Problem solvers . . . Teachers work through the liberatory design thinking process at Stanford University. Tim Kelly is centre. Photo: Supplied

By Robyn Bristow

Hurunui College teacher Tim Kelly encourages students to be take ownership of their learning.

Mr Kelly, who is head of science at the college, and who has been awarded a BOMA New Zealand Digital Technology in Education fellowship, is helping young people to become problem solvers, through exploring ways of bringing technology and innovative leadership into their school.

He has recently returned from the United States with other BOMA fellows, where they looked at how to create real life projects for students through combining different subjects and giving students more autonomy to solve problems. In particular, the fellows examined the use of the ‘design thinking’ process to create opportunities for students.

They visited businesses like Google X where this kind of thinking was being used, and schools such as High Tech High, where design thinking is a key part of all learning.

The year-long BOMA programme for school educators, which is backed by Christchurch International Airport, is designed to help teachers explore ways of achieving “thinking” students in Canterbury secondary schools, with the outcomes able to be passed on to the wider education community.

Boma New Zealand is part of a global network supporting business leaders, politicians, educators, entrepreneurs, young people, and change makers to navigate the rapidly changing world.

Mr Kelly, however, is now concerned that changes to NCEA announced earlier this month, which are designed to put an emphasis on external assessment, with less internal assessment, may restrict the ability of schools to make learning relevant for students. It is a real slap in the face for those of us teachers who have embraced the intended flexibility of NCEA”.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins in announcing the changes says they are necessary as some young people don’t cover all the learning that is important and there has not been a strong enough focus on literacy and numeracy.

“With these improvements NCEA will become more credible and robust. They will set stronger directions for all students working towards an NCEA,” he says.

Mr Kelly says NCEA has been great because it is so “flexible”.

He is concerned that the current proposals signal “a return to the old school system of external exams, designed to categorise students on a narrow skill-set”.

“These proposed NCEA changes reflect the conservative values of an advisory group based in Auckland private schools, and do not reflect the values of teachers who are trying to shift learning out of the centuries old system of silo-based learning,” he says.

“Employment skills are changing, we need to prepare our students for the reality of future employment.”

“At Hurunui College we are investigating moving toward making learning for Years 9 and 10 project-based, and this will hopefully extend more fully into Year 11 in the near future. This doesn’t mean students can’t sit external exams, but it does mean that the learning towards those exams will be more meaningful for the students,” he says.

An example of a Hurunui College project is where students design electronic possum lures by learning to digitally code electronic microprocessors. They then test their electronic lures against standard lures, using scientific method, in the Nina Valley beach forest.

Mr Kelly is working in his fellowship to share projects like this with other teachers around the country.

During the BOMA fellow’s 10 day trip to the USA the group visited the Stanford University School of Design to learn the process of liberatory design thinking – taking a problem and finding a solution using a process that covers all bases.

“This method of learning has great application in both industry and schools’, Mr Kelly says.

They also visited three schools – HighTech High in San Diego, Palo Alto High School in Silicon Valley and the June Jordan School for Equity in San Francisco.

“These are all schools that have a strong focus on student-led learning, most of which has real life applications,” says Mr Kelly.

“There was always a tangible, useful outcome from the learning,” he says.

One project he particularly liked involved teachers across different subjects working with students to make rockets that will be launched into space.”

Palo Alto High School had its own media programme run by students who managed, funded, and published their own successful community newspaper and magazines, while at June Jordon, a low decile school, there was a focus on self-regulated learning to help build the self-worth of students.

Visits to businesses in San Francisco and Silicon Valley also reinforced why students need to leave school with the skills required for a modern day workplace.

He says although it is important for students to have some knowledge, “in this day and age of Aunty Google, the important thing is to larn how to use knowledge wisely and develop true understanding”.

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