Designing for a Sustainable Future

Designing for a Sustainable Future

By: Alanna Wellwood, Head of Learning and Innovation

Children and youth enjoy the deepest learning when they have the freedom to engage in real-life problems within multi-disciplinary teams.

The future is not what it used to be — but it can be what we make it. As educators, one of the challenges of crafting a truly exceptional education stems from the fact that our students and new graduates are stepping into a very different world than what we may have experienced. The concept of Gig Economies or temporary contracted positions, while not altogether new, has seen a recent surge in popularity, and ensuring that every student of Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School (STS) has the tools and resources they need to thrive in any number of diverse environments is more important than ever before.

The Design Thinking Process is one of the key tools that we’re using to prepare our STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) students for this bold future. It consists of a framework of five steps: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. Everyone in the IB Programme, from Primary to Diploma, uses these steps when searching for a solution to a real-world challenge. Children and youth enjoy the deepest learning when they have the freedom to engage in real-life problems within multi-disciplinary teams, and it is therefore the role of our teachers to help students discover community-relevant challenges that they are naturally connected to, and then use design thinking to approach these subjects in a new and effective manner.

Our new K-2 outdoor play structure provided an excellent opportunity for our Grade 1 students to explore and invest themselves in every step of the design process. STS students are taught from an early age to lead with empathy, and the same is true of the Design Thinking Process. By first empathizing with the needs of the end user, students were able to define all of the layers of a problem before offering suggestions. In this case, they visited playgrounds in Okotoks to gain design inspiration before progressing to the prototype stage, in which we built physical models, interviewed experts, and managed our budgets and bills of materials through an in-class hardware store. These designs were later showcased, or ‘tested’, at an in-class Innovation Fair and valuable feedback was gathered. Students participated in an official playground groundbreaking, and they will be present at the official unveiling as well — memories that they are sure to cherish for years to come.

Our Middle and Senior School students had their own opportunity to apply design thinking to their studies. Grade 9 and 11 Design Technology and Innovation (DTI) students partnered with 3dPHC, a Calgary start-up founded by President and CEO Ed Macnab, to create digital and physical models of a 3D printed, sustainable concrete housing solution for Calgary families. Grade 9 students applied their scientific knowledge and CAD skills to this challenge, while Grade 11 students used their advanced modelling simulation skills to propose industry-calibre designs. In June, 3dPHC panelists convened at a sustainable design symposium at which students pitched their prototypes and received feedback. We are pleased to announce that the winning prototype will be featured on the company’s gallery page as a potential design that could be built. In addition to this, DTI students designed and manufactured a number of complementary sustainability projects: digitized home farming solutions, flat pack furniture, and even back-yard, open-source chicken coop designs. 

While the impacts of the pandemic are still being felt by everyone in the academic community, we believe that the antidote lies in giving young people the space and guidance they need to find action-driven solutions to the complex problems facing our communities. After all, the success of our future lies in their hands.