La Tierra en Movimiento

IB at ISB · May 26, 2020
IB at ISB Lower School

Investigating and Reporting on Natural and Anthropic Disasters from Around the World


The 5th Grade “Moving Earth” unit encompasses Earth’s changes and how those changes can affect our lives. No one could have predicted that students would be exploring this unit while living through a historic pandemic, but the current context gave students a deeper connection to their studies and a very real lens through which to develop inquisitive questions. Students launched the unit by investigating the Earth’s changes and the human response. To explore this, Spanish 5th Graders interviewed people who have lived through various disasters from all around the world.


“We are living through a disaster right now. I knew that this unit had to be something students could really connect with, and there are so many people who can share their own stories about a disaster that they lived through. This unit gave students a level of global understanding that I don’t think they would have had without the interview component of this project; I don’t know if we would have taken the unit in the same direction if we had been in the classroom, but there was a sense of urgency in the current moment.” -Karuna Hernandez, Spanish 5th Grade Head Teacher

To begin, students conducted their own research and thought about the central question focused on human response. As each student discovered more about the relationship between the changes on the Earth and how people respond to those changes, students adjusted their central idea and crafted a more individualized question to make it their own. Through their investigation, students sorted disasters into two categories, anthropic and natural disasters, and analyzed the impact of these disasters. After selecting topics ranging from nuclear plant explosions to tornadoes and tsunamis, they entered the research phase of the inquiry cycle, using maps, videos, graphs, and articles to seek answers to their questions.

“Asking questions is the primary tool for learning. Understanding the quality of your questions and the connections you can make as you develop them is important,” says Karuna. Students used their digital notebooks to explore their respective topics in small groups and focused on examining the differences between fact and fiction – what they know versus what they confirmed to be true through real sources. To dive further into research methods and best practices, Associate Librarian Eli Hetko joined the class to support students in finding relevant sources and developing deep inquiry-based questions, preguntas indagadoras, on the articles they had read.

After doing their own research on various natural and anthropic disasters, students began their interviews with special guests from our community, connected through teachers, families, and friends at ISB. The first interviewee was a familiar face for students, Spanish Visual Arts Teacher Carolina Bermudez. Carolina shared her story of living through an earthquake in Valparaíso, Chile as a young girl. Students were very curious about her experience, especially as she spoke through the eyes of her teenage self.


Next, students interviewed Susan Sonny, a child psychologist from San Juan, Puerto Rico who helped children through Hurricane Maria. Susan spoke to how children could cheer up their parents and the elderly by playing and continuing to have fun as children do. She said that knowing how to have fun is a very important skill that children should cultivate in their lives. Susan left students with the message that they are the inspiration for others in difficult times and because of this, it’s the children who are leading the way. “It was really beautiful to see the faces of our students as they heard the message that children lead the way,” says Karuna. 


Following Susan, Matías Roura recounted his personal experience from a mudslide in the region of Patagonia, Argentina where the mud had piled up everywhere, reaching three to four feet high. He referenced maps and shared photos of the animals native to Patagonia as he shared his story. Students learned about the grassroots response to the mudslide and how people worked together to dig up the mud that had accumulated. Day after day, the residents would continue to dig up the mud, using only small shovels. The city then produced tractors to remove the mud that had been dug up and piled in the middle of the paths.

Jean-Francois LeBorgne, from Brittany, France, shared his experience in the navy during an oil spill in 1978 from Amoco Cadiz, a large supertanker transporting oil near the coast of Brittany. His son, Anthony LeBorgne, translated from French to Spanish for the class. Students learned about the effects on the animals and about the legal issues related to the accountability of this disaster. Who’s responsible for such a disaster, is it Brittany, France or Amoco, the U.S.? Anthony shared that after a long battle, the French mayor won the lawsuit. Nonetheless, to the students’ surprise, it was mostly the people who lived nearby who helped with collecting the oil and the clean up.

Students also interviewed Grace Jaramillo, a reporter and columnist for El Comercio de Ecuador and The New York Times. Grace spoke about her experience as a reporter during the earthquake in Ecuador in 2016. As students prepared to lead their own news reports as their final project for this unit, they had different types of questions for Grace, relating to her profession: How should you dress when reporting on the scene? What is the character of a journalist? What is the appropriate language to use? What gestures may be helpful when reporting live? How do you relate to the victims amidst a disaster? Grace shared that when reporting on disasters, it’s important to recognize that you need to be ready to help at any moment.

Lastly, students interviewed Dr. Manuel Jiménez, a veterinarian and agrarian from Puerto Rico, about his experience taking care of pets and farm animals during Hurricane Maria, the recent earthquakes, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. Students interviewed him live from the veterinary clinic as he shared that while people may stop going to the doctor during disasters, they do keep going to the vet for their pets. Manuel pointed out that, just like people, animals are also very sensitive to disasters. Students brought their dogs to the screen to join in the interview. 

Hearing firsthand accounts from people who have lived through and responded to disasters was powerful and felt all the more relevant to our students as they experience this historic pandemic. Through the students’ research, conversations, and writing, they were also able to further develop their Spanish language skills. Speaking with people from many parts of Latin America was an authentic way for students to connect and continue to practice their language skills. 


After interviewing people about their own personal experiences, students were asked to play the role of reporters during a disaster themselves and create their own news reports on one specific event from their initial research. For their final topics, students chose to present on the Black Plague, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami, a Nuclear Plant Explosion in Fukushima, Japan, the oil spill in Kuwait during the Gulf War, and the five Plastic Islands in the ocean. In their reports, students focused on the human response to disaster, as well as a description of each disaster, the problems and effects, the solutions, and their advice. 


They led their final presentations as this unit’s online exhibition and gave their own live news reports on disasters from around the world. 


Students drew on their PYP learner profiles reflection; they identified the attributes, skills, and attitudes that they had utilized during this unit and gave examples of how these learner profiles helped them accomplish their projects. 

Karuna shares, “I was impressed by students’ questions throughout the unit and I could see their maturity increase throughout this process. I was inspired by their resilience and level of curiosity for what’s happening in the world, even when it’s not good news. Their Spanish language development also grew exponentially because they wanted to be able to communicate and refer to experts and reference different voices. This unit is so connected to what we’re living in. It has helped students face hard things in a very objective way without fear. They have this new strength through questions. They are developing questions and using questions to not be afraid about entering the conversation. That impact is immeasurable.”