAs aren’t my style because I really prefer single-player games or co-op with my friends.) Can we play Minecraft in class? (Not until I find a way to include it in class and make sure that you’re doing things well and respectfully while also learning something related to our units.) How many games do you own? (Way too many for my own good.)
But they never ask how they can be used as educational tools, even outside of the classroom.
Some of my favourite YouTube channels are about games and focus on design elements, mechanics, and narrative. They also focus on how social issues are made more obvious through the way a game is played, options that are available, or messages that the game gives in its story elements. For example, Chris Franklin (of Errant Signal) often produces video essays about different games, which are incredibly enjoyable to watch or listen to; they’re often reviews of games, but he also talks about poignant topics: specific portrayals of violence in video games, politics and the art of video games, and the sexism and racism in the types of characters included (or excluded).
But one that I’ve noticed hitting a lot of notes that are relevant to my classes is Mark Brown‘s Game Maker’s Toolkit. He’s been working recently on a series about making games more inclusive to people with a variety of disabilities (so far hearing-related disabilities and colourblindness or low vision), and he even made a video about how Overcooked really forces people to engage in teamwork and communication. But another recent video about playing past your mistakes caught my eye.
This kind of mentality is something that I want to bring into my classroom because it’s something I wish more of my students felt comfortable doing in real life: making mistakes. Far too often, I see my students trying to make everything absolutely perfect (or not even trying because they’re afraid to make that mistake), even though I try to build an environment that encourages experimenting with different ideas and strategies to learn something. It’s one of the few lessons that, really, a video game might be able to help teach everyone on how to be more risk-taking, even in more minor and every day actions (like asking questions or feeling like they can speak up about how they feel).
But it does, as he says, require learning a bit about feedback loops and how they might impact the ways that people respond to events. And all of that? Is really cool to think about in terms of school life and education.
One of the units that I’m planning to do for my ninth graders is Conflict, Disagreements, and Solutions. Because I’m not sure what direction I want to take with that unit right now (because it’s happening in March, and I’m collecting resources), I wanted to post this video that I found on the YouTube channel Philosophy Tube. In it, Oliver Thorn discusses how different airports were pre-2001 and after 2001 (and some changes in 2006, resulting in tiny liquid bottles in transparent bags); he also discusses how we perceive airport security and how it makes us feel. Another major issue is who we perceive as being criminal is a huge issue, and he explains the kind of ways in which we perform at the airport (the ‘performance of belonging’) and how there are some state groups that provoke people to commit crimes in order to arrest them.
It’s still an interesting watch, but I’m not sure that it’s something I’d want to include. For me, as someone who also remembers when airports were easier to get through, when the security checks were minimal, and there was less hassle and time wasted in an airport, it’s weird to think about.
Occasionally, I run into things that are actually pretty interesting but can’t find a use for in class. Some slang terms and etymology of words fall into that category, since my units don’t always fit that context.
Today, I ran into a video that discusses why English speakers — and, really, anyone who had to deal with us, thanks to colonialism and imperialism — use the phrase ‘OK’ (though, my students will definitely see me using ‘okay’ because that’s more my style). It’s such a harmless phrase that we probably don’t even think about it at all.
Last year, my school was super tiny. I started with a class of one student and ended with a class of five. We sometimes had art on the windows, just to make things interesting. As long as it related to any of our units, it got put up.
This month marks the start of a new school year and with so many more students than the previous year. It’s sure to be an exciting time! We’re still growing, and it’s pretty amazing to watch MYP go from 1 student at the beginning of SY 2017-18 to having two of the largest grades in the school (14 students in grade 7 and 10 in grade 9). It’s also amazing to welcome so many students to a model of learning that they’re not accustomed to (but are already showing an aptitude for).
We’ll be documenting different aspects of the school year, ranging from class projects to school activities. There have been a lot of ideas coming up, and we’ll hopefully be able to move forward with a lot of them. These include:
- Establishing a school newsletter/newspaper (run by grade 9);
- Potentially starting up Model UN (for grades 7 and 9);
- Peer tutoring during study hall (MYP);
- A potential environmental club for MYP with Ms C (from PYP);
- Doing MYP community projects with grade 9 to prepare them for the personal projects they’ll be doing next year in grade 10.
There’s a lot of work to be done by everyone, but it’s going to be a promising year!