Guest Post: Students Shine at the Catalyst for Change Conference

by Karen Bradley, HRS History Department Chair and GOA Site Director

Head-Royce School is a founding member of the Global Online Academy, “a nonprofit organization that reimagines learning to empower students and educators to thrive in a globally networked society.” GOA is now in its seventh year of innovative seminar-style teaching and learning especially for secondary school students.

As part of our GOA involvement, this is the second year that over 100 Head-Royce students have participated in the “Catalyst for Change” conference, an online, ongoing event that began on April 25, 2019 and will continue through the summer. More than 500 students from 71 schools in 15 different countries are presenting projects that aim to solve world problems. Many of them are linked to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 and are to be met by 2030. This conference focus is right in line with Head-Royce’s strategic goals of building student civic engagement through real world problem solving, citizenship and community engagement.

Thirty HRS students earned GOA citations for their work, and two HRS students won Catalyst for Change prizes: Loucas Xenakis for his exploration of the disconnect between shopping and joy in “Buying Products But Not Happiness,” and Isabel Ross, for her study of Americans’ infatuation with novelty weight loss strategies, titled “Addicted to Skinny: The Perpetuation of Fad Diets in American Society.” 

The conference has had over a thousand visitors: other students, parents, teachers and friends dipped into and communicated with one another about the problems they had researched and the solutions they were offering. You still can, too!

Most surprising, perhaps, were some of the genuine and meaningful exchanges that presenters and audience members had. Take, for example, Sean C.’s presentation “Artificial Intelligence and Racism: How AI is a Mirror of our Ugly Past,” which earned one of only two Audience Choice Awards in the entire conference. Sean responded thoughtfully to every comment he received, and the result was an ongoing constructive discussion in the project’s comment section about the issues he raised. See below for more examples of terrific projects, many of which have equally substantive “conversations” in the comments sections.

One of the beauties of the Catalyst for Change project is that it is skills-based. From the earliest personal interest essay to the final product and conference event, students ask and develop research-based answers to current problems related to the GOA or HRS US History class they are taking. They then develop prototype solutions that encourage personal action as well as broader change. And they learn how to create and present their problem-solution story interactively in an online environment--the GOA Catalyst Conference.

Student feedback on the project experience has been enthusiastic: I “learned a lot about America's problems and history by reading my classmates' projects and working on my own,” said one sophomore. Another said, “I spent hours just reading other conference entries, because the student work was amazing!”

Please explore the conference, and give students feedback on their work!  Here are some useful links to facilitate your exploration:

Direct link to a) the entire conference (500+ entries) and b) Head-Royce Students’ GOA Projects (100 sophomores plus seven more enrolled in GOA classes as diverse as Architecture, Abnormal Psychology, Medical Problem Solving II, and Positive Psychology).

More About the Global Online Academy: Head-Royce 10th-12th graders are invited to consider enrolling in GOA classes for summer or school-year terms. We currently have approximately 25-30 students enrolled each school year semester, and just a few taking summer term classes. This school year, Head-Royce students have taken 27 different classes through GOA! The six most popular in 2018-19 were the following: Introduction to Investments, Positive Psychology, Japanese Language through Culture I, Medical Problem Solving I & II, and Architecture. The list provides just a taste of the wide ranges of classes that GOA offers. In total over seven years, 246 HRS students have taken 52 different GOA courses! Head-Royce’s partnership with GOA means that a much wider range of student interests is being served. In addition, in taking these adventurous classes, students collaborate with peers across the globe and develop independent learning skills that serve them well as they continue their educational journeys. Don’t you wish you knew what the other 47 courses are? Read on...

If you have any questions about Global Online Academy, you can explore their online space at, and feel free to reach out to me at