Lessons Preview: Human-Centered Interdisciplinary Subject

Chris McNutt
Nick Covington
June 29, 2022
This update showcases our progress on our Human-Centered Interdisciplinary Subject, a project in creating an actionable cross-disciplinary, holistic course.
Lessons Preview: Human-Centered Interdisciplinary Subject
                   Pictured: An image showing HUMAN-CENTERED INTERDISCIPLINARY SUBJECT with the Human Restoration Project Heart Logo X Holistic Think Tank Logo.


As detailed last month in our Human-Centered Interdisciplinary Subject (IDS) update, we are creating a curriculum that features lessons, hands-on learning, and pedagogical understanding to create an interdisciplinary course: one that explores learning how to learn – looking at the intriguing questions that make learning interesting. If you haven't read that update, we recommend starting there!

In this breakdown, we will be detailing 3 lessons (out of over 40!) that are appearing in the IDS. These lessons are one of two components of the course. The first half of the curriculum centers these lessons, while the second half has students using design thinking to tackle a multi-faceted project inspired by what they've learned.

Lesson Design

All lessons in the IDS feature one or both of these principles: wonder and community action. Lessons involving wonder focus on intriguing, inherently interesting elements of our world – the types of things that young people (and adults!) obsess over in the library such as space, dinosaurs, or sailing the seven seas. These are concepts that capture the world around us and awake our natural curiosity.

Lessons on community action center global issues. These are lessons that talk about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), recognizing local and global challenges our world faces. With plenty of context, these lessons equip students to understand and act on issues.

All lessons follow the same format:

  1. A purpose statement that summarizes why the lesson is used.
  2. An introduction to frame the lesson for students.
  3. Multiple activities, readings & writings, or other media.
  4. Reflection questions that check for understanding.
  5. A "Take it Further" section with ideas for later design thinking projects, additional media (books, podcasts, YouTube videos), and extension activities for typical core subjects (English, mathematics, science, social studies, art, and physical education).

They are intentionally modular. We know that most teachers will heavily adapt these resources and we've sectioned each off so that one could easily modify it. All are available as PDFs or Google Documents. Lessons can be utilized online or as printed resources. Therefore, although the IDS is developed as its own course, it could be easily integrated into an advisory period, as materials for one's traditional subject-matter class, or extended class time.

The IDS will be released for free later this year and is a partnership between Holistic Think Tank and Human Restoration Project.

*All images are screenshots from the linked facilitation guides.

**All facilitation guides are in draft form and are likely to include spelling, grammatical, and formatting errors. They have not yet been peer reviewed or edited. Full release is later this year!

Example #1: Food Deserts

Draft Facilitation Guide

A large populous of the world is hungry and that number is set to increase year after year. This lesson explores the connections, locally and globally, on access to food by looking at food deserts.

Within, students will explore multiple maps around the world:

Pictured: Four maps of the United States. The top left shows low-income households that are more than 1 mile from a grocery. The top right shows obesity levels. The bottom left shows car-free households more than 1 mile from a grocery. The bottom right shows diabetes rates. There is overlap between all four maps.
Pictured: A map of Cape Town, South Africa. Supermarkets are much more likely to be found in areas with residents that have high household incomes.
Pictured: A map of Bradford and Leeds in England. Bradford has many more indicators of food deserts than its neighborhood. (Bradford has much higher income disparities than Leeds).

After discussing these maps, students are given a hypothetical city map:

Pictured: A residential, cartoon map. The area on the left is a city, with farmland on the right and a subdivision.

In response to flourishing commercial growth, the city invests in additional restaurants and storefronts. To create space, city planners tear down an abandoned building as well as the (city) market, deciding that local residents can use the market on the outskirts of town.

After talking about the potential problems this may create for city residents, students then create their own tiles to place on the city. An example may be:

Students describe, compare & contrast, and offer feedback to each other's solutions, reflecting on why food deserts exist and how communities can work together to solve these problems.

In the facilitator guide, many extension activities exist including analyzing charts and data to talk about feeding the world by 2050, showing how artists are drawing attention to food sustainability, and looking at the impact of biotechnology on world hunger.

Example #2: From Empathy to Action

Draft Facilitation Guide

This lessons looks at the idea of not "fitting in", highlighting feeling like one is "standing out" from trivial reasons to something more substantial, like disability or language barriers.

Pictured: Starting with a brainstorming activity, students look at what it means to be "Outstanding" vs "Standing Out". Examples of outstanding would be winning an award, while standing out would be drawing attention to oneself.

From there, students would brainstorm a common scenario, writing a detailed description of how they'd behave in the scenario. Then, students act out the idea as if they have no idea of what it is. As we write in the IDS, an example may be:

"Entering a building with someone following behind you -

Incomplete model: Open the door, hold it open
Act out these steps exactly as scripted and describe out loud the impact to participants: you’ll never enter the building, you’re standing in the middle of the doorway blocking others from entering, the person behind you could potentially be confused, you may be embarrassed. Then complete the script.

More complete model: Walk up to the door. Facing the door, identify which kind of door it is: push or pull.

If a push door: identify what side the door hinge is on and push on the opposite side, if a pull door: identify the type of handle and use the handle to pull the door open (Which hand?). Once the door is open, decide whether or not to hold the door open for the person behind you (what factors weigh in this decision?). Acknowledge the other person with a pleasantry, “Nice day, isn’t it?” and make brief eye contact. Once the other person has successfully navigated the doorway, wait a few seconds to close the door and follow behind them if you are headed in the same direction. Do not follow too closely.

Act out this model exactly as described, adding any additional regional or local details as are necessary. This activity can be repeated again to perfect the interaction or you can move on to the next part of the activity."

Students will then look at cultural norms and consider ways these instructions may differ in various communities or countries.

This builds into looking at inclusion vs exclusion with a specific focus on disability inclusion, recognizing that we must design with disability in mind. Students consider how various scripts and circumstances may differ based on someone's disability, class, race, language, or culture.

Pictured: Two charts looking at Inclusion and Exclusion, looking at what it means and our emotional reaction to be in that scenario.

Like before, extension activities are included such as considering the accessibility of digital spaces in website design, the usage of audiobooks as reading, and looking at accessible comic book design.

Lesson #3: Artificial Intelligence

Draft Facilitation Guide

Lastly, this lesson explores the growth of artificial intelligence, specifically in writing. As an added twist....the lesson itself was created with AI! Almost every prompt (outside of those written in green text) was generated by OpenAI/GPT-3.

Students, either using OpenAI or one of the provided AI-generated stories, look at how AI can write, discussing how authenticate this writing can be and ways to identify it as AI. Then, they play a game deciding if each of the prompts they are given is generated by AI or not (spoiler: they're all AI generated).

Pictured: The answer key at the bottom of our AI-generated prompts, available at this link.
Pictured: More AI-generated prompts.

As previously stated, the "meta" component of this lesson is that the lesson itself is generated by AI. The activities that students perform and the prompts they're asked are created by this tool. This leads into a discussion on the ethics of AI: is this a tool? a crutch? is it cheating?

Pictured: The lesson that students complete regarding if a writing prompt is real (which is written by GPT-3).
Pictured: Questions that students are asked about creative writing and AI (which is written by GPT-3).

We even go as far as writing the extension activities and student example responses with AI. It really brings home the point!

Pictured: The extension activities for social studies, art, and physical education (written by GPT-3).
Pictured: Two discussion questions and example student responses (both written by GPT-3).


Again, a huge part of these lessons is not only their modular nature – being able to pick, pull, and modify everything to meet your needs – but the valuable extension activities to gather more instructional tools for subjects students are interested in.

Pictured: The Take it Further, Media, and Extend activities for our Dealing with Differences lesson, available on the last page of this document.

We look forward to continuing to provide updates about the IDS! Additional lessons we've completed include:

Stay tuned to as well as updates from Holistic Think Tank for more information!

An image of a white man with a brown goatee and glasses.
Chris McNutt
Chris McNutt is the co-founder and executive director of Human Restoration Project, a nonprofit organization focused on student engagement, well-being, and motivation. His work centers on realizing systems-based change, examining how progressive pedagogical shifts (e.g. PBL, ungrading) reimagine school to best suit the needs of students and teachers alike. He was a public high school digital media & design educator who focused on experiential learning, portfolio-driven assessment, and community involvement.
An image of a white man with a brown goatee and glasses.
Nick Covington
Nick taught social studies for 10 years in Iowa and has worked as a labor organizer. He is currently the Creative Director at the Human Restoration Project.
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