Sustainable education win for Armidale students

NSW Department of Education

The future of the planet just took a step towards greater sustainability with the winners of the NSW Department of Education’s Game Changer Challenge announced for 2021.

Passionate advocates Emelia Kelly, Alma Kanety, Adrika Bagchi, Nyla Chemane and Rachel Gooley from Armidale Secondary College took out the secondary school prize in the advocate stream for their proposed primary school environmental education program.

“We think education has so much power. If people can learn about sustainability, they can act on it,” said Alma.

The team believed that primary school children need to be better taught about the consequences of inaction on the environment, and developed a program that also incorporated take home activities to enable the learning to continue with families.

Some of the home learning ideas included low water use challenges and plastic-free lunchboxes.

“Everyone we surveyed about the program was really positive,” said Nyla, revealing that their teacher was approaching local primary schools to trial the Environmental Learning for Kids program in 2022.

The Game Changer Challenge encourages students to develop critical and reflective thinking skills while collaborating in a team by solving a real-world ‘wicked’ problem. This year, almost 400 teams of students were asked to tackle the problem of humans having unlimited needs, but the planet having limited capacity to satisfy them.

Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning, Sarah Mitchell congratulated the winners for their originality and innovation.

“The students from Armidale Secondary College are role models in their school and community. With their creativity and enthusiasm for sustainability, I have no doubt our future is in safe hands,” Ms Mitchell said.

“They’ve embraced the design thinking and future-focused skills that have enabled them to become creative problem solvers and I can’t wait to see the impact their [creativity/advocacy] brings in years to come.”

“I also congratulate the winners in the three other categories, and the teams who made it to the finals.”

The other winning Game Changer teams were:

· Secondary Create winner: Orange High School for a filtration device to allow water reuse in a washing machine

· Primary Advocate winner: Jerrabomberra Public School for reducing single use plastic at their school

· Primary Create winner: Nowra Public School for recycling clothes to provide dignity by replacing bibs for people with disabilities

About the Game Changer Challenge

The Game Changer Challenge has its roots in the design thinking discipline.

Design thinking is a human-centred approach to solving complex problems, with empathy and collaboration at the heart of the process.

The five-step process starts by encouraging problem solvers to walk in the shoes of those experiencing the ‘problem’ to gain a deeper insight into the challenges and issues they face (empathy).

This knowledge is then used to develop a clear problem statement (define), work on solutions (ideate), turn these solutions into tangible products (prototype) and then see whether the solution will work (test).

Teams submit a video application, outlining their approach to the problem. Those with the best pitch ideas are selected to compete in a one-day intensive virtual workshop where they learn and apply the processes they need to undertake in solving the wicked problem.

They are guided through the process by expert facilitators and a series of videos produced with thought leaders in technology and innovation. Professional development in design thinking is available for teachers.

Teams were able respond in either the Create stream or the Advocate stream.

Teams who selected the Create stream devised a product-based solution to answer: “How might we transform discarded items into something useful, beautiful or upcycled?”

Teams who selected the Advocate stream undertook action research, creating social change through Implementation Thinking and persuading others by answering: “How might we rethink the use of single-use plastics in our community?”

Almost 400 submissions were received for this year’s challenge with 96 teams participating in the virtual heats across NSW.

Judges for the final on 15 December 2021 were:

· Michelle Mandl-Keating, Communications and Engagement, TOMRA Cleanaway

· Sophie Taylor, Creative, Canva

· Professor Rosalind Dixon, UNSW

· Melinda Haskett, Director, School Performance NSW Department of Education

· Darren Goodsir – Executive Director, Communication & Engagement, NSW Department of Education

· Joachim Cohen, Schools Technology Innovation Lead

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