When Students Design Solutions to Protect Our Oceans – Digital Promise

When Students Design Solutions to Protect Our Oceans

February 6, 2024 | By

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.

Where I Teach

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.

Two students collect trash on the beach.

Yu-Ann Tsai and Zu-Kan Chen participated in the beach clearing activity, feeling that collecting trash from the beach was inefficient.

Our Students’ Journey to Tackle Marine Pollution

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.

A student presents on their laptop.

Yu-Ann Tsai demonstrated the team’s design in an online conference to Japanese students .

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.”

A map showing the location of the Cijin District.

In Cijin District, marked as the circled area on the map, the students conducted a community walk where they observed the surroundings and interviewed the locals.

The prototype of the capture zone system.

The prototype of the capture zone system designed by our student team.

Three students work with a tank made of tarp.

The student built an experimental tank on the school balcony to evaluate the effectiveness of their design.

“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

Nurturing Student Agency: Empowering Future Leaders through Project-Based Learning

“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:

  • Engage our students with real-world activities: At our school, we organize beach clearing activities and invite students to participate. Additionally, in my class, I arrange activities such as community walks, where students can take photos of their observations and conduct interviews with locals. These experiences prompt them to listen to various perspectives and understand people’s needs better. By incorporating these practices, we aim to put students in real-world contexts and infuse a sense of purpose into their learning.
  • Incorporate inquiry-based learning in our teaching: During students’ projects, I acted as a facilitator rather than providing direct answers. I guided them through the process by asking questions that challenged their thinking, encouraged further research, and explored a variety of resources. This approach fosters critical thinking and empowers students to take ownership of their learning journey.
  • Help students to be resourceful: At our school, we provide students with various resources to make good use of their creativity and curiosity. For instance, we have established a maker’s lab where students can access 3D printers and laser cutters. We not only teach them how to use these tools but also encourage them to explore and experiment with their own designs. By equipping students with the skills to create and innovate, they become capable of bringing their ideas to life and applying their knowledge in practical ways. This fosters a sense of self-reliance and empowers them to be problem solvers and creators in their own right.
  • Encourage student-led projects and provide opportunities for them to showcase their projects and receive feedback: At our school, we prioritize giving students platforms to showcase their hard work and creativity. Each year, we host a science fair where students can present their science projects. Additionally, at the end of every semester, we organize a project showcase session, inviting all students to attend and listen to well-conducted projects. During these events, student presenters have the opportunity to receive feedback from teachers and their peers, fostering a culture of constructive criticism and continuous improvement. Moreover, we encourage students to showcase their projects to students in other countries. This not only motivates them to excel but also provides valuable feedback from diverse perspectives.

“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.

Learn more on the Ciena Solutions Challenge Website

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