Design thinking for educators and students


Wintec trialled a Design Thinking for Educators course last month, aimed at showing the processes engineers work through. Teachers returned a week later to support students working on a Design Thinking Challenge, and will trial this approach themselves back at school.

Design Thinking for Educators course

The Secondary-Tertiary Pathways Project (STPP) team invited Rototuna Senior High School and Hamilton Girls’ High School to participate in a trial professional development course – Design Thinking for Educators. They asked each school to select five teachers from different learning areas to attend the course. They included Technology, Geography, Maths and Science teachers, a principal and deputy principal.

Rototuna staff are familiar with some aspects of the design thinking approach. It’s a new school which includes project-based learning – impact projects – in the curriculum. The skills students learn through these projects align with design thinking processes. Teachers also collaborate on learning modules, where two teachers from two learning areas teach together. Jenny Mangan, specialist curriculum leader – Technology, says she has worked on modules with a PE, Maths and English teacher this year.
Case study: Project-based learning: impact projects

While Hamilton Girls’ runs a more traditional curriculum, Deputy Principal Craig Scrimgeour says the school is keen to incorporate activities which engage students with STEM subjects and careers.

Preparing teachers to support students

Dallas Snape, Communities Portfolio – Product Manager led the course at Wintec’s new *Design Factory.  She discussed the design thinking processes, then ran activities where the teachers used these skills.

The one-and-a-half-day course finished with a presentation of the Design Thinking Challenge. Five Year 10 students from each school would come to Wintec for a day, where they would work in school groups to design a solution to the challenge.

The STPP team asked the teachers to select students with different types of personalities, to emphasise that collaboration underlies the design thinking process and can involve diverse approaches to problem-solving.
*Wintec joins global Design Factory community

Industry input to the challenge

The STPP team is keen to involve local engineering firms in their initiatives – to show students how what they’re learning is applied in industry, and highlight local career opportunities. They asked Niall Fuller, from Hunter Filling Systems, to provide a problem for the students to tackle.

Niall gave an overview of what his company does and showed video clips of their filling systems in action. After explaining the thinking that goes into designing solutions for their customers, he set the challenge.

Working as a team to find a solution

Each group had to design a process to fill a bottle with disinfectant.  They had to ensure the correct amount of liquid got into the bottle, and that it didn’t foam. Niall provided a selection of nozzles for the students to use. They had four and a half hours to design and test the models, then trialled their prototypes on a filling machine that Niall brought in.

Teachers were on hand to support the students, making suggestions where necessary. At the end of the challenge each group had to explain the thinking that had gone into each stage of their work.

Working in groups reinforced that engineers don’t work in isolation, although they might have individual tasks to perform. Students also learnt that it’s okay to try things out and fail, but that decisions have to be made during various stages of the process.

Taking the design thinking process back to school

The teachers were enthusiastic about taking the design thinking process back to school. Rototuna staff saw how this approach will enhance what they are doing, while Hamilton Girls’ teachers could use it to introduce more project-based STEM learning at school.

The teachers will each run a classroom Design Thinking Challenge, with support from the STPP team. Refresher sessions will be provided if needed, and if the opportunity arises the team will look to involve an engineering firm.

Running another Design Thinking for Educators and Students programme

STPP Programme Leader Emily Allison says the team is looking at running another Design Thinking for Educators and Students programme in 2018. This is planned for earlier in the year, to give schools more time to implement and reflect on their Design Thinking Challenge.

Engineering taster days

In Term 3, the team ran three engineering taster days. The day focused on electrical/electronic engineering, with students working on activities using Circuit Scribe Kits; and on mechanical engineering, which included two CAD and 3D printing sessions: CAD and 3D print metal jewellery, and CAD and 3D print polymer catapults.

Emily developed a workbook to go with this, ensuring that each activity linked to curriculum material that students would already be familiar with.  She says the taster can be changed so that it suits Year 10 or Year 13 students. It can be delivered at Wintec again or possibly at schools, if they have enough computers available.

Continuing the Integrated Engineering Programme

The Year 12/13 Integrated Engineering Programme is progressing well. “We’ll tweak it slightly for next year,” says Emily, “to focus more on directing students onto a New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE) or Bachelor of Engineering Technology pathway.”

“Some students are looking for apprentice roles and we’re supporting them with that. We suggest, however, that they apply for provisional acceptance into the NZDE programme, so that they have a backup plan if that doesn’t work out.” Emily notes that a lot of students on the course now appreciate that they would only have to do two years’ study to gain an internationally recognised qualification.

The team is looking at other ways to include more schools in the programme. One idea is to have some students enrol to do one paper, starting in Term 2, and attend one morning a week. This is very much in the early stages of planning, so more likely to be implemented in 2019.

Case study: Building on success
Case study: Extending successful secondary-tertiary initiatives
Case study: Secondary/tertiary engineering programme

Our thanks to Emily, Dallas, Jenny and Craig for their time and advice; if you have any queries please contact

November 2017