Art can be a powerful vehicle for political protest and social change. That’s what students at Eugene International High School at Sheldon in Eugene, Oregon, discovered when their teacher, Lisa Albrich, introduced them to the arpilleras movement in Latin America, which began during the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile (1973-90). These brightly-colored patchwork pictures were made by groups of women to document the hardship and violence they endured during Pinochet’s repressive regime. In Ms. Albrich’s hands, they serve as a compelling tool for teaching about human rights.
With a $500 grant from the, Ms. Albrich bought the art supplies (canvas, fabric, thread, needles, glue) needed for students to create their own arpilleras. She also purchased rolls of butcher paper to create outlines of the 43 student teachers who were “disappeared”, i.e., kidnapped and never seen again, in the September 2014 Ayotzinapa crisis in Mexico. The outlines, a traditional form of protest in Latin America, were posted around the school to build awareness of current human rights abuses. As students studied the political dictatorships of Argentina and Chile in the 1970’s, they were able to express their understanding of the issues and their empathy for the victims through art. Perhaps more important, they were able to connect these historical examples with other human rights atrocities taking place right now. According to Ms. Albrich, “Several students were so moved by this unit that they chose to explore other issues of human rights.”
At the end of the unit, families and school staff packed an afternoon gallery tour where students displayed and described their artworkand shared the history of the arpilleras with visitors. The exhibit generated lively conversations about human rights among students, parents, grandparents, friends and teachers. The final pieces were then displayed in the main hall of the school as part of a larger campaign to promote human rights. Said Albrich, “As a teacher, I strive to create activities that are both significant and personalized for my students. This project provided students the opportunity to express themselves and to use their language skills in a meaningful, critical manner.” She plans to use the remaining supplies to continue the project next year.
Anthropology is not a common offering in most high schools, but it is a feature of the International Baccalaureate curriculum at the International School of Indiana in Indianapolis. There Frederick Allamel involves his students in hands-on activities and group projects “to make the discipline ‘contagious’ and ensure that all learners are onboard.” He regularly takes his IB Diploma students to the Mississippi delta where he has been working with Houma Indians for the past 25 years. They act as his assistants, interviewing tribal members and participating in the community’s daily activities.
Mr. Allamel would love to take his students to a different river—the Amazon—where he has been conducting ethnographic field work on the arts and shamanistic practices of the Shipibo Indians in the Peruvian rain forest. While that journey was not a realistic option, he did find a way, with a $500 grant from the National Society of High School Scholars, to involve his students in his research. Students will be the writers, editors and co-curators of a catalog to accompany a planned exhibition of Shipibo artifacts collected during Allamel’s summer ethnographic expeditions. By producing this professionally published catalogue, students will gain a greater appreciation of the skills used in anthropology, such as studying, collecting, preserving and displaying native art and relics. Just as important, they are learning to think critically about another culture—its symbols, beliefs, practices—and the impact of a changing world on indigenous populations.
Psychological insights, those that lead to better treatments and better understanding of human behavior, often emerge through scientific inquiry. One objective of IB Psychology, according to Patrice de la Ossa, an educator at Chief Sealth International High School in Seattle, Washington, is “to expose students to research and areas of research in psychology.” The $500 grant she received from the National Society of High School Scholars funded field trips to two different facilities where students visited laboratories and talked with doctors and professors about their research.
Students toured the Amen Clinic, one of the few facilities in the country that offers SCPECT scans, a type of nuclear imaging that uses a radioactive substance and a special camera to create 3-D pictures of the brain. This technology is being used to help people who struggle with emotional, behavioral and cognitive problems. Students were able to ask the director and doctor on site how the scanning technology works and how doctors use the biological analysis to diagnose—and prevent—disorders, such as anxiety, depression and memory problems.
The second trip took them to the Psychology Department at the University of Washington to learn about the field of psychology in higher education. Students attended a class with college students and heard about the research conducted by the department, ranked 2nd in the nation in the field of psychology. The students learned that psychology draws on technology and animal studies, an understanding they took back to their classroom. Ms. De La Ossa left with a personally relevant and humorous insight. “The most amazing aspect I took away from all the research is that crows are the only bird that will remember who you are and tell their friends (other crows) to be nice to you or not. I have changed my behavior towards the crows that are hanging at my place.”
Think about a high school chemistry lab and you pictures students hunched over test tubes and Bunsen burners attempting to carry out a textbook experiment. Roger Eller, an IB chemistry teacher at Henry Foss High School in Tacoma, Washington, wanted his students to understand that “chemistry isn’t just a field that is contained in a lab . . . Chemistry truly is in all parts of our life and surrounds our everyday endeavors.”
To prove his point, he took his students out of the classroom and into the field to observe phosphate and pharmaceutical testing of local waterways being conducted jointly by county EPA scientists and the local community college. With the Vernier lab equipment he bought with a $500 grant from the National Society of High School Scholars, students were able to obtain accurate real time data that could not be misinterpreted. They were excited to be using equipment and procedures they would encounter in college. School administrators also became enthusiastic about the value of these new resources and began buying new probes and other hardware for their teachers to use. Now Henry Foss High has the newest lab equipment in the district, giving students a leading edge in preparing for college and careers.
For Jessica Fessenden, the International Baccalaureate’s Theory of Knowledge course is about opportunity—the opportunity for her students to “learn, explore and grow.” It’s also about creating an educational environment in which students can safely explore the role and nature of knowledge and the personal and cultural ideological biases which color our perception of ourselves and others. The course is particularly relevant for the highly diverse student body at Samuel W. Wolfson High School, a Title I school in Jacksonville, Florida. Wolfson has a high percentage of refugee students who have fled conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Bosnia, Serbia and Belarus. According to Ms. Fessenden, these are students “looking at education and their future options on a global scale. As they are applying to college they are also apply for citizenship rights.” While she brings the world into her classroom through the Internet, books, magazines and news articles, she wanted to give her students an opportunity to learn outside the school’s four walls. Using part of the $500 grant she received from the National Society of High School Scholars, she arranged a partnership with the State Forestry Department and the National Park Service. Working alongside professional scientists and researchers, her students surveyed a local island to evaluate the state of the gopher tortoise, a threatened species.
Back in the classroom, she used novels to “incorporate heightened awareness about epistemology and to discuss at a more advanced level and academic context how and why we know what we know.” With her remaining grant funds, she purchased a complete class set of Sophie’s World, a novel about the history of philosophy. Her students, who couldn’t afford to buy their own books, now have a resource they can take home and read outside the classroom, greatly enriching group discussion and deeper exploration of knowledge issues.
When the budget ax falls, it usually comes down hard on the arts. Angela Hayes, an IB visual art teacher at Prosser Career Academy in Chicago, Illinois, applied for a National Society of High School Scholars grant when she realized over half of the art department’s budget allocation had been eliminated. Ms. Hughes knows what it’s like to scramble for basic supplies. The acrylic paint she has is left over from a donation received two years ago. The camera and scanner she uses to document student work are on loan from another department. When students express an interest in a new form, like casting or modeling, she has to tell them, “We just don’t have the materials to do it.”
To avoid having to set such limits on her students’ curiosity and creativity, she and her colleagues purchased some “high end” supplies such as modeling clay, plaster and canvas. The wish she expressed in her grant application was “to provide my students with supplies I’d never dream of buying, like gel mold and casting alginate, so they can make the sculptures that they keep talking about wanting to make.” She also wanted to refill the acrylic paint supplies and purchase dedicated brushes just for their class. “I wish to respect them [her students] with materials by having plenty for them to use and of a quality that reflects how much they’ve learned and wish to explore even more.”
Art can be made from almost anything. But, when you’re learning theory, technique and how to work with different media, having high quality materials makes a big difference. With a wider variety of excellent materials to work with, Ms. Hayes’ “dedicated, curious, and gutsy” students were able to stretch their imaginations, flex their creative muscles and produce works that expressed their personal artistic vision. “This new media propelled their work and skill levels even higher and rounded out their exhibitions and portfolios.” It also motivated them to use and maintain these new materials with deference, respect and diligence.
Albert Camus’ The Stranger is “a marvelous vehicle to engage students with literary translation, existentialism, French/Algerian relations and the artist “think tank” that existed after World War II in western Europe,” according to Vanessa Hughes, an IB English Literature teacher at Cleveland High School in Portland, Oregon. For many years, Ms. Hughes has used that text to “quietly reveal the students’ own biases as they tease out understanding from the complex character of Meursault.” This year, with a $500 grant from the National Society of High School Scholars, she was able to introduce a new take on The Stranger—Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation, which offers an identity and backstory for the nameless Arab of Camus’ novel. Ms. Hughes says, “For Camus, the Arab was simply a plot device to reveal social prejudices and religious intolerance. For Daoud, Musa is a man with a family, a community, a story and a complex racial identity.”
Reading literary works in translation challenges students to think critically about how language and cultural context transform and create meaning. Having a companion work, The Meursault Investigation, with which to compare The Stranger contributes to a deeper understanding of both works. One unintended benefit of the exercise: using a new text forced students to do their own thinking and literary analysis without online academic “crutches” like Schmoop, Spark Notes and CliffsNotes.
In the 17th most dangerous neighborhood in the country, Shalimar Manwani, a Spanish teacher at Shortridge International Baccalaureate High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, is giving her students a chance to journey beyond the confines of that high poverty community.
While baby boomers will remember the thrill of corresponding with an overseas pen pal by mail, today’s Gen Z’s have the advantage of digital technology to interact with students around the world. That’s the experience Ms. Manwani wanted to give her students when she applied for—and received—a $500 grant from the National Society of High School Scholars.
A central tenet of the IB Diploma Programme is to facilitate geographic and cultural mobility and to promote international understanding. A platform developed by the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, which integrates language and culture in a natural and authentic context, enabled students to engage in conversations with native speakers in real time. With their partner, the Yanamapua Spanish School in Quito, Ecuador, students received private and semiprivate virtual language tutoring sessions vis Skype. While many students were initially nervous about carrying on a conversation with a native speaker, they quickly acclimated to these virtual interactions and showed significant improvements in Spanish literacy, fluency and cultural awareness. Said Ms. Manwani, “This grant has made it possible to educate global citizens to think freely, demonstrate intellectual vitality and address needs and realities greater than themselves. . . This grant truly brought the world to my students!”
The graphing calculator has become an essential companion to the high school mathematics curriculum, but the high cost of these tech-smart tools puts them out of the reach of many students and teachers in high poverty schools. Two months into the school year, Tabitha McAfee, an International Baccalaureate math teacher at Gresham High School in Gresham, Oregon, did not have a graphing calculator for her own use or to loan to students who could not afford to purchase their own. Since the curriculum relies heavily on the use of a graphing calculator for multiple units throughout the year, Tabitha sought and received a $500 grant from the National Society of High School Scholars to purchase five calculators for her class. With four updated versions of the TI-84+ and one TI NSpire, she now has spare calculators in the classroom for her students and does not have to check out any from the library, leaving those available for students to take home for the entire year. For Ms. McAfee, having the appropriate tools has not only helped her students learn math, it has also fostered equity in her classroom.
Teenagers think they know a lot about sex. Their parents hope they know enough to stay safe. Hope, however, is not enough according to Creighton University professor Dr. Amanda Holman. In her research all over Nebraska, she found that teenagers actually wanted to have more conversations about sexual health with their parents. Moreover, they said those conversations meant a lot to them. Enter IB film teacher Michael McCauley, a faculty member at Millard North High School, Omaha, Nebraska, who saw in the research an opportunity for his students to make a contribution to the community and gain real-world film experience at the same time.
Collaborating with Dr. Holman, Mr. McCauley and his students produced a series of public service announcements to encourage parents to have those difficult conversations about sexual health with their children. According to Mr. McCauley, the $500 grant he received from the National Society of High School Scholars helped them purchase resources to make the final video more professional and cable TV-ready. “They got so much experience out of this project and this project wouldn't have been possible without the grant. Not only did they learn how to use this equipment and improve the quality of their project, but they were so proud of what they were doing. They felt like professionals.”
Dr. Camilla Walck is a firm believer in active learning. In her biology classes at Princess Anne High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, she has students pose their own questions, develop investigations based on their own designs and create unique ways to present knowledge. This hands-on approach, however, is hampered by budgetary constraints. A $500 grant from the National Society of High School Scholars enabled her to purchase materials for a unit on designing models of the nephron and kidney.
Because many students chose to make models that required materials they could not afford, Ms. Walck was able to use her grant funds to implement their designs. Their creative designs not only met the learning objectives for Topic 6 in the IB biology curriculum guide—the Excretory System—students found the experience fun and engaging. They were also able to present their models at an afterschool open forum during which Dr. Ralph Stevens, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Old Dominion University, spoke to the students about the kidney and the physiology of the nephron. The project fulfilled Dr. Walck’s hope that these student-driven learning opportunities would “spark creativity and incorporate problem solving into my students’ educational journey.”