During the last two weeks of July, I had the opportunity of working with an international team that had organized a global student challenge. Organized by InventFuture.Global, this challenge was open to students from all over the world. Every year they have a different challenge, and this year was on the Food System Challenge.
ABOUT THE CHALLENGE
In this Food System Challenge, participants will have the opportunity to collaborate with other students worldwide, where they will work together to come up with a solution to solve real world problems involving food and nutrition issues. This is based on United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) #2 which is to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
This was no small feat. Students will not only have to understand an important global issue, they will need to do a lot of research about existing solutions and work on coming up with new ones on their own. This will empower students to feel that they are contributing to a real-life issue, and also enables them to develop problem solving and creative thinking skills. And they had to do all this in less than 5 days.
Students were placed into teams made up of about 4-6 participants from all over the world, and an adult facilitator was assigned to each team to support their learning. Adult facilitators would not be contributing to the discussion; rather, the students had to do this work completely on their own. Adult facilitators were there to act as guides and as mediators to ensure that the discussions of the teams went smoothly.
The students met for the first time on day 1. Over the course of the next four days, they had to do research, identify a problem, create a solution, and compile presentation slides which they would need to present on day 5.
There were a total of four different sessions made up of four teams each. Two teams were selected from each session to present their solutions to the UN SDG representatives who would act as judges on the final presentation day which took place on 31st July 2021.
MY EXPERIENCE AS A FACILITATOR
This was the first time I was working with this organizer, and it was an amazing experience. The organizers were extremely supportive of everyone – not only the students participants, but also the adult facilitators and volunteers.
During the facilitator workshop, we were reminded not to take part in the discussions, but rather to allow the students to work on their own solutions. It was not our responsibility to ensure that the students come up with a good solution, or even a solution at all. Jake Mendelssohn, the head organizer, told us that there have been situations in the past where some teams did not even have a presentation by day 5. He reminded us that this was not a reflection of the facilitator, but rather, this was part of the lesson that students need to learn in order to do better in the future. However, he did cheekily add that if the students did well, then that was a reflection of a good facilitator!
It was very refreshing to be part of such a supportive event, where I knew that students had the freedom to express themselves in a positive way, and that the adults were not held responsible for something that would not even be within our control.
Being a facilitator is very different from being a teacher. As teachers, we are used to giving instructions, correcting mistakes, and providing clear guidelines on what should be done. Even though in class we do allow students to express their ideas, but too often we have to stick to a syllabus or a rubric which is why teachers tend to shape the discussions of the students that take place. However, the interesting thing about this challenge is that there were no correct or wrong answers. As Jake mentioned during the opening of the event – this was a problem that even adults do not have the complete solutions for.
Over two weeks I facilitated four teams. it was a very unique experience to see how students from different parts of the world who have never met before this able to cooperate, collaborate, and come up with a solution in just a matter of five days!
As a facilitator, I encouraged students who tended to be quiet to speak up and share their thoughts. Sometimes the students who don’t have anything to say are just shy, but they are actually brimming with lots of fantastic ideas. Of course, there would be difference of opinions, and for some teams, it was really difficult to come to a resolution that everyone agreed to. As the adult in the room, I made sure that things remain amicable, and that every single person always had a chance to speak and to be heard.
Whenever a team gets stuck, it was not my role to tell them what to do; instead I would ask a lot of questions to get them thinking so that they can figure out the next step on their own. I think what really helped me as a facilitator was that I myself have no inkling as to what a good solution might be! Whenever I ask, it was also because I wanted to know the answers!
It was a certainly a proud moment for me when out of the four teams I had facilitated, three teams were invited to present their solutions on the Final Celebration day. I had seen the teams work hard together and build a solution out of practically nothing; and to see their effort being recognized was truly a heartwarming moment.
This was of course not to say that the other teams did not deserve the spotlight – every team did a fantastic job. Unfortunately, not all teams were able to be selected due to time constraint; and in some cases, the judges had a hard time making the selections because all the solutions presented during that session were brilliant!
This was truly a unique experience, and it is something I would definitely encourage more students to take part in. Besides the opportunity to meet and collaborate with people from around the world, it also pushes students out of their comfort zone and to teach them to think out of the box. Many students found that they were capable of things that they never thought were possible.
The best part for me was when I received thank-you messages, not only from the organizer, but also from the students! To be honest, I was very surprised, because everything they did was on their own, and I always made sure that their effort was acknowledged. The students thanked me for being a calming presence in the room and to make sure that the team always worked together. This was the best takeaway from the challenge, and it is an experience that I will always cherish.
This would not have been possible without the deputy principal of my school, Ms Lili Mariah, who connected us to InventFuture.Global, and of course the principal Mr Lam, without whose support and approval this opportunity would not have risen. And of course, to the team at InventFuture.Global led by Mr Jake Mendelssohn, for providing such an excellent platform for adult facilitators and students to gain this unique, amazing experience!