Creativity, design thinking, cross-age tutoring and a real life solution to be developed in designing the furniture for the new Junior School STEAM room (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths)>

A classroom abuzz with excitement and action! I have three Year 6 students advising me of their designs for custom made furniture for their STEAM room (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths). Their design includes the capacity for power outlets and storage, adjustable height for each workstation all set in a round design that allows conversations across the table as well as for those next to others.

Other students are working with three honours students from RMIT University, measuring up the dimensions in order to make a scale model of the room. This will facilitate examining furniture prototypes and seeing how they fit into the room and how they can be set up in multiple configurations. Stuart McFarlane, an RMIT University academic supervises these Industrial Design students, working with our Year 6 student volunteers.

Stuart comments that the RMIT University Honours students are impressive; enthusiastic, creative, not risk averse and keen to carefully listen to the younger students’ thoughts and concepts about how the furniture of the room might develop.

The engagement and energy in the room is palpable. The ideas flow, the conversation is rich with design vocabulary and this is coming from the Year 6 students. What a delight it must be for their creative and dedicated teacher, Birgit Verhagen, Head of Technology, Art and Design at The Knox School. Their supportive Head of Junior School, Heather Ablett, is a driving force, acknowledging the need to create a design mindset in young students and begin the building of their design thinking capacity and technological skills. Maybe one or two of them will follow in the footsteps of their mentors and coaches from RMIT and become designers.

Needs and constraints, uses and audiences, materials, scale and flexibility, storage and structural strength are the phrases I hear flowing in some of the conversations. Learning outcomes that need to be supported. How is Year 1 different in their potential uses of the classroom furniture compared to Year 5? How can we make the furniture suit all sizes? These are the words of industrial design thinking, coming through.
There is much yet to consider. Further meetings and work is planned to answer more questions such as:

How does the age range of Junior School students influence the scale and design of the furniture?
What sort of learning should the furniture explicitly support?
How should students move about the room and use the furniture?
What materials best suit the aesthetic and practical uses of the furniture?

The RMIT University students will work on developing possible solutions, testing them with the Knox students, listening and discussing further possibilities such as:

Adjustable height furniture
Table tops that can be written on and…
Notes that can be retained and stored
Furniture that can be easily moved and possibly collapsed so…
Students can spread out and work on the floor

This talking and thinking will lead to:

Building a model of the room in order to be able to see how the furniture might sit and support the uses of the room
Designing and building furniture models and prototypes and ultimately
Production, installation, use of the furniture and evaluation in situ

This is an example of how schools need to be developing. Building approaches to learning that take real world issues, use resources beyond the school in a collaborative partnership, having students, be they primary aged or Honours level, at the centre of the process. Finding workable and successful solutions. Sounds like an engaging example of an education worth having, of learning personalised.