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IB Americas in Action: the Amazon, An Ecosystem to Discover

By Jermaine S. McDougald, Diploma Coordinator at Colegio CIEDI (Centro Integral de Educación Individualizada) in Bogotá, Colombia.

How it all got started
Grisham Middle School in Texas, USA and CIEDI in Bogota, Colombia collaboratively studied the Amazon rainforest from different areas of interaction. Through online sharing via a Virtual Learning Environment (MOODLE), year five students at CIEDI became the teachers and learning assessors of the year one students at Grisham. This article will recount our efforts to bridge learning opportunities and increase international-mindedness. This authentic inquiry-based study was facilitated by integrated technology instruction.

The project started from two different schools, in two different countries with a very similar objective in mind, the Amazon rainforest.  For CIEDI it started out as an interdisciplinary project between three subject areas in MYP: biology, information technology and humanities. The project objective was to create an “educational tool” to teach others the realities of the Amazon region. From the other side, Grisham had four subject areas involved: sciences, world cultures, language A and technology. As Grisham students were studying the Amazon they became more curious about whether or not their findings were correct. They began to search for an IB World School located near the Amazon to verify their information; the resulting alliance is history.

Interdisciplinary project in action using areas of interaction
Carrying out an interdisciplinary project is not as easy as it sounds. However, with clear objectives, a timetable, specific assignments and commitment, success is just around the corner.

The project aimed to answer the following question: “Is the preservation of the Amazon jungle and support of its indigenous inhabitants a luxury or a need in the 21st century?” CIEDI’S students were organized into seven groups to develop the project. Each one of the groups was in charge of a concept and theoretical research on an assigned theme. The groups were then instructed to collect, classify, create scripts, edit, and deliver the final product: a documentary.  The final objective was slightly adapted to facilitate work with the year one MYP students:

“Raise awareness by teaching year one MYP students at Grisham Middle School in Austin, Texas about the Amazon jungle’s preservation of its biodiversity and indigenous inhabitants, through a documentary.”

The project was centered on three different areas of interaction (AOI): environments, community and service and human ingenuity, which were fundamental in developing the project. They learned a great deal not only from the experience of traveling to the Amazons, but because of the AOI focus, they received life-long learning.

As a result of environments, students were able to interact with the environment through a program called "Sembrando Selva" and constructed trenches for aqueducts. They changed their habits, by using only biodegradable products (i.e. shampoo and soap, reusing utensils, plates, etc.), all the while developing a better appreciation of environment, flora, fauna and ecosystems of the Amazon.  

From community and service, students actively participated in the community, shared experiences, planted new trees, and developed a greater respect and admiration for the Amazon community, their history and traditions.

“There is a huge influence from the Western culture i.e. clothes.  They only use typical clothing for ceremonies and special events”.  Cristina Irreño

“They [Amazonians] are quite advanced in technology as far as knowledge (wireless, cell phones, internet, etc.)” Andres Ramos

In order to put all this together, human ingenuity was also explored. The realization and presentation of informative and educational video clips and multimedia came as a direct request from the students. The students created a documentary in both English and Spanish to show the Amazon’s biodiversity and cultural richness, along with an extensive, organized and labeled photo gallery.  

Putting it all together with Moodle
CIEDI’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) was used in order to combine traditional learning with virtual learning components thereby creating an ideal learning environment for the project.  There was an orientation course for both teachers and students who were not familiar with how Moodle works. The VLE enabled both students and teachers to upload documents, chat in real time, discuss topics via an online forum, and watch videos and PowerPoint presentations to name a few. 

Lessons learned
Like any other project there are lessons to be learned from experience. Some of the key aspects that arose from this project were having the ability to transcend the Colombian borders in order to share real experiences about the Amazon and being able to create opportunities of high academic demand for our students. Nevertheless, there were some challenges, such as language barriers, more detailed assigning of tasks, knowing what technology could be used for the project, training students on how to use equipment and, (since it was a bilingual project) ensuring that all post production tasks are done in both English and Spanish. 

References:

1. Planting the Jungle 

2. www.colegiociedi.edu.co/moodle

3. Moodle is a web-based software package designed to help educators create quality online courses. Retrieved from http://docs.moodle.org/en/About_Moodle on 22 July 2009.