Case Study Sharing: Secondary Schools

Tim Parker, Head of Product Design & Engineering, ESF Island School

Prof Catherine K K Chan, Professor of Practice, Faculty of Education, University of Hong Kong, moderated the sharing panel on design thinking applications in secondary schools with:

  • Tim Parker, Head of Product Design & Engineering, ESF Island School
  • Henry Siu, Head of Assessment and Associate Head of the Academic Affairs Committee, Good Hope School
  • Ilona Taimela, Education Consultant, Helsinki Education Consulting Group


Parker said opportunities for design thinking starts with a problem, quoting his experience of working with his students to address Hong Kong’s plastic pollution problem. They started with Parker’s favourite question “What if…” to explorer different possibilities. They built their own plastic shredder and extruder machine using open source materials, then used their creativity and turned the plastic to different products that can be used in daily life.

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Parker advocates a free learning model where students are not taught content, but resources are made available for them to go and explore different avenues. He introduced the idea of establishing a creative hub or maker space in schools to encourage students to start their own design journey. His school’s curriculum supports the idea of “not teaching from the front” and allows students to work on different projects. Parker underscored that “failure is a part of learning”. We all learn from making mistakes.

Henry Siu, Head of Assessment and Associate Head of the Academic Affairs Committee, Good Hope School

Good Hope is a girls school. Siu has the challenge of motivating his students’ interest in mathematics. He participated in the HKDC’s design thinking training programme for educators last year and applied his learning to redesign the Math lessons. He used design thinking tools to understand students’ pain points, such as asking students to “write a love/break up letter to math” and developing a user journey map to document students’ reactions to find out what motivated them and what bored them. Based on his findings, he came up with the question of ‘how might we make the math lessons much more interesting and interactive.”

Siu then re-designed the lessons to include questionnaires to understand students’ personalities and develop tasks based on their types. He introduced interesting games and group work to engage students, and relate Math with their daily lives. He also introduced a systematic approach of solving Math problems. He was pleased to see the changing attitude of his students as a result. He attributed the change to the students having a more positive experience in learning math. He also emphasised the importance of communications between teachers and students and figuring out their common goals, whereby students know that their opinions and feelings are treasured, and at the same time understand the difficulties of teachers. He added that obtaining continuous feedback in refining the process was also essential.

For this academic year, Siu made an effort to memorise the names of his students before the class and jotting down the individual needs of students using a small note book. He stressed that “learning motivation is more important than the outcome” and “companion is a key element in learning”. He concluding by asking participants to reflect on the question of whether educators should focus on the instant outcome or how far the students can go in the future.

Taimela explained how her country’s National Core Curriculum guided teachers to promote holistic development, focusing on not just knowledge and skills, but also values, attitude and will. She emphasised that of all the core competencies, it was imperative that educators enhance student’s ability to learn how to learn.

Ilona Taimela, Education Consultant, Helsinki Education Consulting Group

Taimela shared that Finnish students learn both material design (products) and immaterial design (services, concepts and experiences) solving real life problems. Taking historic, forward and cultural/ethical perspectives, students learn through problem solving, inquiry and phenomenon based learning, process planning, collaboration, ideation, piloting and experimentation. Joy, playfulness and creativity feature prominently in Finnish education, as does transdisciplinary collaboration by teachers.
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Taimela explained that in her country, under the concept of “Eco-Social Civilisation”, students are encouraged to consider the consequences and impact of their activities on other people and the environment, and what they could do for others in school, at home or the wider community. She shared an example from Helsinki, where students used design thinking to tackle climate change at school. They converted old exercise bicycles to recharge mobile devices by pedalling.

Taimela concluded with the fundamental principles of sustainability in design education in Finland: Ethics, Ecology, Economy, Ergonomics, Aesthetics and Open Access.

Prof Catherine K K Chan, Professor of Practice, Faculty of Education, University of Hong Kong

Facilitator Professor Catherine Chan of the University of Hong Kong discussed with the panelists on how government could support design thinking. Siu suggested the Government could offer more resources to educators who expressed an interest in design thinking, such as allowing them more time to understand the students and offering professional coaches. Taimela stressed the importance of having government support in promoting design thinking from her experience of helping the Finnish government to reform the education system. Besides government’s support, Tim shared the importance of having bold leadership, such as dropping some courses and allowing more time for teachers to develop the curriculum according to their passion.The participants were inspired by the panelists to think about the real meaning and value of education. Is it about scores or something much bigger more important? A common thread linking the panelists is the importance of enabling students to develop skills for life and skills as a good global citizen.