Piloting the NEMESIS Lessonseries

Co-creation Lab

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Piloting the NEMESIS Lessonseries

On a sunny Tuesday in October, we went to a high school in Alphen aan de Rijn, Netherlands. Today I was going to do my first pilot of the NEMESIS Lessonseries Co-Creation. I felt excited and a little nervous. What would they think? Will the students dig it?

What I had planned was two groups of 60 students each. Wow, 60 kids lined up to do the Co-Creation. The biggest group I ever taught. Getting them silent was quite of a challenge, but luckily I have a loud voice, so I managed. Then we started with the Co-Creation. After getting to know each other it was time to really start diving into the environment and find the social issues that were bothering them.

To summarise our first day: it was awesome to see so much motivation and drive. The students in the two groups were instantly motivated when they were able to take up the pen themselves and were allowed to bring in their own ideas. They ended up with projects in all sorts and sizes. Every time I witness a process like this I cannot help to feel inspired, motivated and creative as well.  

Two weeks later, we came back to see the end results of the chosen projects. We reserved a spot in the huge auditorium where the 60 kids and tables drowned! Haha! Next year we will come back and fill it up with 200 students… When the “market” started and the students started presenting their materials I barely had enough time to see everything they made. The results of the kids were mindblowing. A few went to the municipality and are currently in talks of making parts of the city greener. Action posters to make the streets cleaner were made. The director of the school got invited into a project to “make the school green again”. Vegans were interviewed, students started showering for a shorter period of time and loads more. 

All-in all the students ended up becoming more empathetic, more self-and-environment-aware, they worked on their team-cooperation skills and they started to take action to change the world for the better. Just to name a few of the many skills they developed… Funny how doing a lessonseries can turn out. Teaching in a small village somewhere in the Netherlands felt like it made no sense at first. But in the end it turned out to be the inspirational birth of the changemakers of tomorrow. 


Is there a link between student participation rights and “doing well” at school?

I want to draw your attention to the article “Four arenas of school-based participation: towards a heuristic for children’s rights-informed educational practice” by Mannion, Sowerby and L’Anson (2020).  They sought to understand if and how young people would make a link between their participation rights and ‘doing well’ at school.  The research involved a number of Scottish schools in areas of socio-economic deprivation chosen because they had higher than average attainments given their catchments.

So are these two things linked? Yes, they are. Is «doing well» at school just another way of saying academic achievement?  Not exactly. According to Mannion et al, it entails many other aspects that came up in the evaluation findings of NEMESIS pilots such as an increased sense of belonging and trusted relationships with different members of the school community.  

What I found particularly interesting is their framing of participation opportunities in 4 different arenas, and the 3rd and 4th in the list have strong connections with NEMESIS Co-labs:  

  • formal curriculum (what happens in the classroom);
  • wider curriculum (e.g. school trips);
  • decision making groups ;
  • and connections with the wider community 

In the concluding remarks, authors highlight the need to broaden the focus of pupil participation and children’s rights in education beyond the typical student voice initiatives such as pupil council membership and non-dialogical consultations.  

The choice of words matter and authors employ ‘Participation’ as it transcends the meaning of the student’s voice. Or to put it other way, this is an invitation to explore scenarios where children cannot only have their voice heard but participate fully in the decision-making process and become actively engaged in bringing ideas to fruition. This ‘engagement in decision making with consequence‘ which is vital, and it should involve meaningful dialogue (not just an undiscussed reaction to an idea), be intergenerational and based on trust and ethical responsibility. 

I may be wrong but this last sentence resonates strongly with co-lab experiences in NEMESIS pilot schools, don´t you think?

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NEMESIS and the unexpected

In the Co-creation Labs at Rockingham Junior and Infant School the process is bringing up some exciting possibilities and activities that we hadn’t bargained for.  One idea that a 10 year old (Year 6) voiced about feeling intimidated by older children when he walks to the local shop has led to a whole off shoot project.  The Y6s have made a video to show the older children so they can explain how they feel and talk about how this could be tackled, perhaps just through simply getting to know the older children.  Now, because these Year 6 children have become involved in the project, they support the younger children, as one 10 year old girl said – ‘I don’t take part directly but indirectly by helping the younger children’.

Louise Greenwood, the school leader, has noticed how this helps the Y6s develop their empathy for the younger children. So, the development of social innovation competences happens not only through direct input by the Lab facilitator but through the children working together – intergenerational collaboration can take place between children of different ages, not just adults and children. Seeing this success has prompted Louise to consider having older children involved from the beginning in the future to see how the relationships develop and whether the younger children would seek out the older children outside of the Lab for support or friendship. This video is going to be put to further good use by linking in with one of the school’s existing initiatives called Philosophy for Children.

The video can be used in class with a range of age groups to promote reflection and discussion about the issues it addresses which would develop social innovation competences such as empathy and collective and creative problem solving.  So, a learning resource created by children that originated from a social challenge experienced by children is permeating the curriculum helping a wider range of young people to develop their SI competences and be made aware of local community issues.  The ideas and people involved are snowballing!

An interesting development that has been noted by the local rector as well as school staff is the difference in the children’s confidence. Their presenting skills and interaction with adults are improving, the children’s body language is more open and they now make eye contact with the adults. Today the children interviewed the adults and recorded them on tablets.  After helping the adults operate the tablets, they took part and children as young as 6 were confident and using appropriate face and body language as if they were trained reporters!

Another insight mentioned by the school governor was how useful it is to refresh their knowledge of the issues affecting children and how they make them feel, as there are not many forums for this. Hence, really being able to listen to and engage in dialogue the children is seen as a strength of the Co-creation Labs. Additionally, many of the adults live further afield and aren’t aware of the social issues in the local area of the schools so talking to the children in the Labs enables them to learn about any challenges and use the perspectives of the children to help address them.

As a Y6 girl astutely mentioned – “adults have a wider perspective, so the children bring their imagination and the adults makes sense of it.” One school governor of Herringthorpe Junior School said that she felt she had the power to effect change alongside all the actors in the Lab and one Y6 girl reiterated this sentiment, saying that she feels she can make a difference but only when part of a bigger group, as in the NEMESIS project.  The benefits of a collective mindset that’s happening within the Labs is being experienced by children and adults alike.

At Willow Tree Academy one of the 6 life skills that are practised in every lesson is problem solving and this is evident when observing the Co-creation Labs.  Two boys were given the task of coming up with ideas for a multi-functional room and, without prompting, were thinking of ways to keep any technology safe.  They then thought that having chairs without wheels for people to use would be less chaotic and that chairs like you have in a classroom could be good for this as long as they had some cushioning in case people fall or walk into the chair.  The boys then began looking at the chairs they were sitting on and talking about where the cushioning would go. Seeing such problem solving lead to creative prototyping in less than a minute was fascinating and it’s great to see how NEMESIS can support the existing skills approach of the school.

Having a real purpose is helping the youngsters with their writing skills as often when asked to write about an abstract concept it can be hard for them to engage but NEMESIS provides a tangible reason to write.  The children understand the project and have taken ownership of their ideas to drive the project forward so they are more motivated to write about it because it feels personal, important and relevant.  The interaction with real places, people and events helps their understanding which makes the writing easier and more enjoyable.

On a personal level, what struck me the most is how NEMESIS can be tailored to support different children in very different ways from pastoral nurture to competence development and how important it is to know the children well to be able to use NEMESIS as such focused, inclusive intervention.