Empowering Students to Create Solutions for Real-World Problems

Jun 2021

From fighting climate change to advocating sustainable lifestyles – these are pressing environmental problems that affect our daily lives. At Changkat Primary School, it is common sight to see students conducting research on these environmental issues and building automated solutions to solve them. Students are eager to bring these global problems into their classrooms and embark on a quest to find effective solutions. Three teachers from the school share with us how their students do it at the recent Teachers’ Conference and Excel Fest.

Design Thinking and Computational Thinking

Launched in 2019, the Applied Learning Programme (ALP) at Changkat Primary School (CKPS) focuses on the theme ECO@CKPS, which aims to develop students with an empathic understanding towards issues relating to the earth and environment through design thinking and computational thinking.

To help unlock a students’ potential to create and innovate by applying the knowledge they have learnt in the classrooms to real-world problems, the programme adopts the Stanford’s Design Thinking Model. It has five different stages of design thinking: Empathise, Define (the problem), Ideate, Prototype and Test.

This model involves students conducting research and interviews to gain an empathetic understanding of actual environmental issues they experienced in their daily lives. They then define the problem through a group discussion and engage in an ideation process to brainstorm for solutions. At the last stage of the project, students will collaborate to design and build a prototype before putting their product to test. The prototype-test cycle will repeat until students produce their desired outcomes.

On the other hand, computational thinking refers to the ability to break down complex problems into smaller problems with the help of computers in automating the task. Students can develop this form of thinking during coding lessons as part of the ALP programme.

Subject Head of Innovation Mr Seow Tian Hou explains, “During the coding lessons, we will show students how to create functions and how they can simplify the codes by creating repeated loops using logic statements. In a way, when a student is trying to simplify the codes, they are engaging in one form of computational thinking.”

The integration of design thinking and computational thinking helps create a structured and systematic approach for young students to gain the confidence they need to create human-centric innovations for complex real-world problems.

A Melting Pot of Different Subjects

“We could see that the students are enjoying themselves as they can solve problems in the real-world environment with the knowledge that they gain in the classroom. This is where the joy of learning comes in.”

Mdm Salmi Rahmat, on how ALP programmes encourage the joy of learning among students

Although the ALP curriculum focuses largely on technology and coding, the programme also incorporates a myriad of other subjects into one project task. Subjects such as Science, Mathematics and Art are also integrated into the ALP curriculum.

Science is integrated when students explore the topic of sustainability, and conduct investigations and experiments to test their ideas. Mathematics is incorporated when students deal with logical and rational thinking as they embark on their project tasks. Lastly, Arts is infused into the curriculum in the form of craftwork when the students are creating their prototypes.

Additionally, the ALP curriculum is an effective way to help students see the connection between the knowledge they learn during classes and real-world applications. “We could see that the students are enjoying themselves as they can solve problems in the real-world environment with the knowledge that they gain in the classroom. This is where the joy of learning comes in,” Head of Science Department Mdm Salmi Rahmat shares.

An Overflowing Fountain of Creativity

Since the inception of the ALP programme, CKPS students have produced plenty of creative and innovative ideas such as solutions to mitigate food wastage and designing automated toilet bowl flusher.

Citing a recent example, Ms Peh Jing Er shares that, “when the COVID-19 pandemic heavily disrupted the operations of the schools, many groups of students came up with the idea of automated soap or sanitiser dispenser and automated water tap saver.” This shows that the students are aware of the challenges around them, and they are empowered enough to propose solutions to mitigate the school’s operational challenges. 

CKPS’ commitment to its mission of nurturing creative thinkers and problem solvers extends to almost all its learners. Coding lessons begins for students as young as Primary 1 and the programme continues until the Primary 5 level.

Head of ICT Department Ms Peh shares, “Who knows? Perhaps one of these brilliant ideas that our children came up with might be adopted for a school-wide, or even a nationwide implementation. What is important is that we germinate the seeds of design thinking in our students so they will always want to make our world a better place for everyone.”

The ALP Lesson Structure

The ALP lessons are split into two main difficulty levels. The first level is called the “Exposure/Basic Coding” which serves as an introduction to design thinking and coding techniques. The second level is called the “Basic/Intermediate/Advanced Coding” and it introduces students to a more advanced level of coding together with a task of a higher difficulty.

The first level involves the Primary 1 and 2 students, where they will be introduced to environmental issues and strategies through videos and case studies. Students will also have to attend weekly Information and Communications Technology lessons, where they will learn basic coding such as Awbie Coding and Scratch 3.0 programming. As this is an introductory level, students are only tasked to brainstorm for solutions to an environmental problem and present their ideas using slides or animations.

The second level involves the Primary 3 to 5 students, where they will be introduced to MicroBits coding during their modular curriculum activity periods. At this level, the groups are tasked to create a prototype model at the end of the project. In addition to the design thinking and coding lessons, students also attend art lessons where they will explore how to design aesthetically pleasing prototypes with the functionality of the product in mind.



June 2021

This article is originally from SingTeach.

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