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An empty suitcase represented the starting point of the project and the objective was to fill it - in a cooperative way - with the results of a collaborative process, focused on "sustainability", involving Controvento, a public secondary school and the local Museum of Natural Science.

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The project Sustainability in a Suitcase was conceived and coordinated by Controvento in the frame of the regional project “Science and Technology in Emilia Romagna”.

Funded by the Istituto dei Beni Culturali of the Emilia Romagna Region, the project Sustainability in a Suitcase is the result of a strong collaboration between Controvento, the local Museum of Natural Science and a public secondary school.

Following the guidelines and recommendations highlighted in the documents we chose as references (Europe 2020: Europe’s growth strategy ; European Research on Youth: supporting young people to participate fully in society; Edgar Morin, Seven Complex Lessons in Education for the Future), it was decided to work with - rather than for - young people and to launch a participatory design process towards knowledge, awareness and sustainability.

An empty suitcase represented the starting point of the project and the objective was to fill it - in a cooperative way - with the results of the process.

The main theme - sustainability - was chosen by trainers and teachers together. Actual and urgent, it’s a complex subject to explore with multiple approaches and allow people to undertake deep and transversal studies because of the interdependence that it entails.

Sustainability represents also an opportunity topromote not only knowledge but also the sense of  belonging to a community and the participationin the management of the commons.

The challenge was to create conditions in which young people, thinking, discussing and working together, were able to reach knowledge and awareness in an active and autonomous way.

The path was built with young people: sixty five students attending the Public Technical Industrial Institute “Blaise Pascal”.

During the process, adults - trainers and teachers - played the role of facilitators and creators of contexts in which young people could experience.

When a school and a museum, teachers and trainers decide to work together on an arranged project, the first consequence is the encounter between formal and non formal education. As a consequence, it can emerge the  need to rethink the conventional way to teach.This is what happened.

The ordinary educational pathway was destructured and redesigned in function of the new objectives. This was translated in coordinated actions, in clear and well defined roles, in a schedule demanding flexibility from everyone.

The new pathway was the result of a strong synergy between three different realities – the school, the museum and the educative cooperative – and the derived project took root in the competence and resources of each actor.

Once defined the container, it was necessary to select the contents. Young people, during a scenario workshop where a trainer played the role of the facilitator, explored the facets of sustainability and chose together what themes to study in depth.

The subjects they selected are:

  •   The cohabitation on the globe
  •   The resources and their management
  •   Resources and human exploitation across the world
  •   Multinational companies and sustainable development
  •   Forms of energy, energy sources and energy choices
  •   The different types of pollution
  •   The impact of the industrial sector on environment
  •   Health, environment and sustainability
  •   Research and sustainability
  •   Controversial questions: nuclear energy, GMO, nanotechnologies

Students clustered around the different subjects and formed small working groups. For some weeks, they researched information, mainly on internet, to increase knowledge and understanding. All findings were re-edited and collected in the sustainability book that grew throughout the project and represented the common stock of knowledge. All references were cited. The sustainability book  became part of the contents of the suitcase on sustainability.

Concluded the research phase, teachers create conditions to allow students observe, experience and measure natural phenomena. The experimental workshops were in tune with the subjects indicated by the students. The protocols and the results were collected in the Experiments book and inserted in the suitcase.

Since the early stages of the project, students showed to consider the issue of energy choices crucial for sustainability. To move from the theoretic level to the applied level, students designed and built a model of a solar power station. The school supported students by offering laboratories, competence and materials. The solar power stations were included in the suitcase.

They  completed their survey interviewing an engineer. The debate was focused on renewable energy and related curricula and careers.

The experience lived by each working group was debated and transmitted to the other members of the school with a peer to peer approach during some formal and informal meetings.

The process and the results were told to the town and district councillors. During a public meeting, students, teachers and trainers explained their role and their perspective on the project. The participatory method was at the centre of the discussion.

The documentation (discussions, books, reports, projects, videos) produced at each step allowed trainers to monitor the young people’s motivation, the level of their participation, the degree of the consciousness about their role in the process, the quality of their research activities.


  • Teachers, trainers and students experienced a different way to educate and to learn;
  • All participants learned to enhance and to play on the personal resources of the different actors of the project;
  • During the process, students, who are conventionally beneficiaries of culture, became producers of culture;
  • Students demonstrated, in the appropriate context, to possess an overall and deep view of the problems;
  • During the learning process, students experienced the autonomy and their self-esteem increased;
  • The concept of complexity and interdependence, implicit in sustainability, fed the young people’s critical thinking;
  • Students improved their ability to imagine the future perspectives in relation with the emerging local and global problems and solutions.

Criticality. The project demanded the perpetual adaptation and flexibility of all the actors of the project:

  • teachers and trainers had to abandon their own way to teach and find together a new one;
  • they had to undertake un uninterrupted dialogue to build step by step a common course.

This experience demanded a lot of energy!!

Conclusions. In a world complex, uncertain and in perpetual evolution, that poses new challenges to individuals, cultures and societies, the role of education is crucial and it’s necessary to elaborate new educational strategies. It’s urgent:

  • to invest on cooperation between all people acting in the education: parents, teachers, pedagogists, educators;
  • to invest on the research of new pedagogic tools to help young people to decode the complexity and understand the interdependencies;
  • to let young people have an active role in the educative process, investing on their social and intellectual skills and promoting their public involvement.