31 October, 2023

MIT Challenge week and nurturing the innovators of tomorrow

MIT Challenge week and nurturing the innovators of tomorrow - MIT Challenge week and nurturing the innovators of tomorrow

In the whirlwind of creativity and ingenuity, our school recently hosted our first MIT Challenge, a three-day extravaganza focused on the theme "Build Better Plants". As the MIT Lead for our school, I witnessed first-hand the meticulous planning and contagious enthusiasm from the entire BSY team, making this event a thrilling experience for both students and educators.


Bridging Science and Technology: A Transformative Approach

To truly grasp the significance of this event, it's vital to understand the unique fusion of science and technology. Traditionally taught in isolation, these disciplines hold the key to unravelling some of the world’s most complex challenges. When intertwined with the inquisitive minds of our students and enriched by the lessons of MIT, we witness the emergence of students who embody academic prowess alongside finely tuned skills in creative thinking, resilience, and collaboration. These attributes are not only vital in academic settings but are invaluable tools for navigating real-life situations as our students prepare for adulthood.


A Window into the MIT Challenges

Our school's collaboration with MIT, the world's leading technology university, grants us a remarkable opportunity each academic year. MIT presents three challenges that bridge current MIT research with Nord Anglia classrooms. These challenges aim to inspire our students, mirroring the innovative spirit that propels MIT's faculty and students forward.


In the past, Nord Anglia students worldwide have showcased their creativity and problem-solving prowess. From combating climate change through understanding past weather events to envisioning life-enhancing solutions for astronauts, our students have tackled diverse challenges. As an engineer as well as an educator, these endeavours underscore my belief that by instigating challenges early in their educational journey, students evolve into the problem solvers of tomorrow.

Unveiling the Challenge: "Build Better Plants"

This year's challenges all orbit around the theme of 'Build Better'. The heart of our initial challenge focused on the ambitious endeavour to "Build Better Plants", proposed by Dr. Mary Gehring, Assistant Professor of Biology at MIT.


Dr. Gehring's research delves into the extraordinary adaptations that enable plants to flourish in various environments. She urged our students to embark on the same journey, tasking them with designing a plant that not only withstands the climate change challenges we all currently face as a global community, but also produces seeds. Each team was tasked with selecting an environment affected by flooding, drought, or a decrease in pollinators, and then designing a plant that rises to the challenge.


Three Days of Innovation: Crafting Tomorrow's Solutions

Although the challenge spanned three exhilarating days, its impact resonated far earlier. Weeks of preparation and collaboration set the stage for the main event. Teams, comprised of students from different year groups, joined forces, leveraging their diverse skills and abilities. In this lead-up, they explored the intricacies of plant anatomy and physiology, culminating in the design of a resilient plant amidst climate change.


Day 1: A Day of Ideation and Design

Day one marked the commencement of an exhilarating journey. With 33 teams immersed in brainstorming sessions across the school, the air was electric with ideas. Students envisioned plants resilient in the face of climate change, demonstrating their creativity and determination to tackle environmental challenges. Furthermore, students seized the opportunity to seek guidance from our experts. Ms. Flower, our biologist, expertly fielded queries regarding plant biology and adaptations. Mr. Pritchard, our dedicated horticulturist, delved into the specific adaptations of our school garden's carefully nurtured plants, prized for their resilience. Additionally, our resident art and IT experts, Mrs. Akinci and Ms. Blest, were on hand to assist in effectively presenting their findings.


Day 2: Construction and Prototyping: Breathing Life into Ideas

Armed with blueprints from the first day, day two saw students translate their visions into intricate plant models. The emphasis was not only on efficiency and sustainability but also on adaptability. This hands-on experience showcased the power of teamwork and problem-solving, reinforcing the importance of facing challenges without fear of failure.


Day 3. Presentation and Evaluation: Showcasing Excellence


The pinnacle of the event unfolded on the final day, as each team proudly unveiled their creations. Meticulously, teams put the finishing touches on their projects, crafting compelling video presentations and refining their exhibits for the Parent Expo. From intricate models to captivating animations, each team presented their findings with a blend of ingenuity and flair. The Expo provided an invaluable platform for parents, staff, and peers to critically assess and celebrate the exceptional projects our students had undertaken. Our designated experts, as well as school leadership also evaluated the projects, providing constructive feedback and recognizing exceptional endeavours.


The scope of the projects was truly global, addressing climate-change-related concerns. Teams tackled local issues head-on, devising strategies to mitigate the challenges posed by unpredictable rainfall and soaring temperatures in rice farming in Myanmar. Their investigations delved into the genetic modifications needed to create a resilient rice plant, boasting deep roots, water-conserving mechanisms, and drought-resistant leaves.


Beyond local concerns, students explored more exotic solutions, envisioning plant designs tailored for growth in Martian soil, resilient to extreme cold. Considerations ranged from the development of freeze-resistant cells to strategies for efficient water use and reduced reliance on pollinators. Additionally, innovative adaptations for self-pollination and attracting alternative pollinators through unique scent profiles and visual cues were also explored.


A Lasting Impact: Fostering Skills for a Lifetime

The MIT Challenge Week made a lasting impact on our students, nurturing a diverse range of invaluable skills and knowledge. They not only learned to think innovatively, viewing plants as dynamic solutions to environmental challenges rather than static entities, but also honed their collaborative abilities, pooling talents and ideas to tackle complex projects. Moreover, the challenge instilled a deep-seated appreciation for sustainable practices and emphasized the pivotal role plants play in our ecosystem. The enduring effects of this hands-on, experiential learning are palpable in the continued discussions among students, who are actively exploring ways to "build better plants" long after the Expo Day. This underscores its importance in cultivating the multifaceted skills that we, as teachers and as a school, strive to instil.


Anticipating the Next Chapter: "Build Better Energy"

As we bid farewell to "Build Better Plants", anticipation for the next challenge, "Build Better Energy", is palpable. This challenge, spearheaded by MIT physicist Shon Mackie, delves into the recreation of stellar energy for clean energy on Earth through plasma fusion. What ground-breaking solutions can our students devise using the potential of magnets and electromagnets? We can't wait to find out!


In retrospect, the MIT Challenge Week was a resounding success, a testament to the potential within youthful creativity and hands-on learning. It showcased our students' remarkable capabilities and reaffirmed our school's commitment to nurturing the innovators and problem solvers of tomorrow.

With the momentum gained from this experience, I eagerly await the opportunities and discoveries that "Build Better Energy" will undoubtedly unveil. The journey towards a sustainable future continues, and our students stand at the forefront, armed with knowledge, passion, and an unyielding dedication to make a difference.