Last week, I wrote about my experience travelling with EF Educational Tours Canada to Germany. I have yet to write on the main purpose of the trip which was the Science and Innovation Summit, held in Berlin. I have now had time to recover from jet lag, a nasty cold and have been able to reflect on this Summit and how it impacts educating students.
The Summit provided an excellent learning opportunity for the students involved. Beginning with an address and even more personal questions and answers period with Canadian and world-renowned astronaut, Dr. Roberta Bondar, students were challenged to dream big, follow their passions and be self-reflective. It was a powerful start to the process where students were going to be actively engaged in the four C’s: creating, communicating, collaborating and critically thinking. This is certainly the direction that contemporary education is going and aligns perfectly with preparing students who will be, “Engaged Thinkers, Ethical Citizens with an Entrepreneurial Spirit!”
Together EF Educational Tours Canada and Evergreen designed four exciting workshop challenges for the students participating in the Summit. Each challenge was dedicated to one of four themes: energy, food, transportation, and architecture. Throughout the process, expert facilitators engaged students and provided a context for the challenge scenario for each topic.
- The energy challenge asked students to develop a solution to reduce their school’s energy use by 50%.
- The food challenge prompted students to re-design their cafeteria experience to include sustainable food choices and practices while increasing usage of the space.
- The transportation category tasked students to redesign their commute to school and reduce their overall environmental impact.
- The architecture challenge required students to recreate their school space and grounds to reflect sustainable design.
Design thinking, a problem solving process was core to the Summit. It began with an identification phase through various lenses, where opportunities and challenges were brainstormed within a group setting. Although slow to start, as students needed to get to know one another, the end result was a bedlam of creativity! Students were then led through a five step process that culminated with presentations of their final product that evening. This process, design by Guido Kovalskys, directed students through the following:
- Empathize– Students were required to list the potential audiences who might be influenced by their challenge. What might be their concerns? What might be the impact of their project? Eventually, the students decided on one target audience that would be most impacted by their solution.
- Define– Students began by listing the values attributed to their solution. The goal of this step was to define their statement of purpose which included their lens, audience and theme.
- Ideate– The ideate stage began with a reflection and sharing of their statement of purpose with other groups. This allowed for a refinement if necessary. Students began to “blue sky” and developed solutions that were bold. The mentality around ideate is “Yes… and…” not “Yes..but…” which was extremely liberating for participants.
- Prototype– Students began to sketch their ideas and draft their design plan. Two phrases from the presentation caught my attention. The first, from Hasso Platner of the Institute of Design at Stanford was, “Build to think and test to learn.” The second came from one of the slides and simply stated, “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand pictures.” Prototyping is the “doing” phase, the hands on action.
- Test– This phase was beyond the scope of the Summit but has significant implications to the process in the classroom. It is the opportunity to test out the prototypes and extend the learning.
The final portion of the event was completing their prototypes and then presenting them to other participants and the judges. The ability to showcase their prototypes demonstrated how the four C’s of contemporary education had been realized. Multiple learning outcomes were achieved through active engagement. It was messy but it demonstrated exactly the direction required for education. Students must move from consumers of information to creators of information. They must be able to work with others in a collaborative environment and communicate clearly and concisely. And finally, the problems of tomorrow will not be solved with the often linear thinking of today. Critical thinking, bold and divergent, must be given its proper place in the classrooms of today and the Summit provided an excellent example.