By Sean Robinson, #TeachSDGs Task Force Member, @sr_tutor
Connections change lives.
I am convinced of it. A simple, meaningful contact can lead to immeasurable change. It not only raises awareness, but it makes our response personal, purposeful. We don’t simply learn of a need; we feel the need.
As we use the framework of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals to guide us in meaningful work, we are inspired with the kinds of connections we can make. No poverty, zero hunger, good health, quality education. Even simply stating these goals with the lens of connection awakens action. Without a connection, our empathy has nowhere to go. With a connection, the possibilities are endless.
When my grade 9 Science class connected with an 18-year-old NYU student from Kenya, seeds of change were planted. From Karishma Bhagani we learned not only about the state of water scarcity in the world, but her solution of a low cost water purifier. Matone de Chiwit was the name she gave to her creation: Drops of Life. She had found a way to provide clean water (SDG6) to impoverished communities back in Kenya. She was excited to get the word out. My favourite moment during a connection is to turn to the students and say: now that we know the need, what are we going to do about it. My job is to let the wellspring of ideas germinate, then allow them to grow. And grow they did.
Sure, students developed collaboration and communication skills, writing and art skills, a sense of audience, digital citizenship. But this learning was coupled with action and transformation. I share the story of one budding social entrepreneur’s transformation here: http://seanrtech.blogspot.ca/2016/05/the-precarious-and-powerful.html
Here is a video of the videoconference that started it all:
When I connected via Skype with Dr. Jeff Goldstein, director of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), the video conference became the catalyst to something amazing. I brought the idea of the SSEP to my students: competing for a spot on a Space X Rocket to take an experiment to the International Space Station. Connections breed other connections. In order to create an experiment that is worthy of a trip to the ISS, experts must be consulted. Interestingly, many of my Science 9 students thought to do medical research (SDG3).
Students began examining:
The connection was the stimulus. It brought a reaction that would not have taken place without it. But, from that catalyst was explosive action. Students were learning about the scientific method, not because I told them to, but because they needed to. They were emailing experts, growing bacteria, conducting trials. And an experiment without meaning wouldn’t fly: they needed to find a reason why their experiment needed to be carried out. Good health and well being (SDG6) became that meaning for them.
When we connected with the Community for Learning school in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, I had an idea that the students would be ignited. I had no idea, though, how far the flames would go. Hearing about the difficulty to read and learn at night (SDG4) due to the lack of electricity (SDG7), students’ empathy was lit. This time, I asked my students: what are we going to DO about this? And: what are we going to MAKE about this? The students became excited to build solar powered 3D printed lanterns to help out. We connected with Ian Fogarty and his Engineering Brightness students in New Brunswick, Canada to get help to make this happen. Once again, students were fired up:
What a wonderful experience to be able to celebrate with Eladio from the Santo Domingo school as he shared with us the experience of receiving the lantern and supplies to make more. Gathered for the Skype chat were the prototypers, the fundraisers, the 3D printers, the assemblers, and my colleague Abraham Kang who not only delivered the materials but taught the Dominican Republic students how to make the lanterns. Different classes, different schools, different countries coming together to battle light poverty. Amazing. Immersing students in the Sustainable Development Goals takes meaningful education to the next level. Marrying the Sustainable Development Goals with a focus on Connections-based Learning leads to action. The connection is the seed, the catalyst, the spark that begins exponential growth. The SDGs provide a framework of needs. The marriage of the two transform lives, schools, communities.
I encourage you to soak deeply your practice with the Sustainable Development Goals and #TeachSDGs any and every chance you get. Allow the children you teach to make meaningful connections and then stand with them as they transform the world.
Special thanks to Sean Robinson of the #TeachSDGs Global Goals Task Force and Connections-Based Learning. You can learn more about Sean's great work with Connections-Based Learning by visiting http://www.connectionsbasedlearning.com. Connect with Sean on Twitter at @sr_tutor.