UCC students pitch interesting waste-reduction idea at GIIS

Six Upper Canada College Year 11 students came up with an innovative concept, and gained valuable learning experiences, through their involvement with the Global Ideas Institute Symposium (GIIS).
GIIS, sponsored by University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, provides students with an opportunity to develop solutions to complex global problems.
 
UCC students are invited at the beginning of the school year to apply to take part, and Matthew Tontodonati, Ben Lee, Phillip Kong, Shaan Hooey, Daniel Jiang and James Liao represented the school this year.
 
Every month throughout the year, students from approximately 20 Greater Toronto Area schools attended a one-hour presentation and a one-hour mentoring session with a University of Toronto graduate student. As the April 12 symposium date approached, they attended bi-monthly sessions and devoted three or four hours a week to GIIS work.
 
The UCC boys were supervised by teachers Joanne Hogan and Heather Crawford.
 
The teacher’s role is to accompany students to UTS and OISE for lectures and mentoring sessions, pass on important information, and arrange meetings at UCC so that students can work together on their presentation,” says Crawford.
 
“The teacher’s role is meant to be minimal, as the program is designed to empower students and give them access to valuable mentoring from an expert in law, the environment, or another field of expertise relevant to the project.”
 
The students further read and researched at home to develop various ideas, then choose one and put together a pitch for the symposium that included a five-minute formal presentation, a poster and a one-minute video.
 
The boys came up with an idea to reduce microfibre waste with a positively charged, insulated metal rod that can be installed in filters already present in most washing machines to attract loose microplastics.
 
“We combined our expertise in the topic of plastic waste accumulation with some key principles from chemistry class, and validated our concept with pre-existing research on the Internet,” says Hooey of how his group decided what to do after months of research and being exposed to the topic.
 
Crawford said the students learned a great deal about product design, marketing, human behaviour and the degree to which individuals, corporations and various levels of government must assume responsibility for sustainable living from their participation in GIIS.
 
“Their experience was authentic in that it reflected the actual steps taken by organizations that are trying to solve the same kinds of problems,” says Crawford.
 
“For example, the idea they pitched at the symposium was not the idea that they started out with. The process of selecting, critiquing and then revising or discarding was repeated several times before they landed on a product idea that they felt they could really move ahead with.”
 
There was a competitive element to GIIS in past years, and groups from the various schools were ranked. The organizers did things differently in 2019.
 
“Schools received individualized feedback from three expert judges and their two mentors,” says Crawford. “The feedback was encouraging.
 
“Several of the judges noted that the students’ idea for reducing the amount of microplastics in our waterways is feasible, and that they should pursue further development of their idea by designing and testing a prototype and reaching out to their MPP. The provincial government recently released a discussion paper on litter and waste, so the proposed idea is timely.”
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