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Climate Change Engage: 5-Day Design Sprint

Collage from Climate Change Engage, 2022 Images credit: CCE team 2022

In March 2022, 20 self-selecting Transition Year students (15-16 years old) participated in a week-long design sprint, Climate Change Engage, project funded by the Irish Research Council -New Foundations programme and centred around the theme of climate change adaptation. Climate change Engage. The sprint was structured to support the development of skills and competencies including the acquisition of knowledge to empower students and increase their confidence in tackling key issues related to the current climate crisis we are living through.

Prior research that underpins the Muinín Catalyst Sustainable STEAM (MCSS) revealed that 91% of their core cohort were worried about their future - not because it might be good or bad, but because they felt they didn’t have one. That’s a very stark reality. Furthermore, the research findings reported that student confidence in adults resolving aspects of the climate emergency was low, with comments such as, ‘they know less than we do’ and they are doing nothing anyway’, was the cohort’s perspective. When asked about the learning experience with the research team - they felt that although at times the information was overwhelming - they felt they would rather know and that the process gave them hope as we never left them sitting in the problem - there was a focus on seeing the problem and its sources and how that could lead to developing solutions - the creative problem-solving and agile skillset at the core of the MCSS programmes.

The current climate crisis - the defining issue of our time is not addressed adequately in our education system, where there is a pressing need to foster in students the skills required to become solutions-oriented in order to take action. The education system - as it stands - is not fit-for-purpose (NCCA, 2020, OECD, 2020) as it continues to focus on the acquisition of knowledge instead of the application of knowledge through the utilisation of demonstrable skills and competencies. We must shift focus to education not only for sustainable development, but it muct also include restorative and regenerative processes.

Our learners need support in dealing with the unprecedented rate of change that we will witness more and more as this century progresses.

The Design Sprint as a Learning Tool

The design sprint as a method was developed in previous iterations of the work, through our CoDesRes and MARPlas projects. Having a driving question as the focus of the sprint enables learners to apply the knowledge and skills they have acquired in realistic, scalable and genuine ways. Within project-based learning, the driving question is open enough to enable the learners to pursue inquiries and avenues that interest them while expressing their identities within their learning. A well-crafted question which was worked through with the learners at the beginning of the week, also insures that ownership of their learning is with them.

Throughout the week, students participated in a variety of learning experiences with the ultimate aim to answer their driving question. The challenge that they had to tackle was underpinned by design-thinking, game design and serious gaming, which were used throughout the week. By the end of the week, students working in groups had designed games that demonstrated tangible solutions addressing the climate challenges. Over the course of 5 days, 9.30 - 5.30 p.m. the Transition Year students were introduced to the real-world problem through an in-depth practical analysis of the issues.

Through the structured deep audit of the problem, the students and team members amassed knowledge about the problem from multiple perspectives. Then through consideration and discussion, they began to drill into the various aspects of the issue, analysing their findings and undertaking a life cycle analysis of the problem; considering inputs processes and outputs to see where there may be opportunities for additional design solutions. The five days are structured broadly as follows

  • Day 1 - Empathise and Define

  • Day 2 - Ideate

  • Day 3 Evaluate

  • Day 4 Prototype

  • Day 5 Test

The week-long sprint provided many memorable and unique learning experiences, by connecting learners to their local place and community and by learning outside and away from a typical school environment with other community stakeholders. Learners were afforded opportunities to connect to big challenges or wicked problems, which led to the development of meta-thinking. Working collaboratively throughout the week enabled learners to deepen their communication skills and to better understand the power of collective intelligence to provide novel and industrious ideas that can lead to unique solutions.

Selected Images from the 5-Day CCE Sprint, March 2022 Image Credit CCE Team

The week-long sprint was facilitated - not led - by the SMARTlab Skelligs MCSS team and UCD Earth Institute experts. Students were empowered with full agency and control over their learning outputs, which enabled them to connect their learning to their own personal passions and contextual interests, which provided a rich forum for engagement.

Transdisciplinary Project Team, CCE 2022

Learning from the Sprint

There were many useful takeaways that were communicated by the end of the sprint week from the students, facilitators, and experts too.

Students recognised the opportunities to deepen their awareness of the processes of research, experimentation, exploration, presentation, user experience and some key components of game design. They also committed to self-reflection through daily reporting which they reported created more accountability for their learning and a better awareness of how they were developing their knowledge and 'connecting the dots' throughout the week.

Students further identified that they learned to think across disciplines and to look at whole systems approaches, recognising some key opportunities for intervention to ensure improvements whilst focusing on the driving question throughout the week. Finally, learners reported a growing appreciation of the impact of collaboration, which more accurately reflects real-world working environments, where a holistic awareness of issues such as the climate crisis narrative and the adaptation and action steps to be taken to alleviate damage can be given deeper consideration.

The sprint facilitators also reflected on their own practice during the week, with evaluations leading to updates in the design and delivery of the program. Connecting with UCD Earth Institute experts was also lauded by the school where the students attended as an excellent approach to supporting local communities with accessible and up-to-date knowledge on climate issues.

The Climate Change Engage sprint has now been developed into a full TY Unit that uses a research-tested, place-based STEAM methodology promoting transdisciplinary thinking and connection to local challenges. Climate Change Engage resources to include lesson plans and worksheets, which are scaffolded using step-by-step processes to embed skills and competencies appropriately into the overall week experience.

Interested in climate-related learning resources for your school?

Muinín Catalyst Sustainable STEAM programmes are designed to be contextually relevant, learner-led, collaborative, and connect learning to real-life contexts to deepen the experiences and outcomes for all. Sign up to access the module available for download to all post-primary school teachers with a school address.

The Future is Now.

It is time to prepare today's students for today’s world.

Muinin Catalyst Sustainable STEAM will work with 16 schools in the Munster province and provideTransition Year students with experiences that will prepare them for the next steps in their learning and life journeys beyond formal education. The MCSS project has been set up to gather critical data that will help augment and update the Irish Senior Cycle with 21st Century future-ready skills based towards an Irish curriculum for all.

Would you like to be one of those 16 schools?

Please get in touch with MCSS below and find out how we can help your school community and its students prepare for a VUCA world - one which is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.


Climate Change Engage IRC-NEW FOUNDATIONS Available here:

Anita McKeown*, Mick Lennon**, Rebecca White*, Jessica Garska*, Aura Istrate**, Paula Russell**, Tamara Hochstrasser*** (2022) A transdisciplinary STEAM pedagogical framework for enhancing climate change reflection and communication ‘by’ teenagers ‘for’ teenagers.

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