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Climate Change Engage: Introducing Dr. Michael Lennon

As a part of our External Expertise interview series, we are delighted to introduce Dr. Michael Lennon, UCD. Michael led the UCD team on the Irish Research Council New Foundations project in collaboration with the SMARTlab Skelligs MCSS team to co-create and deliver a 5-day game design sprint. This was then developed into a Transition Year unit, Climate Change Engage. Michael participated in the 5-day design sprint, and developed the nature-based lessons in the Climate Change Engage Transition Year unit.

Images from the CCE TY Game Design Unit resources, Muinin Catalyst Sustainable STEAM

Climate Change Engage introduces learners to the topic of serious games and game design within the context of climate adaptation. It introduces them to the concept and process of Design Thinking; the cognitive, strategic, and practical processes for creative problem-solving.

All of our programmes deliver cross-curricular Universal Design for Learning (UDL), are aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the UNESCO Earth Charter. They are learner-centred, project-based and are underpinned by place-based STEAM (McKeown et al, 2023; Mckeown and White, 2021; McKeown, 2019, 2015).

Images from the CCE TY Game Design Unit resources, Muinin Catalyst Sustainable STEAM

We interviewed Michael about his work, motivations, and involvement in developing Climate Change Engage.

What made you want to work in the field you are in?

I was always interested in ideas- where they come from and what effects they have.  I got to explore this as a geography student but ultimately felt that geography lacked both focus and impact on the ‘real’ world.  Nonetheless, while studying for my undergrad in I was luckily exposed to modules that tackled urban, rural and environmental planning issues.  This prompted me to apply for a postgrad in ‘planning’, which I enjoyed enormously.  Unfortunately, my first job out of college wasn’t very orientated towards social justice or environmental issues.  I lasted over two years there before moving into a different job – this time in New Zealand- where environmental issues were front and centre. I fortunately returned to a job with a great team of planners and designers in the Dublin office of a consultancy that has a focus on providing policy advice to local authorities. This allowed me to pursue issues close to my heart in helping local authorities come to grips with new ideas when formulating planning policy – the stuff that guides the future of the places we all live in.  I’d been thinking of heading back to do a PhD at the interface of planning and environmental policy when the financial crisis hit Ireland. So, I left for the UK to pursue a three-year doctorate, after which I worked in University College Dublin (UCD) for a while, then as a lecturer in Cardiff University and finally back to UCD again…and here I remain!

Do you have an organisation or work with a particular org - if so what is your / their mission statement?

I work in University College Dublin.  I believe the motto is ‘Ad Astra’, which is Latin for ‘To the Stars’ - as in reach for the stars.  There’s lots of wordy strategy documents, but I think that summarises what we’re trying to do as students, teachers and researchers.

What do you offer? 

An academic slant on things – probably with access to resources and the expertise of colleagues that may otherwise be difficult to come by.

What is your background / skill set and training?

My practice background is as a planner, with a focus on strategic advice and policy formulation.

My academic background is in planning and environmental policy.  I’ve led sizable research projects in green infrastructure planning, climate change adaptation and green space design for health and wellbeing.  I’m primarily a qualitative researcher using interpretive methods, which concerns how meaning is constituted and communicated with significance in understanding the ways problems emerge, are understood and acted upon.

Tell us about your work with FutureFocus21c.

We worked together on a small project looking at empowering mature minors in the context of climate change adaptation. FutureFocus21c were an invaluable partner on the project in driving forward the idea of a design sprint.  Here, the process became the method and students reflectively learned through engagement with game design.

What are you most excited about in the new lessons / module you are developing?

The creative process that is used to anchor self-reflective learning and encourage students to explore alternative paths for problem solving.

Why do you think sharing your knowledge with Transition Year learners is important?

The secondary school curriculums – along with the modes of teaching and learning they entail – allows little scope for students to reflect on and explore different ways of learning and acquiring new skills.  TY is a lull between the exam orientated junior and leaving cycles that supplies opportunities for this.  The knowledge that I deal in is only now moving onto the LC curriculum in any real sense.  However, exam-oriented learning will not provide the ‘thinking-outside-the-box’ necessary to redress the challenges now faced by society.  TY thereby provides an opening to build a foundation for novel thinking that can solve complex real-world problems.

What advice would you give to Transition Year / secondary school students?

Stick with what you’re interested and passionate about; what you know in your bones moves you.  Don’t be side tracked into following the promise of money and shallow social prestige – that’s the sure path to a mid-life crisis!

Where do you see the Future of Education going? 

The arrival of generative AI may mean that educators are forced to confront the largely unspoken fact that students will rarely do what we ask them to do in school once they finish the leaving certificate.  They’ll not be asked to ‘know stuff’ so much as ‘use’ their problem solving skills.  So, in many ways I see the future of education as a recalibration away from ‘knowing what’ to ‘knowing how’.

What do you feel is missing or if there was one thing you wanted learners to know / have access to what would it be?

An ability to think reflectively (critically) about where they get their information from and how this influences their views.  Social media is not a reliable source of knowledge.  Algorithms can ensnare people in a web of nasty echo chambers that leads to misinformed views with damaging results. 

The Future is Now.

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

Please get in contact at if you are interested in using our resources with your learners.

Muinín Catalyst Sustainable STEAM uses a transdisciplinary, STEAM-based pedagogical approach. Returning to SDG 4, Target 4.7, one of the core missions of the Muinín Catalyst Sustainable STEAM programme is to ensure an arts / design and culture-led approach to learning that is transdisciplinary and transformative. Learning that supports the development of informed citizens, that are systemic, critical and creative thinkers who can apply their knowledge in agile ways that are sensitive, generative and appropriately responsive to context, in relevant and meaningful ways.

This is done through placed-based learning, which enables individuals to experience learning in local, real-life scenarios. Place-based approaches to learning grounded in local communities and contexts are relevant, engaging and inquiry-based. Students gain confidence and competence in affecting change, learning to manage risk, and develop creative, real-world solutions that are eco-socially just and restorative.


McKeown, A., Lennon, M., White, R., Garska, J., Istrate, A., Russell, P., and Hochstrasser, T. (pending Dec 2023). Serious Games for Empowering Teenagers: A STEAM Approach to Climate Change Reflection and Communication. In: Leal Filho, W., Sima, M., Lange Salvia, A., Kovaleva, M., Manolas, E. (eds) University Initiatives on Climate Change Education and Research. Springer, Cham.

McKeown, A., and White, R. (2021) Muinín Catalyst - Exploring Future-ready Teaching and Learning International Journal for Cross-Disciplinary Subjects in Education (IJCDSE), Volume 12, Issue 2, 2021

McKeown, A., and White, R  (2021) Muinín Catalyst - Towards a Place-based STEAM, Design thinking Curriculum for Transition Year, chapter 23  in AMPS PROCEEDINGS SERIES 22.2 Manchester School of Architecture; AMPS Manchester: 02-04 December, 2020 Teaching-Learning-Research: Design and Environments

Mckeown, A (2019) From STEM to STEAM at the Beautiful Midden Field School: An Artist/Educator Perspective in eds. De La Garza, A and Travis, C. The STEAM Revolution Transdisciplinary Approaches to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Humanities and Mathematics

McKeown, A (2015) Cultivating PermaCultral Resilience: Towards a Creative Placemaking Critical Praxis PhD National College of Art and Design 

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