Creating real-world impact in classrooms

How The Linden School paves the way for global change through their STEM programs

In the bustling heart of Toronto, an educational renaissance is unfolding. While many educational institutions strive for academic excellence, The Linden School stands out, not merely for its academic prowess but for its profound commitment to solving real-world problems that start right from the classroom.

Changemakers in action

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) held a contest where they challenged students to envision what the next 100 years of the TTC would look like. Linden’s students didn't just envision an improved transit system; they crafted an interactive TTC map that translates station details into multiple languages. This is not only a demonstration of their technical aptitude, but a testament to their vision of a more inclusive Toronto.

A colourful mural on display at Davisville station celebrates the achievements of Sang Lee’s (right) students in the TTC contest.

Jazz Stocker-Witterick, who graduated from Linden in June 2023, won the Hack Your Tomorrow  Hackathon. Jazz's contest-winning creation, Core Connect, is a chat app with a built-in multi-language translator. It aims to promote global collaboration, underscoring the school's ethos of nurturing globally-minded problem solvers. Jazz is now studying software engineering at university.

Jazz and her award-winning app.

Guided by teacher Sang Lee, Linden students addressed the intricate challenge of scheduling parent-teacher interviews. They designed a system from scratch, surpassing commercial alternatives, to offer the school a streamlined booking experience. In addition to earning a well-deserved paycheck, the students were empowered to utilize their skills in addressing tangible real-world challenges—in both their local and global communities.

The scheduling application created by high school students Paige (left) and Emma was easy to use and glitch-free!

So how exactly is Linden motivating students to create real change using their skills?

Connecting STEM to real-world problems

STEM—often seen as the bastion of hard skills, encompassing the intricacies of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—is traditionally viewed as a domain to equip students with emerging technical competencies. However, The Linden School has taken a refreshing detour from this linear perspective.

Sang Lee, a teacher at Linden, passionately states, "STEM at Linden is not just about mastering subjects; it's about applying them in ways that resonate with real-world challenges."

For example, financial literacy, often seen as a standalone subject, finds its roots in math classes. Through innovative applications like the Estore, developed by Sang, students don't just learn to calculate taxes and discounts; they understand the economic fabric of society and the importance of financial inclusivity.

Creating fearless leaders 

Keeping students engaged in STEM is tough. The subjects demand trial-and-error learning, and many students fear mistakes. 

Grade 8 students interviewed their elementary student "clients" and asked what new play equipment they would like to see on Linden's rooftop playground. Using their STEM knowledge, they designed, constructed, safety-tested, and installed their inventions—on time and within budget!

Enter Sang Lee. A teacher at The Linden School, he's turned his classrooms into incubators for "learning through mistakes." His innovative approach? Celebrate mistakes. This dedication to reshaping STEM education has earned him accolades, including the Certificate of Achievement from the Prime Minister’s Awards Program.

Sang has a tactic: the "mistake counter." "I tell my students to aim for at least a hundred mistakes," he says. "It's about risk-taking. Once they're comfortable making those mistakes, real learning begins." This approach does more than just celebrate bravery. It grades students' audacity as they tackle fresh challenges. Sang also pioneers a "safe-space" teaching method in math, promoting inclusivity. The impact? A surge in Grade 11 and 12 STEM elective enrolments.

"Our mission is to cultivate fearless learners and risk takers," says Sang. "Mistakes? They're innovation's stepping stones. Every student, we believe, can turn learning into impactful real-world solutions.”

The concept of risk-taking extends beyond just classrooms at Linden. Here, there are no traditional sports tryouts. Everyone is encouraged to participate. Even students not initially perceived as athletic find themselves improving, embracing challenges, and taking risks. Linden’s school newsletter frequently highlights these risk-taking endeavours, cementing it into Linden’s culture. 


The human-first approach to learning

While technology undeniably holds a significant place in modern education, there's an increasing recognition of the importance of balance. “During the pandemic lockdowns, we definitely learned that the future of meaningful education is not virtual. I’ve come to believe that the future of school lies in classrooms like the one we’ve built: where students combine technology with human creativity and connection,” says Beth Alexander, Linden’s associate principal and STEM curriculum leader. 

Beth Alexander with students in her lab at Linden.

While Beth's classroom is outfitted with the latest technology, it places equal importance on human interaction. A case in point: she recently mentored her Grade 8 students in building robotic arms. Troubleshooting is an ever-present challenge, and though Beth consistently encourages her students to persevere, she finds that their classmates often emerge as the most potent sources of inspiration. Confronted with obstacles, students swap tales: "I faced that too, and here's my fix." They cheer each other on with shouts of "Go on! You've got this!" From handy tips to light-hearted banter, a bond forms. And when they conquer a hurdle? The group's jubilation speaks volumes. Beth's classroom is clear in its mission: championing collaboration over solo triumphs.

Linden students prepare for the annual STEM for a Better World Fair.

Mastering real-world challenges demands more than just skill competency. It calls for the courage to take risks, relentless perseverance, and the capability to tackle problems both independently and, more importantly, collaboratively.  The Linden School is more than just an institution; it nurtures and molds students into proactive leaders and changemakers, ready to face the complexities of the future with confidence and innovation.

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