The Bridges We'll Build Together: Cultivating #STEMpathy for Syrian Refugees

Invite the life lesson between active and authentic STEM, design thinking, and how to honor and attend to the reality of human suffering.

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Last year, a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report concluded that there are currently more displaced people today than after World War II.  While spectacular suffering in Syria has grabbed American news headlines and convulsed European communities who struggle to invite displaced people in or keep them out, millions of other families continue to scratch out a daily existence away from their home.

Many of them are school-aged children.

How might we collaborate across grades, across generations (students, parents, and teachers) and even across schools toward finding, honoring, and addressing some of the daily challenges of international refugees and locally displaced people?  How might we re-design and humanize the refugee experience, and let the refugee experience re-design and humanize us?  

How might we cultivate #STEMpathy among students, schools, and local communities for the plight of Syrians -- and, perhaps, for all people forced away from wherever (and whomever) they would call 'home'? 

Let's build the bridge together.  Check out this google doc for Version 2.0.  

You should also check out the new website of my collabo partner, Alicia Zeoli, right here for even more insight into how we might unpack and cultivate #STEMpathy with the plight of refugees. 

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Version 1.0 Write-Up

    - Embark together upon age and school context-appropriate research into the current plight of Syrian refugees, particularly those who are en route to or crammed into refugee camps.  For younger students, perhaps we focus less upon the constellation of sociopolitical forces that perpetuate such misery (as important and as worthy a learning conversation this might be for high school-aged students) to really zero in on the plight of school-aged children and families.  

    - We might find and share online video interviews of those living in these camps, which -- combined with more traditional research, particularly around the history of post-World War II refugee experience -- might help our students focus and frame their empathy-laden "HMW's" around offering care, comfort, community, and access to learning opportunities for school-aged children in refugee camp conditions.  (Those of us living near major urban centers might be able to find in-person interview opportunities by which classrooms can Skype interview with someone willing to share their personal refugee experience. 

    - After working through design thinking methodology to probe, ponder, and powerfully empathize, participating schools might organize a local "Community Build-Out" event -- say, on a Friday or Saturday -- in which students share their proposals, and the rest of us (read: teachers, faculty/staff colleagues, parents, neighbor/partners) help them prototype some ideas forward in cardboard.

    - Each participating school coordinates an online "Community Share-Out" in which students present their cardboard prototypes.  A judging panel, which might include some "collaborating experts in the field" with the gift of professional experience (UNHCR) and resources (IdEO, Autodesk, and Google) might be willing to choose a few to iterate towards the next level of completion -- this time, using something a bit more sophisticated than cardboard.  (For example, computer science-related ideas might find more finishing power and polish through some expert collaboration with Google, while other maker/STEM projects might evolve through focused time in Autodesk's candyland of a makerspace studio.) 

    - From this pool of ideas, a few might be put forth to UNHCR for serious consideration and feedback.  Others might be presented and shared with local partners who seek to attend and solve local homelessness issues.  

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Ellen Deutscher

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"Hey there, friend! Want to light this candle with us...?!?"

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James Campbell

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"Oh, teacher! My teacher! Let's collaborate on this...! More info to follow...."

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Eric Chagala

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"Hey there, friend! Want to light this candle with us...?"

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Sara Brown

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"Hey there, friend...! Let's you and me take last year's lesson to the next level of "Wow." For the students, too...."

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Alicia's profile
Alicia Zeoli

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"Hey there, friend...! Let's light this candle. More info to follow...."

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Alex Bragg

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"O Teacher, my Teacher! Come and see us as we try to carry your vision forward...! [Bowing in gratitude]"

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Ela's profile
Ela Ben-Ur

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"Yo yo yo! Can you join us for the next phase of this thing...?!? Could sure use your insight/wisdom/awesomeness...."

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KMD - This is the type of work our kids need to grapple with. I love that you know our kids have the capacity to think about our toughest problems in the way they know best. Keep pushing yourself and your class to move the next level. 

I am most interested to see how students can take international issues and connect to their own backyard - i.e. urban development, affordable housing, blended neighborhoods.  Taking from your text above "for all people forced away from wherever (and whomever) they would call 'home'?"

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