Francis Jim Tuscano is an internationally recognized and awarded Filipino teacher. As an education technology coach and consultant, Jim is passionate about designing transformative learning experiences in the classroom that enable learners to become active, reflective, and collaborative creators of knowledge. Jim was recently included in the 30 under 30 global list of literacy leaders and change makers of the US-based organization, International Literacy Association for 2019. In 2017, he was recognized as one of the 50 best teachers of the world and finalist to the Global Teacher Prize, the first Filipino teacher to represent the Philippines. An Apple Professional Learning Specialist, he currently sits as member of the Asia Pacific Board of the Apple Distinguished Educators (ADE)
The highly digital and globalized world we are currently living in poses a lot of opportunities and challenges. Throughout the years, opportunities for personal growth and development have increased because of incredible and massive improvements in various sectors in the society. We have seen how the health, education, labor, and financial sectors have dramatically improved in some countries. The same reality, however, also brings in challenges. For example, as we progress in understanding how nature works, there are some of us who take advantage of this knowledge and use it to abuse nature. Science has eradicated several diseases in the past century, but the sophistication of medical procedures and drug development have created a gap in terms of access to these medical breakthroughs. As we increase our knowledge and use these to innovate, we often leave undesirable effects in our environment that can last beyond our lifetime. As response to these, the United Nations, through the Global Goals or the SDGs, has put into place a systematic approach into addressing these global challenges.
Given this reality, the education sector, which promises to prepare students for the workforce and real-world outside the four walls of the classroom, faces the biggest challenge yet. Education now is not simply to teach students so that they pass the exam, get into the next grade level, or graduate from the school system. Educators face the challenge to make learning relevant in a way that even young students are already given the opportunity to take part in the conversation or dialogue towards a more sustainable world. In line with this, daily encounters and lessons in the classroom play an important role more than ever. This has inspired me to believe in students’ innate creativity, which can lead into opportunities for innovations, whether seen concretely in their projects or initially manifested in the way they speak and reflect on what’s happening around us. For creativity to come out, educators must go beyond the conventional, traditional, and impersonal methods or approaches to teaching. Lessons that are not rooted on real-world challenges and issues simply become conceptual matters stuck in their head ready to be unloaded when a traditional paper and pen quiz is given and after which, forgotten.
As an educator, myself, I have learned from my experiences in teaching in the grade school. For the past couple of years, I have grappled with this challenge and searched for effective ways to engage young learners. As a personal education passion project, I have designed the Kids Can! Innovation Camp and the Innovation Approach that focus on engaging young learners to become agents of change by exploring real-world problems, brainstorming solutions, and prototyping products that we hope can leave long-lasting mark not just in the student’s immediate community but to the bigger world. This passion project, which banks on the idea of solving global problems through kid’s little but bright ideas, has been recognized by HundrED, a Finland-based non-profit organization that recognizes and curates the best K12 education innovations in the world based on innovativeness, scalability, and impact on teaching students sustainability.
Taking this opportunity, the following are core ideas on the Innovation Approach that can help educators today to make learning more relevant and meaningful for the youth:
- Engage students with real-world problems and have them drive and direct their own learning journey. Project-based learning is recommended as an instructional approach to help students learn through making sense of problems and creating projects or products as concrete answers to these real-world problems. Encourage and promote inquiry. Students should be able to ask questions to clarify their ideas, misconceptions, and even firm up what they have learned.
- In the real world, we tackle and solve problems through combining and synthesizing all the skills and knowledge that we have learned in order to come up with the best solutions. Likewise, teachers in the classroom should present learning in a way that students integrate their learnings from different subjects in order to understand and solve the problem at hand. This is called the interdisciplinary approach to learning and it requires much collaboration from teachers, flexibility in the curricula, and thoughtful design in order to plan out interdisciplinary units or challenges.
- Teach empathy as the starting point for real-world problem-solving. Empathy is an essential skill that can guide students in interacting and relating with other people. In solving real-world problems, students must have the skill to step into the position of persons being affected by the problem and understand their context, needs, and struggles. While using empathy in the classroom is an exercise of the mind, cognitive empathy, the goal of developing empathy is that students are led towards social empathy and empathic concern for other people.
- Employ design-thinking approach as guide for students in creating projects or solutions. Popularized by Stanford school, design-thinking is a problem-solving methodology and solution-focused approach that helps organizations, business entities, and individuals to come up with the best solutions to complex challenges or problems. But more than a methodology for creating products or projects, design-thinking in the classroom has also great effects on student learning. Students are given the opportunity to see patterns in gathered data, make abstract ideas concrete, and collaborate with others to come up with prototypes of best solutions.
- Create the space or environment that pushes for innovation through making, a makerspace. In its simplest sense, a makerspace is a space where students can make, create, tinker, or construct projects. These projects can be anchored on academics as for the case of interdisciplinary PBL challenges or individual passion projects such as those that follow the idea of Genius Hour. In makerspaces, there are tools and materials for construction of project prototypes. Moreover, a distinct feature of makerspaces is the need for a paradigm shift-to push and support the movement from learning as passive consumption of ideas towards real-world application of skills and knowledge through creation of projects.
- Develop growth mindset and encourage risk-taking. For students to tap on their creative and innovative mind, educators must give them the opportunity to practice and develop growth mindset. In practicing this mindset, students are encouraged to explore, try out, and understand the problem from different angles. In order to do this, educators must uphold that failure is simply a way to learn and that failures are acceptable means to improvement. As students create their projects or products, they will be committing mistakes, trying out new things, and creating many reiterations of their prototype. The basic response to this should be, “It’s okay. Learn from your mistakes. You can still do better!”