“Shaping futures with creativity, curiosity, and code” – A student-led Girls Coding Weekend at the International School of Lausanne
Last week, ISL’s Year 12 International Baccalaureate DP students took part in the final day of the Group 4 Project, a compulsory element of the Diploma Programme which gives learners the chance to collaborate in multidisciplinary groups, creating and conducting an experiment, before presenting their findings and reflecting on the “real world” implications of their learning. Read on to discover more about the project described by one team member as a “rewarding, fun, and thought-provoking opportunity that encouraged us to inquire about subjects and concepts that we would not usually consider.”
When Ms Rudd (Head of Natural Sciences Department, Teacher of Chemistry, Teacher of Science) and Mr Spinks (Head of Design Technology Department, Teacher of Design) launched the Group 4 Project on August 29th, their introductory presentation featured a quotation from the World Economic Forum website:
“If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of scientific collaboration…thanks to the international research community, we know what causes COVID-19, have developed and deployed vaccines in record time, and have a better understanding of how to manage the disease.”
“From climate change to health, education, justice and poverty, scientific collaboration – across disciplines, geographies and sectors – will be needed to help find solutions to pressing global challenges if the world is to prosper in a post pandemic future.” (weforum.org/)
This reflection on the powerful necessity of scientific collaboration, applied in the context of a global crisis that impacted all our lives, effectively encapsulated to the Year 12 IB Diploma Programme students of the International School of Lausanne, the overarching purpose of the Group 4 Project.
A compulsory component of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, the Group 4 Project is a multidisciplinary collaborative activity in which students studying different subjects from the IB Group 4 (Biology; Computer Science; Chemistry; Design Technology; Physics; Sports, Exercise and Health Science; Environmental Systems and Societies) work together on a common topic.
Each student brings their own knowledge and perspective from the discipline that they are studying, and the project’s final reflection encourages students to appreciate the environmental, social and ethical implications of science.
“This was a thought-provoking opportunity that encouraged us to inquire about subjects and concepts we would not have usually considered,” observed Eve (Year 12) afterwards. “For me, it forced me to be creative and develop more interpersonal skills, such as effective communication and listening, and cooperation with others. I learned numerous new things about the science behind the experiment, particularly chemistry, which was extremely interesting and made me more passionate about the subject.”
During the project launch, Ms Rudd highlighted to the Diploma Programme students the skills that the judges would be looking for in the final presentations – teamwork; creativity; presentation; scientific thinking; the implications of science – and stressed that the key learning objectives were effective collaboration within their teams, and a focus on the process rather than the results.
Key to the multidisciplinary nature of the project was to develop an understanding of the relationships between the different science disciplines, and to engender an appreciation of the limitations of scientific study.
Ms Rudd also drew the students’ attention to the disparity that continues to exist between the cultures and genders represented in scientific collaboration teams.
By comparing and contrasting a photograph of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project in the 1950s, with a more recent photograph of the team who worked on one of NASA’s high altitude aircrafts, the audience were able to recognise the progress that has been made in terms of diversity in the sciences, yet still appreciate that we have not fully reached a destination of equal representation, and be inspired to be a part of striving towards this.
The theme for this year’s Group 4 Project was “Mystery Box”: each group was given a box with a different object inside it; from this, the group needed to take their inspiration for a scientific experiment.
“We actually struggled quite a bit to find an experiment based on our object – a medical mask,” revealed Louise (Year 12), one of the members of the winning team. “At first, we considered studying the durability of different masks, but that seemed quite basic and uninspired. Then we thought about the function of a mask, which, in essence, is to filter out water droplets that may contain viruses. Looking at it from this perspective is what inspired our experiment (on the efficacy of water filtration methods) and allowed for several more ideas stemming from this.”
The final day of the Group 4 Project took place on September 22nd, with the Year 12s working under a tight time limit to conclude their experiments and write up their findings.
The students were supported throughout the process by teaching staff from the Group 4 subjects, and by the science laboratory technicians, Mr Nieuwhuis, Ms Ruiz, and Mr Meskauskas. The latter were invaluable in helping the students to set up experiments and ensure that these were looked after during Trips Week, and expressed their appreciation for the interest shown by the students in their projects.
It was great seeing how excited some of the students were when they returned from Trips Week,” enthused Mr Nieuwhuis. “They hurried in, asking, ‘How’s my experiment?’” Ms Ruiz echoed Mr Nieuwhuis’ words of praise for the engagement shown by the learners: “The students were proactive and motivated, and eager to learn new things.”
On presentation day, the students were given further impromptu support from other members of the teaching team and student body who were recruited for last minute experiments; after agreeing to participate in an experiment on the strength of caffeine, Ms Pearcy, only a sporadic drinker of coffee, left ISL’s science department “buzzing” after a taste test of five different cups!
With such enthusiastic support and the tireless commitment of the technicians up to the last minute, all the groups managed to meet the deadline, and presented their findings in a first round of judging. Five teams were then put through to the finals, where they presented in their groups to an audience of their peers, teaching staff and technicians, and a judging panel composed of ISL’s SELT.
Talking in front of a large audience is something I don’t practice often, and so I am grateful to have had this chance to work on my public speaking skills,” reflected Eve (Year 12), one of the members of the winning team. Going on to consider the experience of collaborating across the different science disciplines, she added:
“As someone who doesn’t take any science apart from ESS (Environmental Systems and Societies), it was great to collaborate with people who had taken other sciences; the different knowledge and ideas each person had were very beneficial. The whole process had to be done in a group, and that’s what made it the most rewarding and fun. We each had to find our place and distribute the work the most equitably we could. We worked well as a team, and because of that, we had a successful experience of the project.”
Sharing her thoughts on the collaborative nature of the project, Louisa (Year 12) stated: “Personally, I think that the project would not have been nearly as effective if it was individual or perhaps even in pairs. The fact that we had so many perspectives and ideas was the main reason we were able to create a project that challenged us all.
“These unique ideas and ways of thinking mainly came into play when brainstorming and it encouraged us to think outside the box in order to come up with something we all agreed on. Not to mention, collaboration was an essential aspect of doing the experiment itself (where we created a systematic approach that moved quite fast) and creating our presentation, in which we all were responsible for a different facet of the experiment.”
A particularly interesting aspect of the presentations for the audience, and one which broadened the students’ appreciation of the global contexts of their study, was the section on the ethical, environmental, and social implications of each experiment, which required students to consider the “real world” impacts and considerations of their findings. Reflecting on the implications of their experiment, the group who researched the efficacy of water filtration methods concluded:
“We found that different filtration methods greatly change the quantity of microorganisms in the water. The water sample collected with the most microorganisms was the lake water, followed by river, then bottled water, and finally tap water. Although these results were overall expected, they still have great implications for the world we live in.”
“Water is becoming an increasingly scarce and valuable resource; a massive part of the world’s population is already suffering because of water shortages. Therefore, finding alternative sources of water and water filtration is essential for when tap water cannot be relied on, or when people do not have access to bottled water. For instance, if someone were presented with the options of drinking lake water or river water to survive, our findings would tell us that it is significantly safer to drink river water because there are less risks associated.”
At the close of the presentations, the judges briefly adjourned to discuss the finalists and select the winner. Then, the team who had performed the water purification experiment were awarded a second-place commendation, before the team who undertook the water filtration systems experiment were recognised as the winners of the International School of Lausanne’s 2022/23 Group Four Project.
Reflecting on the overall success of the event, Mr Spinks commented: “Whilst I did find myself puzzling over the exact purpose of some of the experiments (most notably the elastic band induced exploding fruit), the day was without doubt, a wonderful demonstration of how enthusiastically the Year 12 students approach collaboration and teamwork. Ms Rudd very much took the lead in the organisation of the project, and it was to her credit that it all ran without any drama – other than the erupting watermelon and the ensuing projectile motion of its portions in a tummy bound trajectory, that is.”
Ms Rudd also took the opportunity to offer a heartfelt thanks to the team who supported the students in their learning throughout:
“The Group 4 Project would not be possible without the hard work of our science technicians, Harrie, Maria and Agnius. They put a huge amount of work into preparing for the action day to ensure that all twenty-four groups had all the materials they need for their investigations. Whilst we were away during Trips Week surfing in Biarritz, biking in Verbier or canyoning in Gstaad, they were in school working tirelessly to ensure that the day would run smoothly. Then whilst we were busy with presentations in the auditorium and heading home at the end of the day, they were still here washing up and clearing away. I cannot thank them enough for their hard work and dedication.”
“I also want to thank SELT who came to support and judge the final presentations and present the prizes.”
“The Group 4 Project is a wonderful opportunity for the students to work in interdisciplinary teams, apply their understanding of the scientific method and have some fun.”