We Are the Students of Today (and the Innovators of Tomorrow)

The I.I.S. “Marconi” school in Dalmine (BG) is one of the four case studies involved in the project shared between AIdAM and MIUR to foster closer collaboration between schools and companies. We had the opportunity to visit the Lombard school, directed by a sturdy and innovative headmaster who works every day to create strong ties with local companies. Also promoting projects and events that may enhance students’ talents and abilities.

by Fabrizio Dalle Nogare

An enlightened and passionate manager, Professor Maurizio Adamo Chiappa, welcomed and introduced us, almost taking us by the hand, to a school of excellence that, in addition to being a forge of talents for several companies within the local territory, is supposed to be a hope for the future of Italy.
The I.I.S. “Guglielmo Marconi” school in Dalmine, just outside Bergamo, was indeed founded thanks to a company. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the presence of Dalmine, a manufacturer of seamless pipes with a patented process, led to the creation of an actual industrial village from which the current town emerged. Including, among other things, the school for apprentices – today, the University headquarters – and the technical school, founded in 1976. From 1981, the school moved to the building where it is today. Currently, the I.I.S. Marconi hosts over 1,200 students each year. Above all, as we will see, it offers a cutting-edge model from several points of view.

A new idea of work-related learning
“I strongly believe in public schools, which I consider the key institution to convey knowledge to future generations, developing creativity and critical thinking to ensure that children can choose, at the end of their path, whether to continue their studies, find a job or starting a private activity. However, if the school, and especially a technical school like ours, really aims to prepare students in a serious way, it is supposed to collaborate closely with local companies. In fact, schools and companies share the same goals”.
Therefore, it is inevitable to talk about work-related learning, even if it is definitely misleading to stop at this. “The traditional and static idea of work-related learning is outdated in our opinion”, explains Professor Chiappa. “Searching for work-based learning experiences in countries where there is no dual system, we have adopted a model called ECLI (Expert Class Lab Individual experience). This model shows that it is not only the students who go to the company: also people from companies come to school to carry out activities decided together with the class council. Today, we work with more than 250 large, medium or small companies in the territory”.

The “godmother companies” and the entrepreneurship workshop
Among the most interesting projects regarding the relationship between school and business is that of the so-called “godmother companies” that, as the school principal explains, “follow the classes from the third year on, entrusting projects with increasing degrees of difficulty according to a shared path. In short, we work together with companies so that their technical interventions may be consistent with didactics. The evaluation is carried out either by companies, which evaluate both the students’ approach and their results, or by the school and the students, who can self-evaluate themselves and expose their experience to the class council”.
Another piece in the mosaic that represents the students’ preparation for life after school is the entrepreneurial laboratory, an activity that the I.I.S. Marconi has been offering for three years and which allows a group of students, selected according to their grades, to meet entrepreneurs and top managers from local companies and deal with them, developing – supported by a team of teachers and in English language – not only business or communication plans but also the so-called soft skills, which are increasingly important in current world of work.

Labs for all study paths
Speaking of laboratories, the “soul” of the school are indeed the places where students can “learn by doing”, using an expression that is certainly not beautiful but effective.
“Over time, we have redesigned the layout of the workstations in the laboratories – says the school principal – removing professors’ desks and promoting team work and objectives, so as to encourage discussions and communication between students. I am convinced that learning environments are very important not only for those who are supposed to learn but also for teachers”.
From the telecommunications laboratory, which prepares the future systems engineers (the school is accredited as Cisco Academy and provides training in compliance with the Cisco standards) to the energy laboratory; from the laboratory of electrical systems to that of applied sciences and technologies, to the CAD laboratory – which students have been attending since the last two years – or to the chemistry and physics laboratories, each specialization has its own environment. “And in the afternoon the school is open, the students can attend the workshops and count on the support of the teachers even outside the school hours”, adds Professor Chiappa.

Giving value to ideas and projects developed in the school laboratories
The automation laboratory is equipped with pneumatic systems connected to PLCs, conveyor belts, IoT systems and even robots designed for educational purposes, such as the COBOTTA model by Denso. “For us, mechatronics is the integration of the various skills aimed at the construction of production machines”, says principal Chiappa.
If someone is actually wondering about the results of these educational and organizational efforts, perhaps the best answer comes from the participation and the attention that the many initiatives promoted by the I.I.S. Marconi receive. The main one takes place in May and is the so-called Marconi’s Ideas Day: a whole day in which the students put on display the most interesting projects that have been completed during the year. As the stories we tell in the two boxes inside the article clearly show, events like this can be springboards for the participation in competitions or fairs, even on a national scale (the Maker Fair in Rome is just an example), or rather for starting real business initiatives. Here it is, to sum up, the school that teaches, inspires and prepares for life.