Advocating school-based innovation Nurturing future leaders through STEAM Education empowered by Design Thinking
What makes a future leader in today’s fast changing digital era? How should educators prepare the next generation for the challenges ahead?
Rowena Cheung Po-man, Principal of Hong Kong Taoist Association Wun Tsuen School, believes that it is important to develop students’ leadership, sense of civic responsibility and motivation to pursue dreams. As such, the mode of teaching and the teaching team should adapt to cater to the emerging learning needs. In this regard, design thinking is an innovative mindset to inspire creativity, problem-solving skills and empathy in young people. Cheung therefore joined the Design Thinking Certificate Programme for School Leaders organised by the Hong Kong Design Centre to gain a better understanding of the concept.
Through the programme, Cheung realised that the human-centred idea of design thinking encourages people to identify and define problems from the perspectives of users and stakeholders, and that “empathy” is the key. She noted, “If students are taught to be empathic, and to care about and understand others’ needs at a young age, they can certainly contribute towards the community in the future.” So she decided to incorporate design thinking into the school’s STEAM programme.
Train the teachers
Taking the first step is always the hardest part. Principal Cheung knew that training the teachers would be the very first step to introduce design thinking into the campus. Design thinking specialists were then invited to explain the idea to the teachers. “It didn’t work out in the first year as the teachers didn’t know how to apply the concept in teaching though they understand it. For example, they were used to answering students’ questions directly and did not give them the opportunities to use their creativity.”
As a result, a 20-hour workshop was organised for a dozen of teachers in the next year to teach them to apply design thinking in the classroom. “They had to identify unsolved problems in the community during the workshop. That in turn inspired them to use their creativity to explore the solutions and tested their ideas through prototyping.” Cheung added that the workshop equipped the teachers with essential thinking, design and communication tools that can facilitate teaching and stimulate creativity. These tools can be used in the classroom to encourage students to think out of the box.
Identify community needs through synergy with liberal arts
The trend of STEAM education has prompted Cheung to incorporate design thinking into the STEAM programme’s project-based learning process and to strengthen the teaching element. She explained, “The ‘A’ in STEAM represents arts as well as the human-centred Liberal Arts.”
In practice, primary four to six students were divided into teams of five from different grades to complete their projects. They had to visit the communities to identify people’s needs and to work together to find out the solutions so as to strengthen their communication skills, teamwork and leadership. Principal Cheung stressed the importance for students to explore the learning process, “In the past, teachers expected students to give the model answers, but now they will try to find out the answers with the students. Students can play a leading role and are encouraged to think and share their thoughts.”
Angbuhang Hejan, a primary six student who interviewed the seniors in a park with his teammates, noted, “We noticed that many senior citizens seldom use the facilities in the park. Instead, they like to dance, practise taichi and do exercises in the open ground.”
This discovery inspired them to design a sports facility for the seniors. Angbuhang explained, “We developed the design drawings, created a prototype and demonstrated its functions. We also discussed how we might help the seniors without affecting other park users and fine-tuned the design. It is rewarding to come up with a design that can encourage them to exercise more.”
Applying design thinking to building new campus and school culture
In addition, Cheung is also committed to turning design thinking into an integral part of the school culture to manifest the human-centred spirit. As the school will move to a new campus in 2024, she took the opportunity to embark on a design thinking journey with the teachers, students, and parents.
“We organised workshops for our teaching staff and students to collect their opinions about the campus and identify their needs and expectations.” During the workshops, students created their dream campus using LEGO blocks and shared their thoughts with the architects in charge of the project.
Principal Cheung shared that the teachers, students and parents were not only encouraged to express their views about the campus design, students will also be invited to participate in the implementation process to foster a greater sense of belonging. She explained with an example, “We asked the students to ‘upcycle’ some furniture pieces that were no longer in use in the old campus and turn them into something they need for the new school building.”
Under Cheung’s leadership, the school successfully has design thinking applied to teaching and school development. She also wishes to cultivate a positive school culture that encourages teachers and students to practise empathy and think from the perspectives of different users and stakeholders. This approach will inspire creativity and reveal new possibilities in the student development and that of the school. Cheung concluded, “Students will encounter different obstacles as they grow up and the future of Hong Kong’s education will be full of challenges as well. Design thinking shows us that there is more than one solution to a problem, and that possibilities are endless.”