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 “Student Agency and Leadership” from educator Szuchia Hou who facilitated the Guarding the Ocean: Innovating an Interception Device to Protect Life Below Water student project team at Affiliated Senior High School of National Kaohsiung Normal University in Taiwan.
I teach English at the Affiliated Senior High School of National Kaohsiung Normal University, located in the urban area of Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Taiwan is an island surrounded by the sea, which provides our community with abundant ocean resources. However, due to our city’s industrial past, many of the beaches suffer from pollution caused by garbage and plastic debris.
Almost every year, our school organizes volunteer beach cleanups to instill awareness of the importance of marine protection among students. Through this experience, students learn valuable lessons. One particular group of students, including Yu-Ann Tsai, Ching-Lin Hsieh, Zi-Kang Chen, Shi-Yu Chin, took it upon themselves to research methods of intercepting garbage and preventing it from entering the ocean. They initiated a project called “Innovating an Interception Device to Protect Life Below Water.” Their belief that most plastic debris and garbage comes from land through the passage of rivers motivated them to take this further step in guarding the ocean.
Three years before receiving the 2023 Ciena Solutions Challenge Sustainability Awards, the four students started an ocean challenge project during a community walk at Kaohsiung Harbor. While observing the local community in Cijin District and interviewing the locals, they were alarmed by distressing amounts of garbage on the beach and in the sea. To combat marine pollution, they developed a capture zone system to intercept river garbage. Their design underwent refinements based on feedback received through a nationwide Ocean Challenge competition and online conferences with Japanese students, eventually leading to their achievement of winning the Sustainability Award.
Yu-Ann Tsai, the student leader of the team, summarized their journey, saying, “Keep going with your efforts, even if you don’t know where you’re headed. If you plan each step carefully and persevere, you’ll eventually enjoy the fruitful outcomes.”
“Keep going with your efforts, even if you don’t know where you’re headed. If you plan each step carefully and persevere, you’ll eventually enjoy the fruitful outcomes.” – Yu-Ann Tsai, Student
“This experience of project work with my teammates was just like connecting dots.” – Ching-Lin Hsieh, Student
Students possess incredible potential and have the power to make a significant impact on the world around them. When we motivate our students to take action, we are not only fostering a sense of agency and responsibility but also sowing the seeds for future leadership. Here are some of the methods we can use to support student agency:
“This experience of project work with my teammates was just like connecting dots,” said Ching-Lin Hsieh, another student from our team. In this project, the students took charge of their own learning by connecting the acquired skills and knowledge, collaborating with their partners, and exchanging perspectives.
Students hold the key to the future, possessing both the power and responsibility to shape the world into a better place. As the next generation of leaders, they are making a positive impact and addressing pressing global challenges. As educators, all we have to do is ignite the fire within them and inspire them to take action.