How Making an Impact Can Help Motivate Students - Digital Promise

How Making an Impact Can Help Motivate Students

January 19, 2023 | 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 part of 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 Grace Nabuduwa who facilitated the Ngora Greening Campaign, Together Against Teen Pregnancy, and Youth Drug Abuse Prevention Campaign student project teams at Ngora Girls Secondary School in Soroti City, Teso Region, Uganda.

When I first learned about the Ciena Solutions Challenge, I was thrilled at the idea of participating in a project that connects to the Sustainable Development Goals, but I also wondered how my students would participate since students were still at home due to COVID-19 school lockdowns and travel restrictions. [Editor’s note: School resumed in Uganda in January 2022 after the world’s longest pandemic school closure—22 months.]

It took me three months to decide whether to participate since my students come from rural backgrounds where even virtual contact is difficult due to a lack of digital devices.

After studying the guidelines, we started brainstorming different community challenges that students related to, especially during the time that schools were shut down. During that time, students observed and experienced many challenges in the community, so it was easy to identify an issue of concern. Students selected three crucial challenges: teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, and climate change.

Alt text: Four girls holding Sustainable Development Goal posters: Quality Education, Gender Equality, and Good Health and Well Being.

My students at a school assembly showing the Sustainable Development Goals that they tackled in the Ciena Solutions Challenge. Photo Credit: Grace Nabuduwa

I kept my students motivated during the Ciena Solutions Challenge by discussing with them about the importance of the work that we are doing. For them to realize that they were making a contribution to the community was motivating enough.

Grace Nabuduwa

Investigating and Acting on the Issue of Teen Pregnancy

During the Engage phase of the project about teenage pregnancy, students did research using newspapers, the internet, and social media—all of which were awash with news of teenage girls becoming pregnant during the lockdown. The students identified causes, impacts, and solutions to curb teenage pregnancy.

The girls gained knowledge and understanding of the various issues concerning teenage pregnancy and came up with the essential question: How do we protect young girls from teenage pregnancy? By asking why teenage girls in the community were becoming pregnant at higher rates, the girls were able to build a problem tree. This process opened their minds to how this type of analysis can be used in other classes during their study of various subjects.

Four students sitting at an outside table and writing in notebooks, seated in front of a Sustainable Development Goals poster.

Students brainstorming during the Engage phase of the project. Photo Credit: Grace Nabuduwa

In the Investigation stage, students interviewed different people about the issue of teenage pregnancy, including parents, teachers, pregnant girls, teen mothers, boys, and teen fathers. In addition, girls interviewed police officers in charge of family protection. The officers shared compelling stories of challenges many teenage girls face during pregnancy and how these girls often come to the police officers for support in desperate situations.

Students took what they learned and shared the information at a school assembly and community venues such as a church service. One student commented that she had never addressed an assembly of people and was proud that she now had the confidence to speak before large groups of people. Students discovered that they could create awareness campaigns to address the challenge of teenage pregnancy.

Seven students kneeling around a small tree.

Caption: Girls tending to a tree to address climate change impacts. Photo Credit: Grace Nabuduwa

Seven people standing outside in a half circle with hands together.

Caption: Ngora Girls Secondary School project team. Photo Credit: Grace Nabuduwa

Motivating Students through Real World Learning

Participating in the Ciena Solutions Challenge was an amazing experience for me as an educator as well as my students. It was an experience in which students set the tone and direction of learning that was experiential and also meaningful and relevant to them and the community.

Throughout the Ciena Solutions Challenge, I was impressed with the commitment students showed, so much so that they would forget about lunch. What I learned as an educator is that students are capable of doing amazing things. Students only need guidance from teachers as facilitators, and they will get motivated to work by themselves meaningfully while also developing 21st century skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication, decision-making, digital literacy, citizenship, and leadership.

Design thinking brings out the best talents from students and makes learning fun. I wish more teachers would integrate this kind of teaching into their classrooms in order to give their students new learning experiences.

Learn more on the Ciena Solutions Challenge Website

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