Instead of writing a final exam for Grade 12 Social Studies, the students in Patrick McDermott’s class at Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit spend their semester working on a project, then presenting it.
“They identify an issue in Nunavut, or in the world, and they come up with a potential solution for it. So they’ll do research on the topic. They literally define the problem and they define the solution,” said McDermott.
“And to make the evaluation and assessment, and project, authentic, this final presentation that they do to invited members of the community has the real goal to start the discussion on this solution and perhaps actually find ways of implementing it within the community.”
McDermott adds, “It’s probably one of the most authentic types of assessment that we do because it’s real life.”
Mac Pavia, a graduate this year, invited Nunavut News to sit in on his presentation, along with business owner Cedric Rusike and Northwestel’s manager of government relations and community engagement Gabby Morrill.
Pavia’s research and presentation centred around makerspaces and how they can benefit underrepresented youth, and part of his package was a business case for a camp based on his research and ideas.
Makerspaces are defined as places where people with shared interests can come together to work on projects, and share ideas, equipment, and knowledge.
In September 2018, Pinnguaq opened such a location in Iqaluit, where Pavia works, and in May the non-profit association won a $10 million Smart Cities prize through Infrastructure Canada to open similar spaces in other Nunavut communities.
“The need for makerspaces in Nunavut is kind of apparent. There’s a lack of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) education. We have groups that come up here every once in a while and they deliver some sort of STEAM-related curriculum to youth. It doesn’t work. You’re giving them that knowledge, then you’re leaving,” said Pavia, adding such groups may come back a few months later but, by then, the material is forgotten.
Pavia shared that as a student with ADHD, he discovered that project-based learning was more suited to him.
“I think that would work for a lot more youth if there’s a space where they can go with a problem and figure it out, and learn something new by creating something with their hands. Not just listening to someone talk about it,” he said.
He provided examples from his own experiences with kids at the Iqaluit Makerspace, where creative thinking led them to find solutions to problems they encountered.
“Some of these students are learning really fast. They’re absorbing knowledge even faster than we’re able to give it to them,” Pavia said.
“The reward is really just watching the next generation grow and embrace higher education. It can also help renew a lot of the youths’ interest in learning by providing something that’s new and fresh and not the same stagnant concept that schools can kind of be now.”
While researching, Pavia came across the concept called the “growth mindset,” which he said was the most valuable thing he learned.
“The growth mindset is defined as the belief that through enough hard work you can actually do anything. You can become smarter than the smartest kid in your class. It’s based on the belief that, I didn’t do well on this but I’m going to do better on the next one because I’m going to put more work into it,” he said.
“The static mindset is the belief that I am this way, therefore I cannot change. The growth mindset is really important in learning. Unfortunately, schools don’t do enough to help develop that. They only kind of keep the static mindset going.”
Pavia said with project-based learning, kids can fail, but they can fail in a good way that allows them to learn from their failure. He also emphasized that a makerspace can be anything from a cart with a couple of laptops and Lego in a school library, to a building with much more equipment on offer.
After Pavia’s presentation, the community panel asked many questions, which Pavia handily answered.
“Ideologically, can you explain to me why this community- or individual-based programming would be better than government-based programming,” asked McDermott.
Pavia replied with two words: sharing knowledge.
“I find, with the school system we have, it’s all very stacked, very organized. You have to go through channels to change up the curriculum, teach something different. The makerspace has the more open, free-flowing model. We have the community making decisions about what they want,” he said.
“That’s the whole idea, where you have youth who are underrepresented, who are actually quite smart, be able to be positively influenced and have the resources to be able to pursue their knowledge and their interests.”