Bringing disaster into the classroom

Thursday 4 April 2013

Every once in a while there is something in the news that perfectly fits with what I am doing in class with my students. Sadly, this week the news from the Philippines allowed us to apply our research on trauma and resilience. This type of discussion engages students and helps them to apply critical thinking skills in a new situation.

This week's tragedy in Tacloban is an good example of how we can use current events to help students to understand psychology, but also how IB psychology can be linked with CAS and, perhaps even more importantly, help students to develop a sense of empathy - a key component of the IB Learner Profile.

To begin class, we discussed what we knew about the typhoon. We also looked at images of the damage that were available on BBC and other mainstream news networks. Then we did our task for the day.

The task

We watched together a series of videos and listened to podcasts that told the stories of survivors in Tacloban. They were very moving and students commented on the film clips as we watched them.

I then asked the following question: Based on what we know from resilience research, what are the protective factors that will help some of these people to recover from this traumatic life experience?

Students were given time to write down their reflections on that question based on the films that we watched. Here are some of our discussion points.

  • Whether family survived or not. Students argued that the best solution for people who lost their entire family was to be taken in by a family to provide some support.
  • The effects of potential malnutrition on children's development.
  • The effects of stress on health - especially as the people of Tacloban are now being exposed to disease. Those who find ways to counter the stress and protect their immune systems stand a better chance of avoiding chronic health problems.
  • Several of the survivors talked about "God saving them" or "a miracle." The idea that they felt "chosen" means that their lives have a purpose. We linked this to research by Stevan Weine on resilience in Bosnian refugees and Viktor Frankl's work with the unemployed.
  • As difficult as it may be to have a child under these conditions, the idea that you have a child to love and protect also gives you a sense of purpose.
  • The role of prayer as a form of meditation that counters stress and lowers the effects of glucocorticoids.

You could extend this activity with an activity which asked students to come up with a "mental health triage plan" for the people of Tacloban. If they were in charge of "mental health relief", what plan would they develop in order to address the psychological issues that are caused by such a catastrophe?

If you are just interested in finding out more about mental health in times of disaster, here are some good sites.

Tags: current events, resilience, trauma

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