I am passionate about the topic of education, which is why in 2014 I founded LIKS, an educational innovation company that aims to empower and inspire children for the future through project-based learning applied in the areas of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). Children build projects through courses, workshops and camps that at their young age they never imagined they would within their capability.
LIKS is divided into three main areas. The first is a robotics and programming club for kids, through which we seek to develop their competencies, such as creativity, entrepreneurship, teamwork, innovation and leadership. They are also encouraged to participate in national and international competitions in these areas of knowledge.
The second area is the LIKS Workshop, which consists of designing engineering and technology camps where children discover and learn how things work through practice. At these camps, they are taught to use tools such as drills, measuring tapes, saws, among others, so they can develop projects from the conceptual part to the end product. The camps use a learning methodology called Tinkering, which has six steps: understanding, imagining, designing, constructing, testing and improving. At these camps, children learn not only the technical aspects of technology, but also the skillset known as the 4Cs: collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication.
The third area of LIKS has been designed for teachers and parents. Aprende.liks.co is an online platform that seeks to share maker and STEAM resources, strategies and projects they can implement in their learning spaces and, in this way, support the development of children’s skills.
Given our commitment to education as a process of ongoing innovation and evolution, we were selected to participate in the EDUmission challenge. The purpose of this global challenge is to transform and improve education by means of the exchange of knowledge and educational experiences among different schools that are innovating across the world.
With the support of the Observatory of Educational Innovation of Tecnológico de Monterrey, we had the opportunity to travel to Europe to find out about the diverse educational proposals in England, Denmark, Poland and Italy, applied to different academic levels, ranging from preschool, primary, secondary and high school. We learned about the most disruptive practices in these countries, so as to understand and implement them coherently in our educational context and generate the best impact on our students’ development, while sharing our experience with educators in Mexico.
Little Forest Folk Nursery in London, England
The Little Forest Folk nursery is located in Wimbledon, London, England. According to Philip Ecclesfield, deputy manager of the nursery, the best education a child can have is through contact with nature, where they learn under a model of freedom in a forest. They recently obtained recognition as the best nursery in London with an outstanding assessment.
One of the founders of Little Forest Folk is Leanna Barrett, who has worked in diverse African safaris. On returning to her hometown of London, she began to look for a nursery for her children, and since she couldn’t find one that matched her needs, she saw an opportunity to create something different. Her educational proposal is based on play. Children discover and show teachers what they like best and the teachers then reinforce their interests. In this organic learning, children find diverse elements in nature, such as leaves, logs, insects, fungi, among many others existing in the forest, enabling them to explore and be autodidactic in a natural way.
Every day, at the end of the activities, the teachers get together and, through a retrospective process, determine the children’s interests to prepare content and have the material ready for the next session. On the day of our visit, the children wanted to measure the different logs and compare them. We joined in this session and the teachers prepared giant wooden rulers to carry out the activities.
To evaluate and measure the pupils’ progress, the teachers focus on fomenting activities that develop the skills described in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), a standard established in the United Kingdom for learning, development and childcare from birth to the age of five. Based on this standard, Little Forest Folk designs its learning model in the forest and foments children’s social, emotional and physical development, together with communication, mathematics, art and design skills. The tool they use to record the children’s progress is an application called Tapestry, in which, through observation, the teachers take notes and photographs regarding each child’s progress in the different areas in relation to the EYFS standard. The school has received children with a variety of social and behavioral problems and from diverse types of backgrounds who have adapted positively to this type of learning.
Something that is particularly notable in this teaching model is the children’s physical development. One of the pupils wore a Fitbit bracelet to monitor his physical activity during the day and the result was that, by walking, running, and climbing up and down trees, he had covered 16 kilometers. This is undoubtedly extremely impressive, since physical development in schools is a major issue, not just in nurseries, but also in primary and secondary schools.
Regarding the Little Forest Folk children’s transition process when moving on to a primary school with a traditional teaching model, in which they have to sit down, write and listen, they found that they adapted more quickly in comparison with those who had attended a traditional nursery and/or did not go to nursery school. In fact, some of the Little Forest Folk pupils have obtained the best results in their classes.
Faaborgegnens Efterskole High School in Faaborg, Denmark
The high school Faaborgegnens Efterskole, located in Faaborg, Denmark, forms part of the 250 schools belonging to the “Efterskole” system. This system emerged in 1849, when Denmark transitioned from being a monarchy to become a democratic country, in order to teach Danes how to be participative members of society. Their objective is to teach for life. This teaching model is so successful that the school has a three-year waiting list. According to the teachers who work at the school, its differentiator lies in the extremely close relationship with and monitoring of students in every area of their lives, not just in mathematics, history, physics, etc., as occurs in the traditional model.
Going to an Efterskole is like being part of a family. The students live at the school and learn to participate in the community. There are 124 students between the ages of 14 to 16 years old living at Faaborgegnens, in particular. The 14 teachers take turns so that 1 or 2 of them sleep there every night. The only employee at the school, apart from the teachers, is a chef. There are no cleaning or janitorial staff. The students are responsible for all the tasks. They clean their own rooms, classrooms and the school, and wash their clothes and the dishes. According to the teachers, these little details gradually achieve an extraordinary transformation in the students. The school is also inclusive and foments living side by side with students with special needs, learning disorders, or even those for whom Danish is not their first language. In terms of the school’s sustainability, the government covers the academic side and parents pay for living expenses. There are also scholarships for low-income families.
The academic content studied by the teenagers is defined in relation to the provisions of the government, with which it is closely tied. I think that the academic content at an Efterskole is much easier to define, since the school only has one grade, unlike regular schools that offer 3, 6, 9 or more. The university desertion rate is very low compared with students who did not attend an Efterskole.
No Bell school in Warsaw, Poland
The No Bell school was founded in 1999, nine years after Poland stopped being a communist country. During that regime, there were very few private schools and both public and private schools could only teach what the government dictated. After communism, diverse industries changed completely, and education was no exception.
The preschool level follows a Montessori approach and when children move on to primary school, they continue with a similar system through personal assessments, project-based learning and emotional intelligence. The school’s activity plan adapts to the children’s skills, characteristics and interests. The teaching method is very interesting because a variety of concepts are taught in a single project, covering several subjects, such as history, science, mathematics, among others, in an interconnected manner.
Assessment is carried out through an observation log in which teachers report on the children’s development and the feedback they have provided. Students are not given grades during the year and the entire process is essentially based on feedback. At the end of the year, all the students have to take an exam administered by the government and their final grade consists of a percentage of the exam grade and another percentage from the teacher’s observation and feedback. Students select their subjects and every year have the possibility of selecting and choosing more subjects until they reach 80% of all the subjects offered. The teachers comment that since the students choose the subjects, their level of commitment increases.
In general terms, the school’s teaching methodology is based on the teacher-student relationship. “A lot of people might say that it’s not a methodology, but it is actually the most important basis for any educational format, supporting and monitoring what students want to learn most,” commented Beato Siwicke, a teacher at the No Bell school.
Scuola Manfredini school in Varese, Italy
The Manfredini School is located in Varese, Italy. It offers diverse educational levels, from primary school through high school. Its main characteristic is personalization, since every student is assigned a mentor in order to get to know the students better and help them not only in their academic activities, but also with problems in their daily lives, such as with their family or friends.
They handle two types of assessments, one on a numerical scale of 1 to 10 with exams to obtain students’ results, and the second using letters in which the teachers, through observation, assess and indicate the development of the soft skills students acquire. The teachers comment that assessment is the most difficult part of their job, because letters and/or numbers are never sufficient to evaluate a person.
The school developed a project called “Officin@studio”, which is a laboratory attended by students in the afternoons where they learn in a completely different way from in normal classes. The teachers mentioned that they realized traditional didactic methods no longer work, since students have different capacities and interests. This laboratory offers activities that include drama, programming, scientific experiments and manual work. With this experiential method, the teachers found that the students whose grades are poor or who have difficulties in the morning classes are those that shine in the Officin@studio laboratory.
My experience in education has given me the opportunity to explore new ways of providing valuable educational models for children who have access to private and/or public education. The aim of this article is to present information on the diverse pedagogical proposals in different parts of the world in order to adopt and implement the best of them in our context.
About the author
Adolfo Ferrer Jaime (firstname.lastname@example.org) is studying Engineering in Business and Information Technologies at Tecnológico de Monterrey. He has participated in robotics competitions since he was ten years old and, in 2014, founded the educational project LIKS.