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Creating Changemakers

Creating Changemakers

For a number of Upper School students in Design Technology (DT) classes, having problems is a good thing.

Since 2017, the DT department has been curating a problem bank – a list of requests and ideas from around the school for design solutions that address real-world problems. These “problems” come from all corners of the school and even span the globe; a recent request came from a participant in the school’s Kalahari Project asking whether students could design a greenhouse that would collect water through evaporation to address irrigation issues prevalent in the South African desert. 

Other problems such as how to store students’ wet rain boots in the Primary School or best showcase a student athlete’s medals, trophies and belts – a significant “problem” given the FIS Warriors’ winning track record – are on a smaller scale, but are nonetheless just as important to their stakeholders.

“The goal of Design Technology instruction is to weave together a series of experiences that result in young people seeing problems – whether in their lives, their communities or in the world – as solvable ones,” says Design Technology teacher, Sarah Moore. The DT problem bank offers students a myriad of opportunities to fulfill this aim and FIS provides state-of-the-art equipment to help bring their ideas to life.

“Students have access to a huge wealth of resources in our labs,” says Design Technology teacher, Robin McIntosh. “We have a wide range of 3D printers that offer options in different materials, a laser cutter, milling machines, virtual reality headsets, 3D scanners, and more.”

Grade 11 student, Gustavo Bianchi Torrealba, who has designed a number of prosthetic hands for e-NABLE, an online global community of “Digital Humanitarian” volunteers who use 3D printers to make free and low-cost prosthetic upper limb devices for those in need, says: “One of the great benefits of having access to all of this [equipment] is that it allows us to learn about a lot of industry standard prototyping devices. It also gives us the opportunity to create much more advanced prototype models.”

To help create a structure for the projects, Design Technology teachers have established the FIS Design Thinking Model, a six-stage process that encourages students to develop a deep understanding of the challenge, clearly define the problem, brainstorm potential solutions, build a prototype, create a fully functioning final product, and then test and evaluate. All projects allow the "cycle of improvement" or "test and evaluation process" to play out many times over, and provide plenty of opportunities for improvements, refinements and iterations.

“The skills students gain while working through the design thinking cycle equips them to be real problem-solvers, ready to go out into the real world with the skills they need to be successful in whatever field they choose,” says Duncan Watkin, Head of the Design Technology Department.

Among the many other impressive projects students have tackled using this process is an augmented reality sandbox for the Primary School. Although the original request was for something that could be used for sensory play, the end result is a high-tech solution that goes far beyond that. What appears to be a normal wooden sandbox can be transformed into a virtual illustration of topography and water flow with the click of a switch connected to a 3D camera, laptop and projector. The 3D camera records the depth of the sand in the box and relays information to a program running on the laptop; the projector then beams colored contour lines and water images onto the sand’s surface, creating mountains, valleys, lakes and rivers. “The sandbox allows students to learn about topography,” says Grade 11 student, Tom Springer, who together with classmates Daniel Holt and Nathan Olbrechts inherited the sandbox project from a group a Grade 8 students. “We can also see how water travels in different landscapes.” Daniel adds: [The sandbox] “is cool to just play around with and is hopefully inspiring to some of the younger kids who are going to take DT in an upper grade see what they can do if they continue on this path.” 

There are currently a number of exciting prototypes in progress in the DT lab, but students are always on the lookout for more real-world problems that need a creative design solution. All FIS community members are invited to submit a “problem” based on a need or design flaw in existing products to: “Essentially, if students can design it, they can manufacture it here at FIS,” says Mr. McIntosh. But more importantly, as Mr. Watkin adds, through the experience, “students are gaining a problem solving mindset, which will give them the structure and format to approach any problems they face in life.”

Ricky Donnelly
FIS World Writer

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