There were plenty of creative ideas flowing throughout the St. Louis Parish Hall on Thursday. Kenora Catholic students were brainstorming how to solve a common social issue as part of an I-Think workshop held by the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.
"Today we talked about problems in our school board, specifically how we can deliver food to all the kids who can't afford it without embarrassment," said Drew Hintz, a Grade 6 student from École Ste-Marguerite Bourgeoys. "We came up with a system kind of like the one we have now, where everyone gets the same amount of food and those who can't afford it don't pay, but no one will know. It can be sustained through a garden that all schools can manage in a generalized location."
Each school nominated a handful of students to take part in the workshop. They spent the day learning new techniques to problem solving including the Pro-Pro.
"Usually when we disagree with people we think we have to squash it and so we think it's an obstacle to innovation, but integrative thinking sees it as a path to innovation," said Nogah Kornberg, the facilitator from I-Think. "So what a pro-pro does is it takes these divergent ideas and says what the benefits are of each model from different stakeholder perspectives. People say why not do pro-cons? It's actually just double the work because a pro on one-side is a con on the other and vice versa. By focusing on the pros you allow for better group dynamics and better collaboration and you build a momentum of problem-solving."
Each group was given two examples of what other schools do to address the food access issue. From each of those examples the students pulled what they saw as benefits. They then came up with their own solution using those benefits as a guide.
Grade 10 student Katie Scutt was part of the delegation from St. Thomas Aquinas High School. Their idea was to create a system where students would get a tab for the school cafeteria. Parents would go online and put money into their child's account and then their child would use that to pay for their food throughout the year. Parents that need help would simply select that option online so that when the student actually uses their tab no one would know whether it was paid for by their parents or the school board. Scutt said it was a really interesting workshop which she learned a lot from.
"I actually never would have thought to problem solve that way where you take two options and just look at the benefits from each," she said. "I also came here not knowing what we were going to be doing and now I feel much more insightful about how students might be feeling if they're in need and how that affects their parents and the school board."
After a full day of brainstorming and then refining their solutions, each group presented their ideas to the rest of the students as well as Director of Education Phyllis Eikre and Superintendent of Instructional Services Paul White.
Hintz said he had a lot of fun while also learning a lot too.
"I think it's very important to do stuff like this because we were told that over 300 students go to school hungry every day," he concluded. "It was really fun having this experience to learn with a small group and talk about all the ideas over all the grades."
I-Think is an initiative run by the Rotman School of Management. Their aim is to help educators and students look at problem solving differently by recognizing there is no one single answer, but instead enabling critical thinking, creativity and collaboration to tackle the complex challenges students face in the real world.