Getting creative with STEM

While much has been made in recent times, of the potential for developments in AI to significantly impact our daily lives, particularly its implications for education and learning, in truth, advancements in technology have long been a disruptor of the status quo, influencing our behaviours, our relationships and our perceptions of the world.

To allow our students to thrive in this increasingly uncertain environment, they will require not only digital technology skills but the ability to apply both analytical and creative thinking to solve complex problems.

Mr Scott Gregory

To promote the development of these skills, students in PLC Sydney’s Junior School are introduced to Design Thinking, a creative, human-centric, problem-solving methodology, widely used in the corporate space, where they learn how to:

  • empathise with users, conducting research to gain a deep understanding of their requirements;
  • clearly define the problem they are trying to solve;
  • generate and assess a broad range of innovative ideas;
  • produce and test models of their solutions to enhance their designs.

Children are typically keen users of digital technology, though for most, it is primarily seen as a form of entertainment, be it playing games and apps such as Roblox and Minecraft or spending time on YouTube. The use of technology to create and build with a purpose, to meet the needs of a specific user, allows us to begin to reframe this relationship, developing the understanding that while technology is most definitely fun, it is also a valuable tool in helping us solve a variety of complex problems.

This year, Junior School students of all ages have used Design Thinking to produce both digital and non-digital solutions to successfully meet a range of needs, such as:

  • Pre-Kindergarten “interviewing” the residents of a fictional town that has no architects to understand what buildings they could create to improve their daily lives;
  • Year 3 dismantling off-the-shelf gardening tools, such as soil moisture detectors, to explore the way they work in order to develop and code their own digital solutions using Micro:bits;
  • Year 6 using digital 3D modelling tools and Virtual Reality to create and assess fauna crossing designs to help wildlife safely cross busy motorways.

This approach has also led to external recognition, with a particular highlight being the performance of our Year 5 girls, Olivia Jolly, Alexandra Martyn and Alice Minzlaff who competed in this year’s RoboCup SPIKE Prime robotics competition. SPIKE Prime is a LEGO product designed specifically for education settings, using LEGO and LEGO Technic, while also including an array of motors and sensors that can be coded using block coding.

The central idea of this year’s competition was robotic animals, a challenging theme, as it required the girls to model lifelike movements. They created their robot “Leon the Chameleon” to provide an engaging way for children to learn about colours. Leon moves like a real chameleon, walking with the lizard’s signature rocking motion and avoiding obstacles, uses sensors to display the colour beneath him on his LED light and also says various phrases, such as “red apples are red”, to provide verbal cues as the colour changes. Out of approximately 50 entries from NSW, Leon was awarded Third Place, recognising the hard work, determination and skill shown by the girls.

Experiences such as these position our Junior School students to consolidate and build upon these “future skills” in their later years of learning.

While technology is most definitely fun, it is also a valuable tool in helping us solve a variety of complex problems.

Mr Scott Gregory

Mr Scott Gregory

Technology, eLearning and Innovation Leader, Junior School

Scott came to Teaching after a substantial career in Accounting and Banking, primarily on the technology side. He has a Masters in Teaching and says of teaching: 'I absolutely love the impact that you can have on your students’ lives. Primary school is such a formative time for our girls, and to be one of the people that gets to help them discover the world and how they fit into it is a real privilege. Not many jobs offer the sheer joy of being a teacher!'