4 Key Components of an Impactful Student-Led Project – Digital Promise

4 Key Components of an Impactful Student-Led Project

Students work with their teacher at a lab station

December 12, 2023 | By

In September we launched a 12-part story series featuring student-led projects that are part of the Ciena Solutions Challenge, a global design challenge inviting middle and high school students to design solutions that address the Sustainable Development Goals within their communities.

From an anti-vaping campaign in Colorado (United States) to an interception device to prevent garbage from entering the ocean in Kaohsiung (Taiwan), the projects featured in this series exemplify core elements of the Challenge, including creative use of technology, social purpose, sustainability and ​​scaling, and student agency and leadership. These elements are top of mind for Ciena staff who volunteer their time and experience each year to review and provide thoughtful feedback on projects submitted by student teams from around the world.

As the next Ciena Solutions Challenge submission deadline on March 12, 2024 draws closer, we’re sharing insights from the series to inspire educators and students who are making a difference in their communities and want to apply for $2,500 USD in funding to sustain and scale their projects.

Creative Use of Technology

When Ciena employees volunteer as judges for the Ciena Solutions Challenge, they look for outputs that showcase creative and strategic use of technology as part of actions taken by students, not for the most cutting-edge or expensive tools.

Following the inclusion of heritage studies in the Zimbabwe curriculum, students at Eveline High School in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, recognized a scarcity of related print and digital materials and leveraged low-cost technologies to tap community knowledge and heritage to create related educational audio content.

At Ngora Girls Secondary School in Uganda, students used technology to research hidden hunger and explore DIY sustainable gardening practices, then created vegetable gardens and launched a storytelling campaign using community radio to share what they learned.

Students at Vikas Bharati Public School in India leveraged open source software, sensors, microcontrollers, and other tools to explore and develop a variety of projects, including an AI sensor boat to protect aquatic animals and water quality and automated dustbins.

Collage of three images. From left to bottom: A student poses with his prototype; A student smiles while sitting in front of a mic and with headphones on at a radio station; students smile while holding up the greens from their garden.

Students proudly show their projects. From left: A student at Vikas Bharati Public School; a student at Eveline High School; and students from Ngora Girls Secondary School.

Social Purpose

Another consideration for judges is whether projects demonstrate a clear social purpose in response to a real-world problem or concern and whether action concepts could have a beneficial impact.

Seeking to address high rates of malnutrition in their community, students at Santamayee Girls High School in India conducted community interviews and connected with nutritionists, ultimately discovering ring pisciculture, or fish farming, as a response.

In Kazakhstan, students at Nazarbayev Intellectual School of Chemistry and Biology created educational flashcards in Kazakh and Russian after observing a lack of visual material on environmental education for kindergarten and primary school children.

Students at PEI Simpliciano Campolim de Almeida in Brazil evaluated entrepreneurial opportunities related to socially responsible travel in their community and created a prototype for an ecotourism app for their town.

A collage of three images. From top: Students interview community members at a market; two people hold a conversation in a park; students work together at a desk.

Photos of students as they go through their project process. From top: Students at Santamayee Girls High School; Students at PEI Simpliciano Campolim de Almeida; and students at Nazarbayev Intellectual School of Chemistry and Biology.

Student Agency and Leadership

Judges also pay close attention to whether projects represent the agency and leadership of students. Through a project portfolio and reflection video, students have an opportunity to share why their topic matters to them, synthesize their team’s activities, and share their insights and perspectives on what was learned.

Students at Benjamin E. Mays High School in Atlanta, Georgia, were inspired by issues that impact their daily lives, including mental health and food disparities. They used these topics to create podcasts like “Health Is Wealth,” a discussion about the mental health of athletes and “Hands to Heart,” an organization that supports and facilitates healing for trauma victims.

Students at Peak to Peak High School in Boulder County, Colorado, used design thinking to address the impact of the devastating Marshall Fire in their community, ultimately hosting an Eco-Justice Fashion Show to raise awareness about climate change and help dispel gender stereotypes associated with STEM.

In Taiwan, students at Affiliated Senior High School of National Kaohsiung Normal University grew concerned about marine debris and the inefficiency of manual trash removal they experienced during beach cleanups. In response, they designed a Capture Zone System garbage interception device to prevent river trash from entering the ocean.

Collage of three images showing slides from students' presentations. From top left: A slide inviting audiences to listen to episode three of the students' podcast; A slide showing a blueprint drawing of Shy Plant Shoes; a slide showing three images of prototypes for a capture system for pollution.

Slides from students’ presentations about their projects. From top left: A podcast by students at Benjamin E. Mays High School; a blueprint for sustainable shoes from Peak to Peak High School; and a prototype of a capture system from students at Affiliated Senior High School of National Kaohsiung Normal University.

Sustainability and ​​Scaling

Lastly, judges consider how well teams describe how award funding will be used to sustain and/or scale the project initiative in conjunction with existing community resources such as key people, systems, and free or low-cost tools and equipment.

The IQ Interschool Challenge TV program started during the COVID-19 pandemic when the Tanzania English Language Teachers Association used Facebook Live to support at-home learning. When Star TV offered free airtime, the idea expanded. Partnerships continue to drive the program’s growth, with community members lending support and the American Corner Space in Mwanza providing additional space for recording episodes.

During the COVID pandemic, many schools were the first institutions to be closed and the last to reopen, affecting the mental health of students worldwide. In response, students at Centro de Mídias da Educação in Brazil transformed unused space at their school into a Safe Zone to foster community and connections.They continue to refine the initiative, seeking support from the Secretary of Education and media to expand it across São Paulo.

The lack of digital material available about their Indigenous community was both a problem and an opportunity for students at the Institución Educativa Rufino José Cuervo Centro in Colombia. Students engaged in community research and digital storytelling to become leaders who contribute to their community’s knowledge of Indigenous customs and food heritage.

A collage of three images. From top: Students pose in front of a green screen in a recording studio; a group of women ladle food out of a pot; a screenshot of a student's webinar presentation on safe zones.

From top: Students in the IQ Interschool Challenge in Tanzania record at a studio; Students’ intergenerational project takes place at Institución Educativa Rufino José Cuervo Centro; a screenshot of a presentation on safe zones by a student at Centro de Mídias da Educação in Brazil.

Learn More on the Ciena Solutions Challenge Website

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