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How New Zealand Unlocks the Potential of Student Inventors

From making a wind turbine to inventing a sports whistle for hearing-impaired athletes, students at a New Zealand school learn by working on projects that have a meaningful impact on the world.

Technology teacher Marc Rowlinson explains how real-life projects help his students develop the skills they’ll need for the future.

Technology teacher Marc Rowlinson is showing students at a New Zealand school that you don’t have to wait until you’re an adult to become an inventor.

Marc’s students at Northcross Intermediate School (for students aged 11-13) in Auckland are putting their learning into practice by working on projects that make a real impact on the world.

One 13-year-old student created a wireless sports whistle for hearing-impaired athletes – and now plans to patent her invention.

Others are making a wind turbine, creating a device to detect plumbing leaks and developing a laser-cut coin sorter.

“Real-world projects help children develop confidence, critical thinking, problem-solving, resilience and the ability to collaborate with others,” says Marc.

“Real-world projects help children develop confidence, critical thinking, problem-solving, resilience and the ability to collaborate with others.”

“Those are the skills that all the big global companies want in their employees. Our students get a head start by developing them early.”

New Zealand’s style of learning is hands-on and practical, with students encouraged to ask questions, think for themselves and come up with their own ideas.

It’s one of the reasons New Zealand was ranked best in the world at preparing students for the future by The Economist Intelligence Unit in 2017.

Marc is originally from the UK and came to New Zealand to train as a teacher in 2012. During his studies, he spent seven weeks gaining practical classroom experience at Northcross Intermediate, where he was offered a job after graduation.

Marc aims to seamlessly integrate technology into children’s learning.

To learn about measurements, for example, students recreated the entire school in the 3D modelling programme SketchUp and uploaded it onto its exact footprint on Google Earth.To study statistics, students played the sharemarket with virtual shares.  

Learning is becoming increasingly personalised at Northcross Intermediate, with students designing their own projects using creative tech tools such as microcontrollers, 3D printers, laser cutters and Makey Makey, an invention kit that enables users to connect everyday objects to computer programmes.

“The students say what they want to do, and I work with them to help them achieve their goals. As a teacher, it’s very satisfying to inspire a child to explore an interest that might end up shaping their lives,” says Marc.

"The students say what they want to do, and I work with them to help them achieve their goals."

Personalised learning is made possible by the New Zealand Curriculum, which gives each school the freedom to design programmes to suit the specific needs of its students.

“Having a flexible curriculum rather than having to teach out of textbooks is a true blessing. There’s no need for rote learning any more: learning should be about problem-solving and piecing information together to get the outcome you need,” Marc says.

“There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing the excitement on a child’s face when they realise they have figured something out.”

Ironically, Marc hated school when he was growing up but fostered a love for learning outside the traditional classroom context. He now loves coming to school each day, and believes New Zealand is an amazing place to gain an education.

“In New Zealand, children are still regarded as children. They have the freedom to explore and have fun while they learn. That is pretty special and pretty cool.”

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By Linley Boniface

Updated 3 years ago

Linley Boniface is a contract writer for Education New Zealand. She is based in Wellington, her favourite city in New Zealand. A former journalist, Linley spent a year in Montreal, Canada, as a secondary school student. 

*Views expressed are the blogger's own
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