My Postcard From a Hotspot

MYP Humanities Unit Question:  Do humans control the Earth or does the Earth control humans?

It’s still strange when my unit plans overlap with real life.  My grade 6 students worked on a unit of study about natural disasters earlier this school year.  The unit question was “Do humans control the earth or does the earth control humans?”  Looking back, more than three weeks after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear radiation scares this unit question seems even more real than I imagined when I put together the unit plan. Freaky even. For me, I’m even less secure in my belief that we have any control over nature.  Japan is the most prepared, most ready, most safe country to experience an earthquake.  And the losses are beyond imagining.  I am not sure if I’m ready to go back to this question with my sixth graders. But I will.  I will do it for no other reason that I usually find real comfort in the practical nature of 11 year olds.

Grade 6 Summative Assessment:  Postcards from a Hotspot. You have recently started to write postcards to a person living in Yokohama,Japan.  You love your home.  It could be that your home has great weather, fertile soil for farming, beautiful scenery, or just because it’s somewhere that your family has lived for generations.  However, there are risks that you face every day, which could be an earthquake or an active volcano or another natural disaster.

In the same vein, I find it strange when my assessments overlap with real life. One of the assessments for the natural disaster unit, students had to write postcards from the point of view of someone who lived through a disaster.  They studied the floods in Mozambique, the earthquake in Kobe, and volcano in Montserrat. They wrote about the physical geography and the short-term and long-term effects of a natural disaster.*

The instructions for the fifth postcard were as follows:  “This is postcard telling your pen-pal whether you are leaving your home because of the risk of another natural disaster or if you are staying in your home.  YOU MUST EXPLAIN WHY YOU MADE YOUR DECISION.”

Weird, right?

We are all living this decision here in Japan.

After three weeks away from Japan, I am back in my apartment and getting ready for a teacher workday tomorrow.  Kids show up on Tuesday.  I can’t wait to see my students.  I imagine a lot of our discussion will be about why we decided to leave Japan or why we decided to stay.  We will talk about our friends who aren’t back yet and the friends who may not come back.  It’s not easy. When I felt my first earthquake on the day I returned, I checked to make sure I had room on my credit card “just in case”.  I am going on a potassium iodine run. I ordered a sweet earthquake kit from California, to make up for my hastily thrown together kit which is far from complete.  I’m not an alarmist normally, but I want to be ready.  And if these preparations do nothing more than make me feel a little bit more in control, so be it.

I don’t have deep roots here in Japan, to say the least.  I’ve been here for about eight months, I don’t have family ties like many people, and can’t speak a sentence of Japanese. I came here for a great job.  Leaving Tokyo three weeks ago was the right decision for me.  But now it feels like the right decision to return.  I’m not sure how life is going to be different, but I make the decision to stay.  There are professional reasons and a moral responsibility I feel to my students.  There is the trust I have in my administration that they wouldn’t put me in an unsafe position.  There are friendships I want to nurture.  There is a stubbornness to stay put.  There is the desire to see the cherry blossoms, travel in my adopted home country, and help.  And, perhaps ironically, experiencing this earthquake made me fall a little bit more in love with Japan.

And there is my own postcard from my very own hotspot.


*By the way….I loved this assessment when we were doing it and always planned on writing about it.  The kids did fantastic work and was quite easy to differentiate for different ability levels.

About Rebekah Madrid

MYP Humanities Instructor. International School Teacher in Japan. Google Certified Teacher. Apple Distinguished Educator. National Board Certified Teacher. Traveler & TV Watcher. This is where I write my thoughts about all of the above.
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6 Responses to My Postcard From a Hotspot

  1. Kim Cofino says:

    Well said, again, Rebekah. I know exactly how you feel on all counts about leaving and then returning – and I also totally agree that this experience has actually made me love Japan even more, despite having lived here for such a short period of time. In a strange way, as teachers, we are lucky to have this real world experience to draw from in the classroom. Your students’ understanding of the unit question is going to be so much deeper and so much more personal now. Talk about relevant. I also have a project idea I want to run by you tomorrow, I think you’re going to love it!

  2. Thanks for commenting and your constant support. And I know things are getting back to normal when More-Work-Kimbo makes a reappearance. 🙂 Can’t wait!

  3. Hang in there guys! These things effect us in weird ways, but I think you are both right about building these connections with places based on survival. I was in the floods in Mozambique in 2000 and survived the Tsunami in Thailand. It is all beyond our control. The earth that is. We are just here for as long as she thinks we are worthwhile.

    I am curious to see how this disaster affects Japanese culture overall. I know it was not directly a result of human actions, but I am sure it will have lasting effects.

    • I really think this is a turning point for Japan. I actually think Japan was undergoing a shift prior to the earthquake, as it reevaluated its place in the world economy and as a cultural center. It was already a fascinating place to be at just to witness the slow evolution. My 8th graders actually made the argument that Japan was devolving (if that is a word). I think the earthquake only accelerated the opportunity for change (for better or for worse…not sure yet). It’s a culture that has lost a lot because of natural disasters and war and continues to rebuild every single time. These are people who long realized the capricious nature of the earth. I think its going to be once-in-a-lifetime experience to see what happens. And I feel part of that culture in a way I didn’t prior to the earthquake.
      And next time we talk about the Mozambique floods, you may be one of my go-to resources.

  4. I am glad you are slowly getting a sense of some normalcy. I hope you will share some of the comments and thoughts your students have when you think it is appropriate.

    I live in Beijing but I am very interested in your California Earthquake kit if you wouldn’t mind sharing.

    Thanks and take care.


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