Giving it a go

Head of the Centre for Innovation at St Margaret’s College, LINDA CHONG speaks fervently about inspiring girls to ‘give it a go’ when it comes to technology and innovation. By KATE BARBER

The astounding pace of technological change means that many of the jobs that young people will do in the future have not yet been created. However, when it comes to preparing girls for the world beyond school, one thing we do know, says Linda, is that they need to be creative, flexible and collaborative, and to take risks.

The Centre for Innovation at St Margaret’s College is a space dedicated to exploring the possibilities of digital technology within, across and beyond the curriculum. It is the realisation of the school’s determination to inspire and empower girls from Year 1 to Year 13 to ‘give it a go’.

The Maori principle of ako – where teacher and learner discover and problem-solve together – underpins the school-wide approach to integrating technology. “It’s about teachers and students learning alongside each other.”

Emerging applications of technology present opportunities for embedding and extending subject-specific learning, and Linda’s role involves working alongside teachers to help integrate technology and innovative thinking into existing teaching and learning programmes.

The STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – are a natural fit; however the applications are limitless, she says. Art students in Years 5 and 7 have been experimenting with laser-cut wood patterns to create layered prints inspired by nature, for example.

The youngest members of the school community have been engaging with ‘computational thinking’ through an ‘unplugged’ module – making fairy gardens following pictorial sequences. “Through this we have introduced our Year 1 girls to concepts like ‘debugging’”, says Linda.

Linda is passionate about tackling the lack of confidence some girls feel about taking risks. “We see girls struggling with perfectionism and avoiding taking emotional risks in case their work isn’t good enough. They need extra support to adopt an ‘I can’ mindset.”

Teaching Product Design and 3D Printing, she introduces girls to the concept of ‘failing fast early’, which involves seeking feedback early in the process, acknowledging failings and then moving forward. Doing this in a safe, non-threatening space, girls are able to embrace new possibilities, while growing confidence and resilience. The ‘process and progress made’ is far more important than the actual end product, says Linda.

At St Margaret’s College ‘more and more people are catching the bug’, role-modelling to others how exhilarating and rewarding it can be to try new things and share your passion. Co-curricular clubs in Coding, 3D Printing, Internet of Things, Robotics and Makerspace are starting up, some facilitated by students. “At TechFest some of our Year 9 and 10 girls ran workshops on Robotics”, says Linda.

The Centre also runs programmes for the community, ranging from teaching grandparents how to use devices so they can relate to their grandchildren’s activities to funded programmes for students from low decile schools to come and tinker, create and learn.

The school’s approach to integrating and exploring technology is as much about growing an “I can” mindset as it is about developing a specific skill set when it comes to applications, and together students and teachers are exploring the untold possibilities.

Linda Chong received an Honours Award at the 2018 Independent Schools of New Zealand (ISNZ) Awards held in June for her outstanding contribution to Technology and Innovation at St Margaret’s College.