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Saturday, September 18, 2021

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Here is how students in 85 countries focus on sustainability and innovation

-Koen Trimmers

Why do people invent? What is the purpose of innovation? Earning (more) money? Making people’s lives easier, more interesting? Make the world more sustainable? Sadly enough, in many cases innovation is based on financial benefits so time to connect students around the world focusing on innovations making the world more sustainable. This is how the Innovation Project was born. The project was launched in April 2018 and involved 515 schools across 85 countries and was supported by Charlize Theron, Greenpeace, OECD, Microsoft Education, CERN, HundrED.org, policy makers, scientist and other public figures.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals offer a perfect framework to categorize the needs to make the world a better place. During this student-centered, project-based project, students had to focus on four topics, they had to invent something, create a prototype and create tutorials about their favorite ICT tool. Each week they created a video which their teacher shared on the website https://innovationproject.info. Teachers were driven outside their comfort zone as they were asked to guide their students rather than instructing. Students started to explore, brainstorm, discuss, create, present, connect and share their findings. In the first stage they collaborated with their peers in their own classroom. After watching the videos created by their peers around the world they had Skype calls which allowed them to share their findings and expertise. Their calls allowed them to shift from asynchronous to synchronous learning. The outcomes were outstanding: students went on excursion, interviewed people, connected to experts on social media, wrote poems, got better understanding of the SDGs, and took action. Learning became fun, more deep and authentic and teachers were offered a global platform so they can exchange best practices, applications and feedback. Students were allowed to become more creative. Formal education very often implies teachers instructing, assessment, memorization and students from very different classrooms having very limited communication and collaboration. In this project both teachers and students were allowed to make mistakes. Students were engaged and felt empowered.

 The students from Mike Soskil (USA) decided to help their friends in Malawi after having a Skype call.

They began to grow food with 90% less water using aquaponics.

The students from Lucrecia in Guatemala invented a new kind of water recycler. In Belgium Olivier Dijkmans and his students created a prototype to charge smartphones using fidget spinners. Loup created a self-sustaining solar in China, Indian children found ways to make sea water drinkable and an app to recycle plastics. Israeli kids made a plasticine machine; the Japanese students of Mio Horio made a prototype on the issue of water access and clean water. Students in Argentina focused on gender equality and Canadian students invented the Life Bag could help the 4.8 million Canadians who fall below the poverty line. Students in Macedonia created blueprints for a solar phone.



The project involved students from around the world: Sierra Leone, Saudi Arabia, Finland, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Uganda, Ireland, etc. All students participated with or without technological resources. But they all learned by making connections. 124 innovations (https://innovationproject.info/week-2) were submitted to our website. Some of them can bring real changes in certain communities. Not bad, isn’t it!

During the project Brian Copes (USA), his students and I developed our own solar suitcase which offers free and sustainable power supply to one African school. This will be a genuine game changer. During the project the students were able to find solutions and noticed their opinion matters. They became content creators and so a scenario was created in which students learn from each other and even the teacher learns from the students which created an online library of 73 tutorials in which they explored their favorite ICT tool.

To push for collaborative learning, we set up 3 webinars with experts: journalist Lisa Hrabluk, game developer Joao Ramalheiro and frogman Richard E. Hyman (former diver in the famous captain Cousteau crew) shared their expertise and knew how to inspire teachers across 50 countries.

The Argentinian teacher called Flor Conforti claimed “My students felt very engaged with the project since the very beginning. They were amazed by the fact that so many kids around the world were sharing the project with them.” Haya Jahanzeb from Pakistan told us “I saw them taking responsibility of something for the very first time. They were excited to share their project with other students. For the very first time I felt proud of doing something great.” As Sheila Freehill (USA) puts it, “My students began to realize that their learning comes from their own desire to be curious and investigate new ideas and new solutions.” One Indian student sent an email to her teacher that while working towards SDG; it changed her life and way of leading it. She understood that happiness does not lie in materials but it is in all our surroundings. Margaret Simkin (Australia) witnessed: “The students had fabulous conversations, broad and deep knowledge of the reasons underpinning the UN SDGs, concern for the state of the planet and those who have to live with poor access to water, food and sanitation. Gained concern for the animals and plants in terms of extinction.” Alessandra Pallavicini (Italy) shared that she was surprised her students even worked on the project during some days off. By the end of the projects the students received a certificate and may participating schools organized graduation parties.

Nowadays, it’s hard to keep track of innovations. I was when I was able to control a drone with my mind and was in awe when I saw the video in which Google Duplex makes an appointment with a hairdresser and the fact Chinese schools are using Facial Recognition software to scan theirstudents’ emotions twice a minute.

Technology is here to stay and my personal opinion is that Artificial Intelligence will be the real deal. Will robots be able to replace teachers? Robots are already able to instruct students. Will AI be able to solve our students’ questions?

I’d say yes. But will they be able to instill empathy in classrooms? I don’t think so. No app for pedagogy.

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