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How holistic education looks in a middle years’ classroom

By Bob Smith

To celebrate Middle Level Education Month I’m zooming in on the topic of holistic education and exploring how it can look in a middle years classroom using global contexts.

My 7th grade students are pretty tech savvy; they use smartphones and computers, they interact with a lot of digital and online information about the world—probably more than I would like them to at times. They want to know everything now.

When I introduced my class to the global contexts in the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) curriculum, my goal was to quickly establish that what we do in class is connected to the world outside; that they are connected to the world; and that they are an important part of that world.

The MYP global contexts are: fairness and development, identities and relationships, orientation in space and time, globalization and sustainability, scientific and technical innovation, personal and cultural expression.

At first, they would regularly ask “Why is this important?” and “Why are we doing this?”. I’ve noticed that they don’t ask so much now.

They now more easily see how the contexts are relevant and I can see their understanding of the connections growing as they work through different issues and problems in the classroom.

Working with students whose futures will be very different from the future that was ahead of me as a student makes me stop, ponder and reflect on what I used to think was important when I used to study a geography or history class. I now know that by developing greater flexibility of thought, along with problem-solving, social and communication skills, my students are learning the kinds of skills that will be very valuable for their futures.

Adolescence is a time of discovery and “specializing the brain”. Children absorb a lot of things and once they reach adolescence, the brain starts pruning things, pruning away things that they don’t need or what they are not interested in. They start seeking out the things that suit their passions and interests, and start understanding what they don’t like and what they do like.

Developing the skills to contextualize the things they are curious about or thinking can be extremely motivating.

If you’re also a middle school educator, you’ll know students who are driven by social justice issues or environmental issues or they dig into human relationships and the bonds with their friends, these are the things that they start to care about and be concerned with. Helping them understand these areas using global contexts can be very for meaningful for the students, giving them a holistic approach to how to understand what’s important to them, inside and outside the classroom, at a time in life when so many things are changing for them, and when they have so many unanswered questions as they navigate their path.

Of course, I’m not even scraping the surface here. I took part in a recent webinar where I go further into explaining how using global contexts allows for deeper student engagement and how we can use global context explorations to impact learning. Find information and replay links below.

Bob Smith has been an active member of the IB community for 17 years. He is helping his current school as they work towards gaining authorization to offer the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP).

Useful links:

  • Webinars on holistic education in the MYP:

The webinars series explores four dimensions of holistic education based on a paper by MYP educator, John Hare—Holistic education: An interpretation for teachers in the IB programmes.

Contextual learning—you can replay the webinar in English and Spanish.

Cross disciplinary connections—you can replay the webinar in English and Spanish.

Register for one of the following:

Education of the whole person (21 April 3pm UTC)

Active learning (12 May 3pm UTC)

  • Other blogs on this topic:

You might also be interested in these posts about the function of key concepts and global contexts in the MYP: Leveraging conceptual based learning and Leveraging concept-based learning in the IB continuum.