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High Schoolers Gathering in Learning 2030's Host City are Already Finding a New Way to Learn

Monday, August 26, 2013

by Ed Jernigan, Learning 2030 Advisor

At the end of July, 54 former strangers who had met 26 days earlier celebrated meeting challenges, making connections and building a community that will last long after the summer is over. This was the closing banquet of this year's edition of Shad Valley, a four-week program in which students live in residence at a Canadian host university and take part in workshops, lectures and experiences designed to create a mind-expanding adventure.

Our summer goal was to “make a difference” in something that makes a difference to ourselves, in our communities, and in our world. By putting students in a context of challenges beyond what they have seen before, our purpose is to help outstanding students better appreciate and explore their real potential, helping them to learn and grow intellectually, socially, and emotionally.
We aim to open their world, develop their creativity, and expand
their community.

Real world challenges only beyond this point

A large part of the experience is a program long project, engaging students in finding real solutions to real problems for real people. 

This year’s project theme was “how might we improve the safety and convenience of all season human-powered commuting in Canada.” 

After an intense three day workshop on design thinking as a framework for real world problem solving, students formed nine groups around different specific problems within the theme, including: bicycle visibility in urban areas, winter corrosion of bicycle components, and bicycle theft.

By the end of the third week, groups had found innovative solutions and built prototypes to communicate their ideas. 

Solving problems as a team of professionals

The open-ended nature of real world problem solving, and the design process, encourages students to set their own bar, to set their own challenge level, and to experience the value of failure as early efforts to tackle real world problems fall short. They learn that in solving real problems, collaboration trumps competition.

Around the arc of the project, students participate in lectures and small group workshops that open their eyes to the wider world of the host university and the diverse interests of both our live-in faculty and guests from the outside world. 

Leaving the ‘comfort zone,' entering the ‘growth zone’

Everything that happens at Shad is designed to move students out of their comfort zone; to try the new without fear of failure. To learn the lessons that only failure can teach.

Over the last 28 years, I have worked with 1,350 Shad students, who often tell me that the program made a difference in how they viewed the world, and how they viewed themselves. 

They have gone on to be change makers themselves. For them, and for me, it’s been a difference that makes a difference.

Professor Ed Jernigan is the Founding Director of the Centre for Knowledge Integration at the University of Waterloo. He also heads the University of Waterloo’s Shad Valley program, a summer enrichment opportunity that gives exceptional students dynamic hands-on experience in science, mathematics, engineering, and entrepreneurship. The University of Waterloo is the host of the first and longest running (31 years) Shad Valley program.