How to Bring Students' Lived Experiences into the Classroom and Spark Authentic Learning – Digital Promise

How to Bring Students’ Lived Experiences into the Classroom and Spark Authentic Learning

A group of people standing and bending down next to a large yellow irrigation tube dropped into a river.

November 30, 2022 | By

In 2021, Digital Promise and Ciena launched the Ciena Solutions Challenge, a global design challenge inviting middle and high school students to design solutions that address the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals within their communities. This blog post is the eighth in a series in which educators from around the world share their experiences facilitating the Ciena Solutions Challenge with students. Featured below are lessons from educator Lusanda Magwape who facilitated the Be the Dream Farm Irrigation System student project teams at Dream Factory Foundation and Matenge Primary School in Matenge Village, Botswana.

I have always proudly considered myself a small city girl until my life was radically changed when my husband moved our family to Francistown, Botswana. This move meant we would live closer to our parents who have close bonds to their home villages. In my case, I formed a bond with the village where my father-in-law was born, raised, and schooled—Matenge Village.

I am the founder and CEO of Dream Factory Foundation, where our mission is to end economic inequality of youth, particularly young women from low-income communities, through holistic education that enables them to transition successfully into adulthood and make full contributions to society.

Our work in Matenge began when our father asked us to make financial contributions to help the primary school buy a printer. Of course, being the head of an organization, I was intrigued to learn more about the school and see how else we could make a difference. As program implementers of Africa Code Week, we jumped at the opportunity to introduce the learners on the basics of coding; but since the school did not have a computer lab, we had to bring our own. The learners were so welcoming and eager to learn that I wanted to work on a more sustainable project that would not only introduce them to a whole new world but also could be integrated into the teaching experience. I wanted to choose a project that they could connect to their daily lives so that we could draw on their lived experiences in the classroom. I also wanted a project that could have a ripple effect on their entire community.

Advice for Selecting a Big Idea to Investigate

One thing I would really advise is to choose something that is at the core and the heart of the children you are working with, that they relate with, and that they can take to the next level. For me, that meant that I knew farming was an integral part of the learners’ lives. Like the day we were running a session and some of them were telling me that before they came to school they harvested watermelon, so immediately I knew that, wow, we’ve chosen the right project that we are working on. I can just imagine as the project grows the beautiful and amazing transformation that is going to happen, not just in this class but how we’re going to translate out into the world. So that would be my one piece of advice – to choose something that you are deeply passionate about and your learners are deeply passionate about and that once they’re done, they can really practically use it.

Lusanda Magwape

Getting Started with the Ciena Solutions Challenge

When I learned about the Ciena Solutions Challenge, it did not take me long to think about the ig idea I wanted to tackle with the learners. After two years of working with them, I knew that farming was an integral part of the community’s life, including the lives of our learners. I decided to engage them in the topic of farming—something they already knew about—but I wanted to add a new dimension to it. Things quickly fell into place when we received access to a one hectare plot that required water irrigation installation during the same period. And therein was our big idea: building an irrigation system!

Diagram of a farm irrigation system

Design for the irrigation system.

Engaging English Language Learners

The biggest challenge I’e had to overcome is having the patience to walk the learners step-by-step with the through English-based content, given the learner’s varying levels of proficiency with the language I kept the content in English because learners in Botswana, even those in rural communities, must be taught in English. However, being primary school learners who only speak and hear English in the classroom, I had to use relatable examples like cartoons and incentives such as Easter chocolates to keep the learners engaged without leaving anyone behind. The consequence of taking such an approach is that a one-hour lesson can sometimes take two hours. I quickly learned that in a class of 22, we needed three facilitators, including the teacher, to assist the learners who were taking longer to progress through the content.

Students sitting in desks and a teacher standing at the front of the room on a laptop.

Engaging young learners in the classroom.

Making Our Irrigation System Design a Reality

The goal of the project is to build an irrigation system that will allow learners to take what they learn in their textbooks and put it to work in real life on the farm. The Ciena Solutions Challenge has not only made it possible for learners to design such a system, and with the Ciena Solutions Challenge Sustainability Award funding, we are now in the process of actually building it!

Six people walking the lines of an irrigation system in an open plot of land

Walking the lines of the irrigation system.

I love this challenge because it has given me the opportunity to advocate for the importance of enabling rural-based communities to engage in such initiatives. Such challenges and opportunities are often concentrated in cities where learners already have a myriad of programs to choose and learn from. In a village like Matenge, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My goal is to ensure that it is not.

A group of people standing and bending down next to a large yellow irrigation tube dropped into a river.

Checking the mainline of the irrigation system’s water source.

Learn More on the Ciena Solutions Challenge Website

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