Kids Can: Empowering Young Learners to Address Global Problems such as Climate Change

In August 2017, I began to work on a project that aimed to involve Grades 5 and 6 students in understanding the UN Sustainable Development Goals and to think about how they could help in addressing the issues and challenges that go with the SDGs. My experience in working with technology tools and in using the design-thinking approach greatly influenced the framework for this activity. As I continued to flesh out ideas for the project, I eventually added essential elements that made the project more student-driven and more practical, but at the same time, still further developing and tapping on the creativity and critical-thinking skills of the young students.

The project slowly became bigger and bigger, which later became an inter-club collaboration that involved moderators and students from grade school clubs, such as the Young Scientists, Social Scientists, Tech Explorers, and SWAT (Students Working with Advanced Tech). This was the beginning of the Kids Can! Innovation Camp.

 

4 Big Ideas of Kids Can! Innovation Camp

Big Idea 1: At the heart of “Kids Can! Project” is the goal of involving, engaging, and providing children the opportunity to become critical thinkers, creative problem-solvers, and active agents of change.

    • As critical thinkers, they investigate and ask questions about the problems and challenges that the world is experiencing.
    • As creative problem-solvers, they used their talents, skills, and immediate resources to plan, create, test, and improve their solutions to the problems.
    • As active agents of change, they use their ideas and products to influence the people around them to take part in making the world a better place.

In order to do this, Kids Can! Project brings in the United Nations Global Goals or the Sustainability Development Goals of 2030 as a guiding tool for the children.

Big Idea 2: The framework brings design-thinking into the level of young students in the grade school and early middle school.

The phases in design-thinking are incorporated into five simpler steps that children can follow, independently or with the supervision of a teacher. See the diagram below.

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Big Idea 3: The project is passion-based learning.

This is project also acknowledges the passion of students in creating products. Students will bank on their passion, talents, skills (individual and collaborative) as they participate in creating solutions for the problems they are working on.

Big Idea 4: The project aims to help kids come up with different and genuine solutions.

The kind and nature of solutions that the students can create depends on the nature of the problem they have identified. Hence, possible solutions may include but not limited to:

    • Making or inventing
    • Information and advocacy campaigns
    • Call to action through service
    • Philanthropy

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Innovation Rooted in Empathy

The Innovation Camp gave the students the freedom to choose the problem or challenge that they would address and solve. Hence, we saw different global and local problems that tackled bullying, peace, clean water, pollution, recycling, and of course, climate change. The students were given a design challenge worksheet that guided them to uncover and investigate about the problems they were solving and to come out with solutions that would address them.

One important aspect of the design challenge was the essential role of empathy in creating solutions. Hence, we spent time exploring and reflecting on how people are affected by the problems they were experiencing. As seen in their empathy map and exercise, the students explored what people affected by the problems see, hear, and say, their pains and their gains. The empathy map helped the students to deeply focus their solutions to the needs of the people being affected by the problems. It gave them the chance to feel what the people were feeling. It provided an opportunity for deeper and since insight to the experience and to the problems.

 

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Student-Made Projects on Climate Change

In the Innovation Camp, some student projects tacked climate change through zooming in to more specific problems connected with it. The students aimed to address the global problem through working on solutions that could immediately be used in the local community. The students used recyclable materials and other tech tools to work on the prototype versions of their solutions. Here are two sample projects.

Student Project 1: Carpool Campaign

The students who worked on the carpool campaign aimed to give a more visual representation of how carpooling can reduce the amount and effect of pollution in the atmosphere. According to the group, the toxic pollutants that come from cars have been adding to the rising level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which traps more and more sunlight, raising the temperature on earth’s surface. Moreover, this would also lessen the effects of car emissions to one’s health and to the heavy traffic exprienced everyday in major cities.

So, using recycled materials, they imagined a campaign material that would compare the effect of carpooling to the usual drive-your-own-car situations.

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Student Project 2: Mobile Game Apps for Segragation

A number of groups also worked on creating simple mobile apps that could teach students to segrate trash properly. It is well-known that human trash has been contributing to the climate change problem. In school, students are taught to segrate their trash properly so that proper disposal is done accordingly. However, according to these groups, their fellow kids are sometimes lazy to sort their trash. Hence, they created simple game apps that could teach other kids how to sort their trash properly. What was amazing in these projects was that the students were able to bring out their passion and curiosity with app development to address the problem. Truly a magnificent work!

The young coders also pitched their apps to the App Jamming Summit in the Philippines, a competition for young coders to design apps that would address sustainability and environmental problems. One of the apps, Sort It, has won in the national app-creation competition for young coders and represented the Philippines in the App Jamming Summit Hong Kong in 2018.

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Kids as Agents of Change

Young learners should be given the opportunity to contribute in solving global problems such as climate change, pollution, and other enviromental issues. The ideas they can think of and the work that they can do could amaze us. We just need to provide them the venue and guidance to become problem-solvers. No one is too young to help make the world a better place.

The Innovation Camp has become a great venue for kids to become agents of change, to solve problems that adults usually work on. Through the design-thinking approach, students were able to create innovative projects rooted in empathy for other people. I believe that this is an important starting point in creating solutions. Kids should not just be taught to solve problems. They must be taught to feel for and with others. After all, innovations should be for the goodness of humanity.

Bring the Innovation Camp to Your School

The Kids Can! Innovation Camp framework and documents can be freely downloaded, used, and adapted by other educators, schools, and non-profit organizations. The framework is on its way of being translated in various languages to cater to more audience. I have dedicated a website about the Innovation Camp, which also contains documents, guides, and materials in adapting the Innovation Camp. Visit: https://kidscanproject.weebly.com for more information. We welcome collaborative projects and translation collaborations. Special shoutout to the members of the first Innovation Camp Team who helped me pilot this project: Jane Hernandez, Sarah Viana, Hilarie Orario, and Michelle Saddul – all amazing teachers in Xavier School.

Let us continue empowering our young learners because they can become agents of change! Kids can!

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A Village’s Work: Raising, Valuing, and Guiding a Child

In a recent OECD PISA Students’ Well-Being Study (2015) conducted to 540, 000 students in 72 participating countries and economies, student anxiety about school work and tests was seen to be related with how supportive their teachers and schools are to the students and not to how long the students stay in school or prepare for the test. The study further dug deeper and revealed that bullying is still the top issue in schools, with a statistical estimate that 1 student per class is bullied a few times a month.

 

In the Philippines, the Department of Education reported 1, 700 cases of bullying in schools during the academic year 2013-2014. The number, however and fortunately, continues to decline, especially since the introduction of the 2012 Dep Ed Child Protection Policy. As the fight against bullying continues, new forms of bullying continue to grip the youth and young students as access to social media and ownership of mobile devices continue to increase dramatically. Cases of cyberbullying have widely spread. i-SAFE Foundation reported that 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyber threats. The Cyberbullying Research Center revealed that mobile phones have been the most common medium of cyber bullying, which is predominantly in ways such as receiving mean or hurtful comments and being the topic of rumors.

Role of Teachers and Schools in the Well-Being of Students

The same OECD PISA study also revealed that teachers, schools, and parents play in an important role in supporting the performance, disposition, and total well-being of students as they navigate school life. OECD Chief of Staff Gabriela Ramos further emphasized that students will perform better if they feel valued, well-treated, and guided. The study remarked that there was a lower number of bullying in schools that fostered positive relationships between students and teachers. Hence, the challenge right now is for everyone in the school community to make students feel that they are valued and guided. In order to this, schools must become safe places for students. Safety here encompasses a lot of meaning. It can mean safety from external threats, whether physical, verbal, or psychological abuses, that harm the being of a person in every way imaginable. It can also mean giving them a learning environment where they are allowed to take risks, commit mistakes, and learn from these beautiful mishaps.

Some Ways to Foster a Fun and Safe Learning Environment

The goal to achieve a safe and engaging learning space or environment is easier said than done. No magic formula, short cut, or perfect model exists for this challenge since it is important to always consider the contexts of the students. Some schools and countries may need to consider threats to security that could result loss of lives. Some might consider safety in learning acquisition. However, the comforting reality is that there are numerous techniques or programs that may be put in place to help foster a fun and safe classroom. Let me take this opportunity to share some that I or my school have put in place.

  1. Promotion of Growth Mindset

The unnecessary addiction to perfection or even to high grades is not helpful to students. Often times, these expectations bring pressure to our learners that entails stress and decline of self-confidence. Introduction and promotion of growth mindset gives the learner the capacity to take risks, explore, apply, and try new learnings without the fear of being reprimanded. Mistakes are not taken against the learner. Instead, they become means for more relevant learnings to happen. As I wrote in one of my blogs:

Risk-taking is also an important aspect in promoting growth mindset. Students tend to shy away from taking risks because they are very well aware of the consequences, which normally point to point deductions, comparisons to others who have done well, or even simply, being ignored because another student had done better. Yet, risk-taking is needed in the real world. Indeed, there are consequences for the decisions we risk in real life and some of them can be really difficult to handle. Giving space or opportunities for risk-taking in the classroom does not aim for the students to perfect the act of taking risks so that there will be no mistakes or that the risk taken would always equate to success. We are actually letting them learn how to navigate the consequences so that they won’t get stuck on the mistakes and move on to do something better about it. Some students who have neither taken risk nor failed in the classroom find it difficult to manage the consequences of failures in the real world, which often result to some emotional challenges or issues that affect one’s well-being.

  1. Virtues Project

In the grade school where I teach, the whole school community re-oriented our way of seeing and dealing with student behaviors through going back to the basics of promoting virtues through the “Virtues Project.” The project was not simply about introducing virtues such as respect, self-discipline, or peacefulness to our students. More importantly, it was about letting the students be familiar and mindful of how their actions can affect their classmates, teachers, or even those around them. We wanted to make sure that we speak in the language of the virtues, which highlights the nature of the action more than the person. Hence, instead of saying: “Keep quiet!” or “You are noisy or rowdy,” teachers can say “Let us practice the virtue of peacefulness” or “I believe that we can still practice the virtue of self-discipline.” Calling out the virtues help in emphasizing and inculcating good actions in the mind of students and helping them realize that they are capable of doing such things and hence, being kind to others.

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  1. Effective and Reflective Anti-Bullying campaign.

A few years ago, my school launched the “Not in My School” anti-bullying campaign to address bullying issues. It was a systematic effort and work. All members of the community, including the administrators, teachers, students, and non-teaching personnel, were involved in it. Students were empowered to speak out about bullying cases or incidents that they witness. The crucial role of a by-stander was emphasized. Different subjects in class participated in the campaign. Teachers were trained to understand and properly respond to bullying cases. Our experiences with our anti-bullying campaigns in the past years taught us to work for, design, and execute sustainable anti-bullying campaigns. Parents were also involved as parent forums were opened for parents to talk about and discuss the issues and challenges surrounding bullying.

  1. Integration of Digital Citizenship in the Curriculum

Digital citizenship covers concepts and skills that teachers, technology leaders, school administrators, and parents should teach and develop in students or technology users for them to use technology tools appropriately. Schools should establish clear digital citizenship programs that empower and help students know what to do if there are unfortunate cases of cyber-bullying or other forms of digital threats. The program should also introduce core virtues such as empathy, respect, prudence, honesty, and kindness among others. However, it should also be integrated in the school curriculum so that the digital citizenship skills are deeply applied to what the students regularly do in the classroom. It should also be the responsibility of all teachers in the school and not just their computer or technology teacher.

In our school, we also empowered our students to become digital by-standers or even to report or call out classmates or other people who engages in these kinds of digital threats. As a 1:1 iPad school, my school prioritizes digital citizenships skills to be reviewed and further strengthened every beginning of the school year. Parents and teacher also undergo digital citizenship workshops. I have written a separate blog about this topic which can be accessed HERE.

Continuous Challenge

Fostering a safe and engaging learning space where students can thrive requires a lot of preparations, critical planning, careful execution, and constant evaluation. However, to become effective, these programs should be systematic and should involve every member of the community. It is not just the work of a teacher, but of all teachers, students, parents, and non-teaching staff. After all, it really takes a village to raise and make a child feel valued and guided.

 

 

Sources:

Bullying Statistics (n.d.). Cyber Bullying Statistics. Retrieved from: http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/cyber-bullying-statistics.html

No Bullying (2015). Cyber Bullying in The Philippines. Retrieved from: http://nobullying.com/cyber-bullying-in-the-philippines/

OECD (2017). Most teenagers happy with their lives but schoolwork anxiety and bullying an issue. Retrieved from: http://www.oecd.org/education/most-teenagers-happy-with-their-lives-but-schoolwork-anxiety-and-bullying-an-issue.htm