Written by Jessica Thornton

Last April, we ran a Climate Hackathon in partnership with Ontario’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. We experimented by inviting 12 high school students to participate amongst adult participants in the hack. The objective of this experiment was to identify if this would be a good learning environment for the high school students to explore innovation and entrepreneurship competencies. Guess what? One of the high school student teams won third place in the hack!

With 42% of jobs at risk of automation, we know that the future of work is changing. The question is, how do we prepare youth with the skills and experiences needed to adapt to an evolving economy? Ontario’s Highly Skilled Workforce Panel’s recommendations recognize a need to “identify promising ways of teaching students competencies demanded by the evolving economy such as problem solving, teamwork and entrepreneurial spirit.” The York Region District School Board (YRDSB) is on the same page as the Highly Skilled Workforce Panel and have made formal commitments to providing innovation and entrepreneurial learning across the board.

BII+E sees Climate Hack2Action as an opportunity to support partners like the YRDSB in exploring methods for integrating innovation + entrepreneurship learning within the formal education system. We’re hoping to help this committed school board take innovation and entrepreneurial learning beyond the classroom. Through this two-day deep learning experience, 96 students will work alongside policy makers, entrepreneurs and climate change experts to ideate, prototype and present sustainable solutions to climate change. Through collaboration, communication and critical thinking, Climate Hack2Action will provide students with new skills for problem solving – a mandatory skill for our changing workforce.

To ensure this event impacts the broader education system, we brought Rotman’s I-Think Initiative to the table. It is led by one of BII+E’s Fellows, Josie Fung who will run teacher training alongside the student hackathon, with a focus on design thinking and integrative thinking. Simultaneously, we’ve been working with the YRDSB to explore ways to support teachers and even students who wish to organize a future challenge event at their school.

Post-hack, five student teams will move on to the next round, a pitch competition at the YRDSB’s Professional Development Conference, Quest. Teams selected by a panel of judges will receive entrance to Launch Zone’s Summer Basecamp or Innovation York’s Start Up Weekend.

At BII+E, we’re thrilled to have been able to make this happen, and admittedly it’s not solely about the hackathon for us. We’re doing this also because this board-wide hackathon has provided a platform for critical conversations about innovation learning within the school system. We believe this partnership will instigate important conversations among parents, teachers, policymakers and administrators alike. It will provoke questions such as: how do we engage entrepreneurs in the school? How do we support students from different schools to collaborate and explore ideas via online platforms? And perhaps my favourite, how do establish broader support for these types of learning interventions?

I’d be lying if I said planning has been a smooth process – anyone who has ever worked with the education system will appreciate how complicated it has been to pull off this board-wide initiative. But luckily, we’ve been working with a great team at the YRDSB, and a champion named Deneena Davis, who have all worked tirelessly to make this happen. It’s encouraging to see such dedication from a school board in exploring ways to connect students with the skills they need to thrive in our changing economy.

Follow #Hack2Action on November 3 – 4 and 18 for updates on this exciting partnership between YRDSB and BII+E.