Koen Timmers is bringing the world to a classroom near you.
The Belgium-based computer science teacher is an expert in hosting free, large-scale collaborative learning projects for students of all ages. He’s getting set to launch his next project and he’s inviting teachers and schools to sign up.
The Innovation Project is for students aged 8 to 21 and gets started April 16. It will use Skype to connect participating students from 80 countries across six continents – Africa, Asia, Australia/Oceana, Europe, North America and South America – to tackle four big problems that need new people to apply new ways of thinking to try and solve them.
The problems are drawn from the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. All are ‘wicked problems’; complex problems that are difficult to solve, dominated by multiple viewpoints and linked to other wicked problems.
For this project, Timmers’ is inviting students to focus on learning about and dreaming up innovative solutions to:
- access to primary education;
- access to safe and affordable drinking water;
- develop sustainable cities and urban spaces; and,
- achieve peace, justice and strong public institutions.
“I try to make learning global,” said Timmers in a recent email exchange from his home in Hasselt, Belgium where he is a researcher and lecturer at PXL University College. “What’s better than learning about global issues directly from students living in those countries? Rather than learn from outdated textbooks students learn from each other.”
To do that, Timmers has designed The Innovation Project to allow for project-based learning, a teaching method that enables students to learn by working collaboratively for an extended period of time to investigate and develop solutions to a specific problem.
To help new teachers, Timmers has a group of ‘teaching ambassadors’, fellow teachers from around the world who have participated in Timmers’ earlier projects and who want to help others join in.
The ambassadors will guide the newbies and they’ll do a showcase project within the Innovation Project to inspire others. Plus they get shared responsibility and recognition.
“Teachers need to be willing to go outside their comfort zone. They need to allow their students to explore, discuss, brainstorm, connect, create, present and share findings,” says Timmers.
“The teachers become mentors, helpdesks and discussion leaders who point the students in the right direction. They are pedagogical engineers because every age, subject requires different needs. They need to be open minded. In return they will see that students enjoy learning and become more engaged.”
The Innovation Project is the platform that enables this exchange of thoughts, best practices and applications.
There are some famous names pitching in their support and expertise for this project. South African actress Charlize Theron, famed primatologist Jane Goodall and former British prime minister Tony Blair have agreed to help.
For the past decade Theron has operated the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project to fight HIV in South Africa, which has the highest number of people living with HIV in the world. The Jane Goodall Institute works to inspire young people to act to help animals and to work with others to protect the world’s shared natural environment.
Timmers hints there will be some other special guests – but he’s waiting until the April 16 to reveal who they are.
Timmers met Theron and Blair at the recent Global Education and Skills Forum, an annual event held each March in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in conjunction with the Global Teacher Prize.
Timmers was a top 10 finalist for this year’s prize. The forum and event recognizes excellence in teaching. Both are hosted by the Varkey Foundation, which aims to improve global education standards for underprivileged children around the world. It is the philanthropic arm of GEMS Education, the largest provider of kindergarten to grade 12 education in the world.
This is Timmers’ fourth global learning project. His other projects include:
- WaiWater.info, which connected 10 schools in 10 countries to address water issues;
- HumanDifferences.com, which connected 50 schools in 37 countries to think critically about overcoming and accepting differences; and,
- Climate-Action.info, which connected 250 schools in 69 countries, to learn about and take action to combat climate change.
“I believe that teachers sometimes need to shift from instruction to other learning approaches,” says Timmers.
“We often forget to focus on skills, values and empathy.”
Find out more about The Innovation Project and how to get your school or class involved here.