Beijing Huijia Private School 北京私立汇佳学校

Into the Classroom | Are you still cramming for the humanities courses?

Time:2019-09-16 09:59:43 Views:150

Passing by the teaching building of Huijia, I heard several students having a heated discussion about what they learnt during the humanities classes. 


It was about World War I, World War II and the Cold War, which were covered in the World History study. Some of the students considered the break out of the Cold War was partly due to Roosevelt and Stalin’s characters. Others stringed these three major events together and analyzed the changes from the Truman Doctrine through to Roosevelt’s New Deal. Apart from that, some students also associated history with geography and explained the reason behind the Normandy Landings…


All these interesting and novel point of views are something that we have never heard about in textbooks. Asked carefully, these young people told me that they were working on the research projects for the 9th Grade humanities class and all these views were the results of their independent research and analysis after referring to a large number of books and documents.   


My curiosity was immediately aroused by this. What kind of humanities class it is that frees the students from the dry and dull study of history and geography and instead, makes learning such an interesting process?   




01 Humanities courses with focus on comprehensiveness


First of all, we need to understand how humanities courses are organized in Huijia.


Different from traditional schools where humanities courses are separated from each other, the humanities courses in Huijia School are integrated by history, geography, economics, environment issues and business management as a comprehensive subject. Furthermore, this integration is not simply about proportion calculation of each subject, but a deep synthesis during the learning process.  


For instance, when the 8th Grade students study Mesopotamian civilization, the learning process will firstly start from its geographic location, latitude and longitude, landscape, climate, animal and plant resources, etc. After this, the history of human development in the area will be introduced so as to allow the students to pinpoint this civilization in the coordinates of time and space. 

Covering the span from farming civilization to modern society, from the Fertile Crescent to the unrest in the Middle East and from the origin of the Bible to the Jewish nation, the development of human civilization is explained as the development of the ongoing interaction between environment and human society. This kind of teaching method helps students to generate a macro perspective of human history and knowledge network, which will enable them to form a more comprehensive understanding and ‘stereoscopic’ memory of what they have learnt. 


On the other hand, based on the requirement of the IBO, environmental issues as one of the essential topics, are constantly reflected in the curriculum system. 


For example, when studying the Temple of Heaven as an important cultural heritage, students should not only understand its past glory, but also the problems it faces today, including acid-rain erosion, environmental pollution and man-made damage. Furthermore, students are also required to develop rational proposals and solutions to these problems associating their knowledge of chemistry, physics, science and other disciplines, and in some cases, they will be given the opportunities to implement these proposals and solutions in the community.      


As there is no clear division between disciplines, it is easier for the school to promote a comprehensive cross-disciplinary study and break the confinement imposed by the traditional curriculum, allowing students to think free and learn more.




02 Activities in an immersion learning environment


In the face of the mighty history of human civilization stretching for thousands of years, how can we overcome the obstacles of time and conduct a close conversation with the history? The answer given by Huijia is: entering that time and space through interesting classroom activities.   


‘History is not simply words written in a book, it’s something that actually happened. Every historical figure we study once lived and thought like us and every historical event had its own complicated cause and effect. We hope our students can learn humanities from a fresh and vivid perspective,’ said teacher Cui from the humanities group of the junior middle school. Different from the rote learning popular in traditional schools, humanities courses in Huijia feature in adding new vitality to history.      


While studying about the Yalta Conference, students were asked to formed groups of three, representing the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union.


During the class activities, everyone was required to write down the interests, requests and possible compromises of the country he/she represented. By doing so, the Yalta Conference, which took place 70 years ago, was reconstructed in the classroom and every ‘Roosevelt’, ‘Churchill’ and ‘Stalin’ was able to fully mobilize the historical, political and economic knowledge that he or she had learned and to maximize his or her national interests during the negotiation.



After the activity, they would then compare their own negotiations with the actual negotiation to further consider whether the Cold War could have been avoided and what the world would have turned into if it hadn’t happened.


Even though there is no definite correct answer to such kind of learning activity, it cultivates students’ aspiration for knowledge and ability of conducting critical thinking. The scene I mentioned at the beginning of the article is the best proof of this. 




03 Encouraging independent inquiries


In the humanities classroom of the traditional schools, teachers are more like ‘sage on the stage’ and the sole speaker in the room, while the task of students is recording everything that teacher says. However in Huijia, the teachers’ role is all about triggering students’ spontaneous interests to make inquiries. As to the learning results, we leave them to the students and most of the time, we are pleasantly surprised. 


Prehistoric civilization is the most ancient part of the history study. People living in this modern world can hardly imagine what exactly slash-and-burn cultivation was like, not to mention the weird tool names such as flint blade or copper axe that was unheard of. In this case, it is more important to stimulate students’ interest in conducting independent research. 

While learning about Neolithic tools, the teacher firstly showed the class a recent archaeological findings: a mummy named Otzi buried deep under the glacier, then asked students to write a story named ‘A Day of Otzi’ using their imagination and with respect to the historical facts. 


With great interest, the students began their independent studies about the climate, the topography, what humans wore and tools of the era and began to construct a story on the basis of these facts. 


Someone set the location where the story took place on the Italian-Austrian border,

Someone described that the main character was wearing simple clothing made of linen and sheepskin.

Others depicted the hard day he had gone through fighting another tribe… 


By sharing the story with the class, every student was able to generate a good understanding of the characteristics of the civilization in this era.


I believe that through my descriptions above, we have gained a general understanding of Huijia’s humanities courses. 


It is not about rote and cramming study but interest-based inquiry and collision of ideas.

It is not about finding the fixed conclusions in textbooks but encouraging students to read widely and form their independent opinions.

It is not about conducting isolated studies in separated disciplines, but learning deeply and integrating knowledge to create a grand and complete knowledge structure that connects history to the modern time.


With these features, humanities study in Huijia has a subtle but profound influence in our students and keeps them interested in this area. With the interest, our students have been able to form a good number of history, geography and business management clubs in the school. They have been able to win top prizes in international competitions and have been admitted to the world’s top universities, aiming to enter the United Nations…


And I believe their power is far greater than this. The humanistic spirit which has been deeply rooted in their hearts will continue to inspire them to move forward and create a more colorful future for human civilization. 


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