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Photo: Dr. Andreas Economou, Ms. Mikoto Nakamura, Ms. Amy Shen, Mrs. Monika Zikova (the Official Representative of WIPO)
Have you ever wondered how many students attend high school each year? What about how many of these children will make an impact in the future? Right now, our teachers may be teaching the next Einstein or Curie, or G.R.R. Martin and we may not even realise.
How often do we hear the stories of these great men and women who were deemed as "average" or "inconsequential" during their early education years? What if we, as educators find a way to unleash that - usually hidden - potential before they leave high school?
The pool of minds and talent that are unseen in plain sight within schools are probably outside our comprehension and cannot be altogether measured or fully appreciated within our current standardised approaches and traditional ways of assessments.
What I have seen in the last few years at teaching high school science at the American International School in Cyprus (AISC), is that this potential may materialise when students are allowed to tackle complex issues outside the scope of the curriculum and surprisingly, with no reference to grades, or outdated measurements, as long as our efforts intrigue student curiosity and are our schemes of work and expectations for outcomes are connected with a real-life issue. Are grades really a necessary incentive or driver? This year, students at AISC performed admirably in a number of global competitions even though there was not a clear "prize" in the form of a grade at the end. The participating students were well aware that their work was not necessarily going to be rated, graded, or possibly even acknowledged in a competition of a global scale – but they engaged anyways – isn’t that lifelong learning at its best?
In the last few years, I have been running the AISC Scientific Research Club as an after-school activity in our high school for anyone who expresses interest. In our school we take great pride in the fact that we are an inclusive international school and we provide enriched experiences for all students regardless of background. The Research Club was initially formed to provide time for a group of AISC IB chemistry students who wanted to work on a proposal for the Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition in 2016. These students were not awarded with any extra credit for participating and did not get any "extra treatment" in terms of their academic standing and/or performance metrics, in their science classes.
What was remarkable was that these students identified a local Cyprus issue that was not well-studied or understood and designed a process to enumerate it as well as making a proposal to solve the issue. Specifically, they researched the effects of sunscreens as sea water pollutants. They designed a process to measure the presence of sunscreen pollutants and then proposed a way of reducing the effects. Their work was then defended orally against a panel of experts from Cyprus Universities, research facilities and like-industries. For their work, they achieved an honourable mention.
Our students’ success generated momentum across our school and more students became interested in participating in similar competitions. Honourable mentions were achieved again in the SJWP in 2017 and 2019; AISC was short- listed in the 30 most influential proposals in the CERN BeamLine for school competitions in 2018. In 2019, a student proposal on use of micro-organisms as bio-indicators of quality in water systems, was rewarded with the Gold medal by the World Intellectual Property Organisation.
Beyond the appreciation of our such high-level research work that these students were engaged in, it is important to emphasise that the students involved were drawn from various grade levels (in High School), with different cultural backgrounds. There was also a mixed representation of both male and female students involved. Likely, the most important aspect of these projects is that people, regardless of gender, age or ethnicity, when working together under a common cause with shared passion, can make the world a better place.
And if schools do not teach this simple ideal, then who will? I’m proud to be working at a school that values these principles.
Dr. Andreas Economou
HS Grade 10 and IB Chemistry Teacher
The American International School in Cyprus