The Ciena Solutions Challenge is a global design challenge by Digital Promise and Ciena that invites middle and high school students to design solutions that address Sustainable Development Goals within their communities. This blog post is part of a series featuring educators whose students’ projects exemplify core elements of the Challenge: creative use of technology, social purpose, student agency and leadership, and sustainability and scaling. Below are lessons on “Social Purpose” from educator Zhananur Kassimova who facilitated the Don’t Litter, It Makes the World Bitter project with student teams at Nazarbayev Intellectual School of Chemistry and Biology in Karaganda, Kazakhstan.
I live in a town located in the heart of Kazakhstan and teach English as a foreign language to eighth grade students at Nazarbayev Intellectual School of Chemistry and Biology, a selective public school with a focus on science. As an educator, I place a high priority on educating young people to be active citizens of their community and engage them in real-world learning projects that can be integrated into various curriculum themes such as food, fashion, natural world, travel, and transport. These units consistently emphasize the impact of fashion, food production, and tourism on the environment, deepening learners’ understanding of ecological effects.
There are many environmental issues in our city and one of them is air pollution. Air pollution has increased significantly in our city because of coal mining, car exhaust, and emissions from chimneys in winter. However, considering the main causes of this problem such as factories and cars, students realized that it would be challenging for them to set measurable goals. After observing littering to be a serious issue in the city, particularly on streets and near the waterside, they focused on the negative impact of plastic pollution, and chose littering as the topic they wanted to address in the Ciena Solutions Challenge.
Over the summer, students worked together to investigate the causes of littering and collaborated using Google Docs, Canva, and Zoom. Summer was an ideal time to observe people’s behavior in parks and take field trips to recycling centers. This Investigation phase enabled them to narrow their focus from adults’ to children’s behavior since much research reported a lack of environmental education as one of the reasons for littering. During this phase, students also learned how to conduct primary and secondary research. For their primary research, they conducted surveys in their neighborhoods to find out the causes of littering and made observations in areas where people tend to throw their trash most frequently.
The next stage involved taking action to fight littering. Their solution was to create flashcards to educate children about the negative impact of littering on the environment. Students used Canva, which has a wide range of templates for flashcards. Because they designed the flashcards for primary school children, students made a point to include more images and fewer words. They also created different levels of flashcards, requiring lower to higher-order thinking.
After they created the flashcards, students put them to practical use during a visit to an orphanage, where they educated the children about nature conservation. The children were actively engaged with the flashcards and later shared positive feedback, expressing enjoyment in the activities and newfound knowledge about recycling plastic.
My students realized the importance of creating visual tools that can educate children about the negative effect of littering and became even more motivated to spread the message to other schools.
“I really enjoyed teaching and I would like to teach more children about the environment.” – Sabina
Using educational flashcards to teach younger children was an effective strategy and they observed the immediate impact of children’s engagement during the learning process. Students also wanted to create visually appealing learning tools in both the Kazakh and Russian languages since there is not enough visual material on environmental education for kindergarten and primary school children. They wanted to provide a tool that would be useful for teachers, as well.
My students did not believe that their project would gain recognition and win the Ciena Solutions Challenge Sustainability Award because they were not confident about the design of the flashcards. However, as an educator, I encouraged them to believe that they can make a difference in their community. Receiving the award increased my students’ confidence and motivation to continue their journey in fighting against littering in their community. It also underscores my strong belief in instilling in students the belief that small actions can lead to significant changes and that they do not have to wait for adulthood to be change agents in their community.
“It was exciting to share our project with other students from around the world at the YouthMADE Festival.” – Aisha, Student