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Progress at what cost?

An interdisciplinary unit investigating the opportunities and challenges that technology brings our world

An interdisciplinary unit designed for middle school students which combines learning from literacy, language, literature, history, psychology and social sciences, by delving into the periods of rapid change in human history and applying the lessons learned to the challenges we face in the present day. Themes explored include bioethics, language of change, the singularity, and social credits.


Information on this page is provided by the innovator and has not been evaluated by HundrED.

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February 2018
Why do we always have to think so much in this class?

About the innovation

Progress at What Cost? Introduction

We have developed an interdisciplinary unit between English and Humanities which addresses the dangers as well as the benefits technological progress brings.

We first examine the industrial revolution as a setting to look at some of the costs of progress, such as pollution and child labour, as well as the benefits like increases in productivity and women's empowerment. We do this through looking at the industrial revolution in the UK as well as Finland and while reading and performing Dicken's Oliver Twist. This part of the unit is rounded out and celebrated in an industrial revolution town fair where students showcase their work, dress up as characters from the stories they've written and feast on industrial revolution food like gruel and oat cakes.

We then pivot to talking about the modern day and some of the costs of the exponential progress we are currently experiencing in technological fields like the ethics of bioengineering and the singularity as well as the benefits like global connectivity and artificial intelligence. We do this through reading some dystopian fiction and this unit culminates with an assessment where students can chose to pitch an innovation at Slush to battle one of these challenges of progress or write a UN resolution to legislate one field of technology.

We examine essential questions like:

How do humans keep up with technology?

Does every generation have this issue?

Who should control the development of technology?

Do the benefits outweigh the costs of technological development?

How do we minimize the costs while maximising the benefits?

Who are the winners and losers of technological progress?

Implementation steps

Download the Syllabus
Download the attached syllabus and unit planner. This is a working document that we've used in our context in Helsinki. You may wish to change or make it more relevant to your situation, for example we included a museum visit to the Museum of Technology in Helsinki, and a field trip to Tampere, where the Industrial Revolution was born in Finland, but these will not be relevant to other places.
Take this global issue and fit it to your local context
One of the things students found interesting about this unit was how different parts of the world develop technologically at different times. You may wish to play around with our ideas for talking about a time period of technological change that is relevant to your local context.
Run this unit!
This unit is so engaging to students because it is centered around the devices they use the most, it meets students where they are. Because students are intrinsically engaged in the unit, teachers can really get on with teaching the concepts and allowing students to inquire along their lines of interest.
Let us know how it goes!
If you've run this unit, an adaptation of this unit, or something like it, we'd love to hear how it went! Feel free to get in touch: ellenh@ishelsinki.fi

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