Aline Santos has been an Elementary teacher for the last 20 years. Since 2013 she has been in charge of the International Projects in Elementary Schools, in the Cluster of Maia´s Schools (Portugal), coordinating NEMESIS among other projects. She also coordinates the school E.B. 1 de Gueifães with about 400 students.
The Portuguese NEMESIS project is called Parliament of Students. This project intended to empower representatives of each class of their Elementary School. Their mission was to make a survey in their class on what they could do/change in our school to promote well-being and happiness. Students´Representatives selected what they wanted to change and using innovative pedagogical scenarios (like PBL, GBL, Gamification, flipped learning, experiential learning as well as co-creation Laboratories and several other participative strategies) they came to change the school’s environment according to their will and their decisions.
Q: The name of your project is “Parliament of Students”, can you explain to us what is the project about and why did they choose that name?
We called it a Parliament because we really wanted it to be a place where students could discuss their ideas, present things that worry them and imagine possible solutions, where they could debate with each other and ask grown-ups help and opinions to use it in their decision-making. Where they felt they could make a difference, where they knew their thoughts and opinions mattered, where they felt they had a voice and they were the ones to decide. Another main purpose was also to increase their awareness of the common good and developing their social innovation skills.
Q: Why did you decide to participate in NEMESIS?
I’ve been in the project since the beginning. Last year we decided to start the Parliament so that students could be heard and students could decide what to change in their own school to promote everyone’s happiness and well-being. It’s time we give voice and power to children so that their surroundings are more according to their needs and desires. Children that are happier learn better.
The most important lesson for us, teachers that are developing a NEMESIS project, is that we cannot lead the way as teachers are used to (and it is a very hard exercise for a teacher) and also that we start believing again in a very bright future because children are so much more than the school was allowing them to be and they showed that to us in this kind of projects.
Q: One of the foundational ideas of NEMESIS is that students become co-creators of their own learning and develop a sense of agency, ownership and responsibility towards their own learning. Your project seems to be a lot about giving students a voice, there is any change that you have observed related to this?
When we started the project students weren’t much aware that they were the ones that would decide what we were going to do. It’s a very new thing for students to accept that they have a voice, that their opinion is the one that matters, that they can choose and impact in a very positive way in their surroundings. That’s always the best part of a NEMESIS project: their amazement because they’re the ones that choose, decide, that have the power. It’s great to hear them say: “This is my idea”, “I chose this because…”, “I bet children will love my game…”, “No, I would like it to be this way because…”, or” Wouldn’t it be better if instead of only one game we could have four because then we won’t create conflicts with each other”.
I was frequently amazed and surprised with all their thoughts, their thousands of ideas, their ability to listen to other people’s opinions and integrate them into their own view of things. The most important lesson for us, teachers that are developing a NEMESIS project, is that we cannot lead the way as teachers are used to (and it is a very hard exercise for a teacher) and also that we start believing again in a very bright future because children are so much more than the school was allowing them to be and they showed that to us in this kind of projects.
Q: What is the main outcome of incorporating collaborative and project-based learning?
The main outcome of incorporating a collaborative and project-based learning methodology is that students learn how to organize the several stages of the project, they are much more aware of everything that has to be done, of all the choices they have to make, step by step, they can anticipate their moves, they exchanged ideas and incorporate them in their own point of views, they grow, they become more confident in expressing themselves and in accepting all those other points of views.
Q: After the NEMESIs experience, what do you think should be the role of teachers and parents in education?
If learning was a process centred on the student and she/he was the main agent of the process, learning would be more engaging, meaningful, effective. As I said previously education should also be about giving the voice back to the students, and although we have the curriculum the way how it is learned should be focused on the way students need to own it. We should believe that students are capable if we allow them to be. I believe in an education where students are aware of their surroundings, aware of the impact they can have on people and on the environment around them, where students feel they have the power to change their world, and the power to learn as it fits them better. And where they are given autonomy and the responsibility to do so.
Q: It was difficult for you to involve teachers and parents? Why/Why not?
The project started with the beginning of Distance Learning so it was a bit difficult to involve teachers because they were already very focused and stressed about teaching through a screen. Everyone was very busy with the pandemic. Parents were very happy to join us, always complementing the general idea of the project and sharing how enthusiastic their children were about having the power to choose, decide and do it themselves. The community was also very receptive, having the support of all of those we asked for help with the materials. The fact that we explain the project´s aim to those we are calling for help or support involves them in our cause and they all want to participate as they can. The Educational counsellor from the Municipality was also very happy to assist us and to promote our project in our city and even the local newspapers were very interested in knowing and presenting what we were up to.