Innovation in the Classroom: Gabe’s ICON experience

Reposted from Feeding 9 Billion.

Feeding 9 Billion partners with & supports the innovative new Ideas Congress (ICON) course. This course offers students a chance to work with a “community partner” on a real-life task. This year, the community organization Yorklands Greenhub asked the ICON class to design a mobile trailer to demonstrate sustainable living practices and sustainable energy in action. It will primarily be targeted to students from grade 1 to 12, but will be opened up to organizations and the public as well. Below, ICON student Gabriel discusses his experience working in this unique course


Facilitated within the ICON classroom, we students got started by brainstorming ideas for what we thought should be included in the ‘Eco Living Lab’. These ranged from physical design ideas, like a solar panel awning, to curriculum-based ideas, like a special waste initiative to teach students about proper recycling and composting practices. It all seemed quite daunting at first. An entire whiteboard was quickly filled with ideas, ranging from seemingly tame to outlandishly ridiculous. We condensed these ideas when we formed ‘tentpoles’ of structure: essentially categories, that the varied ideas naturally formed around. These became the core components of the entire Eco Living Lab project: we had the physical design, the visual design, the sustainable energy which would be implemented into the lab, the resources for water, the accompanying website, and of course the curriculum content structure.

These eventually became our smaller groups of operation, and I (in my infinite wisdom) chose to invest my energies into the website group! What’s important to note about this is that I seriously lack any experience whatsoever in the coding, building, designing, or the writing of content for a website. However, this is exactly what drew me to this group! It seemed fascinating to me, something I had no idea about, but where I believed I could still contribute. Initially this scared me. I felt (and still do sometimes) ridiculously unqualified to be coming up with ideas on how to format the website in a way that is innovative and yet still easy to use and congruent with the nature of the project. Nonetheless, we have generated what I believe to be a very novel and compelling concept so far, and I am impressed by the progress our team has made. But this story conveys a neat and easy process, when in fact, it was much messier!

We had a lot of problems communicating—not only within our groups—but between them as well. There was much confusion in the beginning regarding what exactly this Eco Living Lab was: was it a mobile house? Was it a scientific lab?Once the ICON class really began to think of this as a mobile classroom, through which schools could teach students about environmental sustainability, each of the ICON groups started collaborating better, forming more productive ideas, and developing tangible objectives, which in turn, the other groups could work off of…

Once the ICON class really began to think of this as a mobile classroom, through which schools could teach students about environmental sustainability, each of the ICON groups started collaborating better, forming more productive ideas, and developing tangible objectives, which in turn, the other groups could work off of…

…AND THIS is what has made ICON so special. I don’t feel like I’m in a class, I feel like I am part of a team: a team that has to get something important done. My motivation comes from the fact that this work is not just a class paper, or a report, or a group presentation….but an actual thing that will be used in the real world. The unfortunate part of university in general is its isolation from the real world. It is possible that this is particularly pronounced in my program, an Arts program, but I feel many students in any program feel the same way. We are constantly writing about stuff, writing on our own, coming up with ideas that feel regurgitated rather than original. Cite this cite that. We never get to DO, or create, or be part of team and realize the pressure but also the reward that comes with it.Being near the end of my university career, I am frequently forced to consider my future prospects and employability, and it isn’t an optimistic outlook. I read in the news and hear it from my friends and family: “the kids coming out of university these day are just ill-suited to work. They don’t know what they’re doing.” In some ways, I’m inclined to agree. I may not know how to do anything productive for your company or organization, but I could write you a damn good essay on colonialism!

Being near the end of my university career, I am frequently forced to consider my future prospects and employability, and it isn’t an optimistic outlook. I read in the news and hear it from my friends and family: “the kids coming out of university these day are just ill-suited to work. They don’t know what they’re doing.” In some ways, I’m inclined to agree. I may not know how to do anything productive for your company or organization, but I could write you a damn good essay on colonialism!

But ICON is my saving grace. It’s kicking my ass because I’ve never learnt how to work like this before. However, this experience makes me tremendously happy! I feel like I’m actually learning something…and I know I’m actually creating something. How fortunate I am to have found this in my final year.

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