Wednesday 22 Jul, 2015

10 Student-Driven Design Thinking Solutions for the Future of Education

I’d like to think that someday on Jeopardy you’ll hear Alex Trebeck say, “An annual global education Summit where students collaboratively design innovative solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges.” Then a contestant will buzz in and respond with, “What is the EF Global Student Leaders Summit.” It’s a stretch…But fueling your creative imagination is what brings the Summit to life after all.

This year, for the first time ever, EF held not one but two Global Student Leaders Summits, giving us the opportunity to showcase two Design Thinking Challenges in 2015! Following the March Costa Rica Summit, Addressing Environmental Sustainability, we kicked off the year’s second Summit in Davos, Switzerland. Our first Europe-based Summit focused on the Future of Education and Innovation and, as always, culminated with the Innovation Village – an intense display of wits, creativity and discovery.

Hundreds of teachers and students. Three days. And more than 150 solutions to some of the biggest challenges in education today.

With the help of our Summit Social Media intern, Abby S., we’ve captured every moment and curated our top 10 student-driven design thinking solutions for the future of education.


Issue: Female empowerment in engineering

Solution: This project was designed to both inspire and empower young girls to learn about engineering. Each of these students felt that there was a gender imbalance within engineering. Their solution for this was to create a STEM education model where buses would travel across the country and organize pop-up engineering camps for girls. This would expose girls to engineering in a fun and exciting environment and encourage them to pursue it as a career.

Potential Outcome: STEMming from a global student leadership summit, these girls are bringing a STEM education to the nation!


Issue: Poverty’s impact on education

Solution: Eliminating socioeconomic issues often comes down to spreading awareness and providing insight into the problem. Using technology and encouraging empathy, these students created a mobile app prototype to show students in the United States what education looks like on a daily basis when living in poverty. The app would then present monthly challenges to the students, showing them how they can get involved, and encouraging them to step away from the screen to become part of the solution.

Potential Outcome: Teachers make the app part of their classroom curriculum and integrate the monthly challenges into their homework calendar for the students.


Issue: Student interest in foreign languages

Solution: A common theme at this Summit’s Innovation Village focused on how students learn foreign languages. Many groups developed new ideas that made learning different languages more engaging and interactive. These students did exactly that, but within a digital landscape that included global social networking and communication. Their solution was the Virtual Language System, a network that students can use to interact with other students from across the world. Students work together through messaging and video chats to improve their language skills. Additionally, within this app students can play language-based games that will help further engage students as they pursue a new language. This useful foreign language tool would also present a unique opportunity to learn about different cultures and see what it’s like to be a teenager in another part of the world.

Potential Outcome: The new Virtual Language System revolutionizes foreign language classes, while simultaneously building international connections that organically creates global citizenship in schools.


Issue: Learning objectives in a high school Advisory class

Solution: Many students feel that their Advisory class lacks real impact, so this group crafted “Advisory Re-Imagined,” an empathy-focused initiative that places more emphasis on experiential learning activities. These students pitched their idea as a mandatory class that would aim to increase personal growth for each student. Their model would replace classroom lecturing with activities that encourage students to try new things and push them outside of comfort zones. Each activity would aim to build confidence and present new individual perspectives. In addition to this, the class would include one-on-one counseling sessions, as well as peer discussions. This re-designed class would help fuel self-discovery, and make school an overall more positive environment.

Potential Outcome: Advisory Re-Imagined disrupts student social circles and replaces cliques and comfort with compassion and confidence.


Issue: Connecting Community Service with Professional Development

Solution: Many students are required to complete a certain number of community service hours in order to graduate. Unfortunately, it’s common for students to find the quickest way to check off hours and not use the opportunity as a learning experience. This group’s idea sprouted from their own community service requirement and passion for helping others. Their idea was to create a community service class that would train students on certain skills, for example how to properly tutor younger students or run after school activities for underprivileged children in their community. Not only would the class help train them in these areas, but it would also teach them how to properly reach out to and interview with volunteer organizations, applying these skills to real tangible work experience.

Potential Outcome: Students gain strong “real-world” life skills while bettering their communities and changing the perception of community service.


Issue: Discovering one’s passion

Solution: How often have you heard a student respond to the question “what are you passionate about?” with, “Umm…I don’t know.” It’s not an easy question to answer. And instead of empowering students to discover their passions, the question more likely provokes panic when they realize they don’t have an answer. That’s why this group developed “Fun Finder,” a community initiative that helps students learn about new activities, clubs and professions they can be a part of, and help them ultimately find their passion.

It would start with adult mentors in the community kick-starting the process by coming into schools and discussing what they’re personally passionate about. Talking with the students would help them think about the topic without feeling pressured. As students start to open up, they’ll likely realize that they share similar passions with other students. From there the students will be encouraged to create small clubs to further explore and discuss their passions in a collaborative, non-judgmental environment. Paying it forward, each group would then share what they’re passionate about with younger classes, just as their adult mentors did with them, creating a cycle that will help foster self-discovery from an early age.

Potential Outcome: Ten-year-olds full of confidence and excitement will proudly tell you that their passion is music and their favorite thing to do in school is write songs during their creative writing class.

Davos GSLS IV Winner

Issue: Mapping students to new cultural experiences

Solution: As the winner of the judges’ vote, this group designed the Wander Watch: a watch to make sure you have a home, whereve you go. Wander Watch is essentially exactly what it sounds like – it’s a smart watch that helps you get to know the new places that you visit. Through features like GPS, language tools and currency converters, you’re guaranteed to feel comfortable exploring new countries, and fully immersing yourself in the local culture. It can even connect you with language tutors, helping you chat with locals and make some new friends on the ground.

Potential Outcome: The world is your oyster! With this sweet little device, there’s no reason to ever be nervous about exploring new places.

Davos GSLS IV Lunch

Issue: Making lunch available for all students

Solution: While interviewing students in their innovation sessions, this group realized that 1 in 5 students in the United States can’t afford lunch. However despite this, because of budget restrictions, many students still didn’t receive lunch at school. They decided that they wanted to find a way to ensure that all students, regardless of their economic situation, received lunch at school. In providing lunches for students, they hoped to take a step towards providing equal academic opportunities for all students in the United States. Their solution was just as innovative – with urban agriculture tactics in mind, they redesigned a typical high school campus. Using things like aquaponics systems, they created a self-sustainable, environmentally friendly garden space for schools to farm everything they would need to provide healthy lunch options.

Potential Outcome: Every student has a full stomach and a hungry mind.

Davos GSLS IV Career

Issue: Applying what you learn in school to real life

Solution: For many students, starting to apply for internships and jobs can be extremely overwhelming. While learning new theories and philosophies in school is interesting, oftentimes the connections to real life aren’t made explicit, making job interviews and workforce transitions all the more difficult. Realizing this problem, this group created an organization that would work with schools to create internship opportunities specific to high school subjects, and then integrate that internship experience into the curriculum. The school would manage student internship experience and the selection of internships, while the organization would build relationships with local businesses that could provide work experience.

Outcome: Every student graduates high school with tangible work experience, a head start in college, and an understanding of how classroom lessons play out in real life.

Davos GSLS IV Outside Classroom

Issue: Learning moments outside of a text book

Solution: Picture this. It’s 11:30PM the night before an exam, and you’re staring blankly at the same list of dates and events that you’ve been studying for the last two hours. None of it is sticking, and you’ve tried everything. This is something everyone’s probably encountered at some point in their academic careers, regardless of the subject. To help address this, the group created a new school curriculum that gives students the opportunity to speak directly with people in the field, to better understand what they’re being taught in the classroom. By interviewing war veterans as part of a history lesson, completing a workshop with spoken word poets for speech class, or meeting with architects as part of an engineering class, these students hoped to generate more interest in subjects by watching them come to life.

Outcome: Classrooms transcend their traditional environments and learning experiences are revolutionized.

These extraordinary events combine educational tours and a two–day leadership conference, tackling significant global issues in places where they come to life. You and your students learn from experts such as Al Gore, Jane Goodall and Sir Ken Robinson, and U.S. and local students work together to design and present their own solutions to the issue. Each Summit empowers your students today to start becoming the leaders of tomorrow. Upcoming Summits will tackle the Future of Energy in Iceland, and Human Rights in Europe.