Student innovation could solve 21st century challenges in Nova Scotia

Kirk Starratt
Published on March 5, 2016

WOLFVILLE - It was a way to put young minds to work exploring innovative means to address many serious challenges facing Nova Scotia in the 21st century.

The Annapolis Valley Regional School Board hosted its first student innovation conference March 3 at the Fountain Commons on the Acadia University campus in Wolfville. Approximately 90 students from grades nine to 12 made up 21 teams, each tackling a challenge and identifying and developing innovative solutions as part of ‘AVRSB@21C’.

Students heard from successful entrepreneurs, tech start-up firms and representatives of business incubators. They worked with experts, being coached through the idea development process to determine viability, and finished by recording video pitches for prospective investors.

“It’s a great way to kick start some innovation in the province,” said Northeast Kings Education Centre Grade 12 student Robert Tupper Jr. “The current way things are going at this moment in time is not particularly sustainable.”

Tupper said their team of four was working on the challenge of aging demographics. They were examining the cost of taking care of an older population and how to attract people back to Nova Scotia. He said it’s about providing everyone with a better quality of life.

He said the conference was well put together and had been a rewarding experience. Tupper enjoyed the exhibits and said Nova Scotia has “some really great things happening here.” He said we need innovation from people of all ages.

Annapolis West Education Centre Grade 11 student Zeynep Tonak said the conference was a great experience. Their group of six was working on the challenge of air pollution.

“This fits in quite nicely with a project our school is doing,” Tonak said. “Kids interested in the environment and science are launching a weather balloon in May.”

She said they’re working on a system of sensors to measure air quality and pollutants, using Arduino coding to program the sensors. She said Annapolis West is the first school in the province to attempt such a project.

As part of the conference, they were exploring the business side of the project and how to get the money they need to – literally – get it off the ground.

“It got kids out of their comfort zone and thinking about how they can make a difference in Nova Scotia and truly be entrepreneurial,” Tonak said.

Avon View High School Grade 12 student Allen Lydiard said their group of three was attempting to find a solution to getting people engaged in a more physically active lifestyle. He pointed out that the obesity rate in North America is high.

“We’re trying to combine exercise and technology to motivate and educate people to exercise and have fun so they’ll keep doing it,” Lydiard said.

He said perhaps the main reason why active lifestyles aren’t as common today is technology. People are more engaged in social media and video games, for example. Lydiard said one idea they had is integrating video games with exercise to help motivate people to lead physically active lifestyles.

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Importance of the ‘four c’s’

Annapolis Valley Regional School Board coordinator of educational technology and student data Ryan Hainstock said they’re trying to encourage kids to develop skills that will help them in a “new world.”

“They’re going to be creating products that we haven’t even heard of and tackling problems that we haven’t heard of as well,” Hainstock said.

He said the ‘four c’s’ - critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication - are skills important to promote in education for the 21st century and this ties into innovation.

Hainstock said we keep hearing about challenges we’re going to face in Nova Scotia in the future. The conference was a chance to get students engaged in real world problem solving and a way to identify opportunities.

“A lot of what they can do is actually come up with ideas that will help us overcome the challenges but also make a business,” Hainstock said. “We don’t want our kids going out west, we want them to stay in our communities.”

He said feedback from video pitches would be provided to students and, if they decide they want to take their ideas to the next level, support will be made available.

There are students from all eight high schools in the AVRSB jurisdiction involved. Other aspects of the conference included a panel discussion, exhibits and a keynote address from Darryl Wright of Punk Science Studios, a video game development company.