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Stories of Change: How education contributes to seeing the world around us differently.

A day in the office

Over the summer we were thrilled to be identified as one of a number of changemakers in Kerry as part of the Stories of Change project created by LK Howells. LK has a background in environmental education and youth empowerment programmes, designing and delivering programmes that engage with climate change and social justice for organisations such as Bristol University, with ECO UNESCO, Concern Worldwide and as an An Taisce Climate Ambassador

Stories of Change emerged from LK's previous work when she took six students to COP21 in Paris, 2015. She felt drawn to document who they were, what they were doing, and what their hopes and fears were for the future. She continued to gather stories over the next 7 years and uses them in her climate literacy programs. LK has seen that these narratives are powerful and empower people to take climate action, by seeing themselves and possibilities in the others stories. LK has described the Stories of Change project as:

"The narrative around climate change is often scary and overwhelming. It’s important to remember that we are not going into this blind. We have an incredible network of people here in Ireland that are making, creating, advocating and designing solutions for a better future. This project is about promoting those people, sharing their stories and celebrating their solutions to inspire community-led climate action".

Muinin Catalyst Sustainable STEAM:Challenge-led, Solution-focused

At the core of our educational programmes is the objective of supporting young people to see the world around them differently and to develop their ambitions and skills to be able to co-create the world they want to live in. Seeing the world differently enables us to also see opportunities which is an important step in making change. In our earlier research, CoDesRes, our learners reported that our resources gave them hope - not in an emotional way, but in a tangible, concrete way by developing their skills, their confidence and competence to be able to make a difference.

Our resources adapted an existing methodology that offers a systemic approach to creating the places we want and need. We have scaled this and embedded it into our resources that are challenge-led and solution focused. This supports young people to identify opportunities for action and then supports them to act. The resources embed the concept of environmental, social and economic justice in the process of creating a minimum viable product, system or service as the outcome. We do this by embedding circular design thinking into the lessons so that whatever the outcome, it has addressed circular economic principles into their final solution. In this instance, the circularity is not just in an assessment of materials, it is a generative circularity that integrates and helps them understand the intimate links between social and environmental justice and how to integrate that into their projects.

So how do we do this? The first step is seeing things differently.

Seeing things differently

We all become familiar with our environments and while this can give us a level of expertise it can also limit our recognition of how valuable our knowledge could be and engaging with other perspectives as well as our perception of what's possible. Our resources encourage learners to expand a consideration of their location, the local challenges and larger global contexts.

To do this we use circular design thinking - embedding the principles of circular economics into design thinking to enable learners to consider the full impact of their actions using creative risk-taking. Learning to manage risk is a transferable skill and one that evidence shows our young people increasingly need in an increasingly VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world.

The stages of Design thinking and the Circular Economy

Research and development phase (empathy / define)

Currently our post-primary system teaches core content / concepts with little opportunity for application, and while there will always be a need for subject-specific knowledge, increasingly our world requires knowledge to be made relevant and transferable. Increasingly we will need to negotiate unchartered territory, e.g. the complex challenges posed by problems such as climate change, the biodiversity crisis and persistent injustice. Our resources are not only inter / transdisciplinary, they integrate STEM skills and knowledge, e.g. electronic engineering, programming, biological processes, ecology with circular and empathic design, to ensure that all economies (social, environmental and financial) are not only considered but balanced.

The key methods embedded in our resources include aspects from art and design training, as well as cultural leadership sectors and open source contexts. These include working in teams, project-based approaches, design processes, design briefs / problem solving. These provide an open yet supportive structure and an environment of structured and open learning that is more relevant to 21st Century and VUCA world needs. Using empathic design exercises, the resources encourage learners to look at other perspectives and think about their needs; this helps them make design decisions and reduce materials, waste and make their products, systems or services sustainable.

Examples of students' design process, TY Unit Marine Plastic Waste

Experimentation, exploration, iterating and prototyping

The resources are designed to encourage young people to explore contemporary intersectional concerns through exploration and experimentation, and learning by doing in active, often collaborative ways. We use disruptive innovation methods and tactics to expand their ideas which they can then explore through prototyping, testing and iterating.

This process is an important learning experience for young people when most learning revolves around right and wrong answers. The opportunity to explore and experiment is not only a validated process, it impresses upon them that it is necessary and is an important milestone. We use semi-structured activities to develop confidence and remove high production values by deliberately limiting materials to easily accessible and familiar, e.g. plasticine, cardboard, glue and sticks. We actively encourage quick responses, explaining being able to show your ideas is important both for explanation and limiting misunderstanding as well as not wasting lots of money while working through trial and error.

Examples of students' design process, TY Unit Marine Plastic Waste

Presenting and pitching and testing

Presentations offer a valuable learning opportunity. Learners improve their communication skills and develop confidence and competence in presenting their ideas, a skill increasingly sought in education and professional sectors. Presentations include performance skills e.g. storytelling, voice projection, pacing and presence, the pitch helps develop these transferable skills that build competence and confidence. Confidence also comes from being able to distil the knowledge they have and articulate it clearly, concisely and accessibly so the audience can process the information and ideas.

Within our sprints and TY units, the learning outcome is a minimum viable product, system or service and the learning experience culminates in developing a short pitch using a Pecha Kucha format to an invited external audience and experts. This process means learners have to share ideas and think about what is necessary to explain their ideas in a structured way. It helps them to explain their concepts and develop the skills required for college, job applications or investment, if ever starting a business. We encourage them to produce vision boards as part of the development process, and to aid the learners structuring their presentation, we use a lean canvas. This aligns to the their goal of developing a minimum viable product, system or service.

The process enables learners to learn how to constructively offer feedback and receive feedback and then integrate this feedback into their own work. The learners develop an understanding that improving an idea takes time and that there is no one right answer. These are skills that will stand to them beyond their educational experience.

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.

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