Innovating for a brighter future: Independent schools use design thinking to realise students’ highest potential

A new pilot program developed by the Association of Independent Schools of NSW (AISNSW) in conjunction with UK-based consultancy Innovation Unit is utilising “design thinking” to actively cultivate the leaders of tomorrow.

Recognising the needs of an evolving workplace and job market, the AISNSW seeks to develop “new approaches to learning that identify and realise the highest potential in all students”.

Launched in March of this year, the ELEVATE project aligns schools with industry to equip students with the necessary skills to succeed in the 21st Century.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is an enthusiastic supporter of the project saying: “The skills we need cannot be developed in isolation by schools. Effective partnerships between schools, business and government must be formed to identify and produce our future visionary and strategic leaders and industry innovators who will ensure Australia’s economic prosperity.”

Design thinking stresses collaboration and testing of prototype solutions prior to implementation.

In practice, this means that “ELEVATE will assist our leading educators, drawing on the best examples from around the world, to collaborate and design classroom learning approaches that respond and adapt to the needs of students, that challenge and engage them, so they can make the most of the opportunities that will come their way in the future,” explains AISNSW executive director Geoff Newcombe.

At Knox Grammar boys’ school on Sydney’s upper North Shore, ELEVATE is an essential part of its Quality Teaching platform providing “evidence, ideas and resources for our teachers to further improve their ability to extend and support all of our students.”

Meanwhile, at North Sydney girls school Wenona, design thinking is incorporated into the curriculum as part of the school’s Science, Technology, Maths and Engineering (STEM) learning program.

Wenona conducts Design Thinking days during which students solve technical problems using a five-step method of Empathise (develop a deep understanding of the challenge); Define (clearly articulate the problem you want to solve); Ideate (brainstorm potential solutions then select and develop a solution); Prototype (design a prototype to test your solution); and Test (engage in a continuous short-cycle innovation process to continually improve your design).

“Design Thinking projects allow engineering to be applied to real-world situations in a variety of curricular areas,” says Wenona’s head of STEM Studies Andy Draper.

“Many jobs of the future are expected to be in STEM fields,” Mr Draper says. “A familiarity and active involvement with STEM, developed by a range of interesting and exciting enrichment and extension activities, is helping to make a difference in students’ sense of involvement and their success in these areas.”

Wenona principal Dr Briony Scott concurs, “Wenona is breaking new ground in this area and we’re excited by the direction this is setting for our school.”

To learn more about these and other leading-edge initiatives being undertaken by independent schools, visit the North Shore Schools Expo. Staff and students from the state’s top schools will be available to answer your questions and provide detailed information about their establishments. This is an excellent opportunity to find the right school to maximise your child’s potential.

North Shore Schools Expo
When: Saturday, August 6 and Sunday, August 7
Time: 10 am to 4 pm, both days
Where: The Concourse Chatswood, 409 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood
Admission: Free

Read more:

Design thinking: new way to spark potential – Tim Dodd, Australian Financial Review, April 4, 2016

ELEVATE media release – AISNSW and the ACCI, March 23, 2016

Quality Teaching – Knox Grammar School website

Putting the E in STEM – Powerpoint presentation by Andy Draper, Head of STEM Studies, Wenona School

STEM learning – Wenona School website

How to engage girls in STEM subjects: Make it fun

The Australian Industry Group (AIG) estimates that up to 75% of the fastest-growing occupation categories require a sound knowledge of the STEM subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Yet student participation rates in these subjects is falling, with only about 10% of students nationally studying advanced mathematics at the Year 12 level last year, according to Engineering Australia estimates.

When it comes to girls, the problem is worse. Girls make up slightly more than half of the Year 12 student cohort but only around a third of those students studying STEM subjects. Alarmingly, the STEM gender gap is now wider than it was in the 1980s, says the AIG.

To increase female participation in these subjects, a different approach is required. Dr John Ainley, principal research fellow at the Australian Council for Educational Research, told The Conversation that “The early experience of engagement with science and mathematics is really important.

“The crucial thing is not just to have novel things that catch people’s interest, but novel things that are built on in a sustained way.”

One educator has seen great success with this method. Susan Bowler came to teaching after 20 years in the IT sector. Engaging girls in STEM is her passion and, as she revealed to Education Matters magazine, robotics is her secret.

When Bowler introduced robots into a class at the all-girls Ogilvie High School in Tasmania, “the girls just took to them like crazy, they really, really enjoyed them,” she says. Her after school club RoboSquad United has since gone on to win 24 competitions including four international championships.

Robotics is an excellent teaching tool because it can be incorporated into many different subjects and it utilises project-based learning skills: critical thinking, collaboration and communication, says Bowler.

“Those are things that are not necessarily taught in a standard classroom,” but it’s what makes learning fun, Bowler explains. “They’re happy doing it, they’re working collaboratively, they are learning, they’re having fun, they are talking, and being silly in many cases!”

“I think if you really want to get girls started in STEM, you’ve got to make it creative, you have to make it very open-ended, and you have to put it in a context where they can see the benefit of it,” she says.

Susan Bowler will be presenting at the 2016 EduTech conference, Monday, May 30 and Tuesday, June 1, at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Read more:

EduTech 2016: STEM and girls – Education Matters magazine, 2016

Lifting our Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) Skills – Australian Industry Group report, 2013

The Decline of STEM studies in Year 12 and Constraints to University Engineering Studies – Engineering Australia policy note, 2015