Mrs. Alanna Wellwood has the daunting task of bringing innovation to the Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School, (STS). This job title covers a wide landscape: education technology, overseeing hybrid learning, and student digital skills mastery, to name a few of her responsibilities. But due to her enthusiasm and dedication to education, she takes all of these responsibilities in stride as she focuses more on the greater outcome than her daily list of duties.
STS, also an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, is using the educational model of design thinking to ground its use of technology – ; the premise is that deep learning is experienced with presenting real problems and real users. Students first learn how to empathize with users and to be problem finders before jumping into the exploration of solutions. Wellwood expanded that change is inevitable—and through this learning process, the goal is to make the school future-proof.
Located in Alberta, Canada, STS is flourishing under this design model and their dedicated faculty. With a 100% college acceptance rate, it’s important to highlight how they are attacking their challenges with fidelity—and how their staff and students align to their goals, especially with the arduous undertaking of teaching and mastering technology.
For the STS educators, having a model of exploring new technology options via unique after school programming has been a successful way to experiment and trouble-shoot without the stress of time limitations and the assessment expectations of the classroom. Educators are invited to take part with students to test out new technology.
“Students who take part in after-school programming are not assessed because it is about exploration. It is also a no-risk PD (Professional Development) opportunity for teachers who get to learn and to watch students interact with the tool prior to classroom use. It allows them to also see the troubleshooting that may be involved, and account for those things in classroom implementation. Furthermore, it creates an expert group of students who can be celebrated and positioned as leaders in the classrooms,” Wellwood explained.
As for a tool or curriculum selection, STS looks for vendors that offer partnerships who allow them to ask questions, and help them continue to foster deep use of the tool, and what the opportunities are.
Wellwood expands, “We said ‘yes’ to NeuroMaker because we offer professional development in a variety of ways — the company supported this approach and when we ran into some questions, we had the right team to ask.”
When asked about teaching technology to the STS students, Wellwood gave the example of teaching Artificial Intelligence (AI) to chronologically young students, which is an arduous subject to master even for advanced learners. She explained, “One of the things that is challenging is helping younger students understand AI. AI is all over the world but needs something accessible. How do you introduce this to a 6 year old and create that literacy? The NeuroMaker products provided a vehicle to introduce both younger and older students alike. What we also look for are tools that can be used across the school with multiple grades, and NeuroMaker allows us to do that.”
Getting back to teaching complex concepts, Wellwood beautifully simplifies, “the younger students learn how it works and why it matters.” This is aA wisdom which can be relevant for every learner.
One of the key elements of design thinking is that it is a human-centered process. The focus is on making people the source of inspiration and direction for solving design challenges, with empathy and radical collaboration. This mindset is built upon the idea that radically diverse multidisciplinary teams will lead to greater innovations than teams that come from the same discipline. This happens at the faculty level as well as the student level at Strathcona.
Wellwood gave a glowing example of how their Kindergarten teacher introduced a problem and let the students take over. She relayed an example of how the teacher wanted to “start simple and ran her car pretty low on fuel. She showed up to school and presented the problem to the students, ‘I almost didn’t make it to school. What should I do?’”Soon, the students were sketching ideas, drawing and making prototypes, such as robots and drones, and although their ideas were varied, they were grounded in understanding the problem. Wellwood continues, “They didn’t know exactly how to solve the problem, but knew they knew solutions existed. This understanding of the world they live in is paramount so that they can problem solve in a meaningful way.”
The students are coached on how to give constructive feedback, even at a young age, to first explain what they liked about the idea and then a suggestion on how to improve.
Yes, you read that right: Kindergarteners had some fantastic ideas on how to solve a daily problem around the world of fuel shortage, and were able to brainstorm with each other in a constructive way.
The innovation doesn’t end there. Wellwood further cited an impressive example of how one of their students wanted to design an accessible playground for all students, and specifically, was designing new components for playgrounds with accessible needs to accommodate differently-abled students. She was using 3D printing and other prototyping measures to show some solutions, which aligns with the ‘Show Don’t Tell’ principle of Design Thinking. As a mindset, “show don’t tell” takes traditional visualization one step further, as it includes sketching, prototyping, digital communication and storytelling.
What’s Next for STS?
The future is indeed bright for STS as they desire to expand their student impact on their community. Wellwood uses the description that their goal is “Blur our borders”–meaning to grow their school as a community model, growing their partnerships, societal impacts, and offering service to their community. “We want to get to a point where the school serves our larger community as a global hub in a natural setting, and we want our youth to be doing authentic work before graduation.”
As for the students, their future is limitless as they are learning the skills and mindsets required to thrive in the gig economy while never losing sight of the need for citizenship.