By Cecily Heras
2020. What a year! Before I go too far, congratulations to Dr. Gillian Judson! She has led the LiD initiative for many years and has now moved into an Assistant Professor role in Educational Leadership in the Faculty of Education at SFU. Thank you, Gillian, for your enthusiasm, leadership, and hard work. Good luck in all your endeavours.
While 2020 was full of last-minute changes, cancellations, disappointments, postponements, and loss, it wasn’t without its promise. When a group faces an entirely new and potentially fatal problem, they are forced to get creative. More people started to recognize that it was the imagination which could best be called upon to respond to the type of emergent foreign situations cropping up daily. Like a quick-ball-change on the dancefloor, we had to lead on the other foot. As a society, we had in many ways assigned and imprisoned our imaginative capacity to the realm of childhood, generally tolerating it in primary schools and the occasional outlier genius. This year the imagination was given center stage in our responses to the ever-changing global pandemic.
LiD, like everything and everyone else, had to adjust. Conferences were postponed or cancelled so opportunities to spread the word to colleagues was limited. With classrooms first shutting down, then maintaining a strict no visitors policy, along with international borders closing and travel severely limited, LiD could no longer offer its usual educational consultations, in-person training, or community outreach. But, though the spring term was disrupted, and in a perpetual state of hope that this would be all over soon, we continued forward with plans for the Fall and Winter.
To further explore LiD and receive insight from our local teachers, our colleagues in Brazil had arranged to travel to Canada in the late Fall. When it became quite clear that this was no longer possible, the team was determined to make the best of the situation and find a creative, collaborative, and engaging solution. The Brazil team quickly came up with the idea to host a 5-day, live, virtual conference during which 200+ students in Brazil would present to an online panel who would offer detailed and personal feedback. As you can imagine, the logistics of arranging this event were substantial. Choosing dates and then scheduling hundreds of student presentations and rotating international commentators with anywhere from a five-to eight-hour time difference was daunting. With efforts fully underway, however, the second wave of the pandemic hit hard in Brazil, waylaying plans once again. A new solution had to be sought, and fast.
The new, new plan involved fewer students as schooling in Brazil was disrupted and group gatherings were no longer permitted. Rather than live presentations with feedback delivered on the spot, the team switched its sights to pre-recorded versions of presentations spliced together with comments recorded separately. This was nothing at all like what had been originally planned, but these days demand quick creative solutions and like the students, we dove into unknown territory with an open mind. So, with little time and an enormous amount of enthusiasm for the project, the team again rearranged schedules and expectations.
The result of this effort was tremendously positive and exciting. In the third week of December, 24 Brazilian students ranging in age from 6-12 recorded amazing presentations about topics as diverse as seeds, hands, cosmic objects, and the counting system. Overall, though these students had been exploring their LiD topics for just one year, their knowledge was incredibly varied and inspiring. Following their curiosities, students shared their enthusiasm for their topics in a variety of ways including sharing stories, showing graphs, building models, designing clothing, and building timelines. More than one admitted to feeling quite disappointed when they first received their topic, initially finding it boring or unappealing. Each of these students, however, then added that the more they dug, the more they had come to like the topic. Commentators too enjoyed this process tremendously:
“It has been a lot of fun watching these little video presentations. As I have been using LiD for a few years now, I am always interested to see how other schools/students engage with the topics. I had a smile on my face hearing the genuine enthusiasm in the students’ voices,” Andrea Alberti, LiD commentator.
After pre-screening early in the new year, the group zoomed in to offer their responses, allowing our educators to share their interest with one another and the students. By the end of the 2-hour session led by Dr. Kieran Egan, each student had received 2-3 different viewpoints for their work which included positive feedback and questions to spark further curiosities.
Although many things were disrupted last year, even family dinners, others have been enhanced. Coming up with creative solutions to problems we have not before faced proves once again that there are no limits to the imagination and our creative capacity. It was encouraging to find our LiD community so eager and willing to deepen and share their knowledge. Thank you to all of the team: the students and educators in Brazil who worked tirelessly to find a solution, and then prepare and record such wonderful presentations; the team in Canada who volunteered their time in the service of deeper knowledge; and those behind the scenes who made sure it all came together. This has been a great start to 2021.