Creativity and empowerment through STEAM for Schools program

Leighann Ness Wilson reflects on one of The Cube’s STEAM for Schools programs ‘Prototyping towards an age friendly city: LittleBits’

A few weeks ago we met RoboDog: a robotic companion whose tail lights up and sends a signal for medical attention if it senses its owner is unwell.  We also met the founders of ICU productions who make bionic eyes for the visually impaired and heard a design pitch for a tech-enabled water collection system.


These were just three responses to the question: How might we prototype for an Age Friendly City? This was posed to a group of year 5 students from the Sunshine Coast region during our STEAM for Schools workshop at The Cube.


Asking a class group of 11-year-olds to use empathy begins by examining a series of images and quotes from all over the world taken from The World Health Organization.  Students identify issues, themes and challenges before brainstorming possible solutions.  As per the rules of brainstorming developed by IDEO we encourage our students to practice active listening and collaborate as equals.  We build on the ideas of others; we defer judgement and encourage wild ideas – as they are usually the most fun!

Next we get busy working on prototypes to communicate our design ideas using craft materials and littleBits, interactive building blocks that allow students to create simple and complex circuits using sensors, light, sound and movement.

Recently I attended the Designing for Dementia Symposium hosted by the QUT Creative Industries Faculty.  The overriding message was how design can promote individuality, wellbeing and empowerment.

Cathy Treadaway from The LAUGH Project in Wales demonstrated research that indicates hand-held, playful objects might improve the wellbeing of those living with dementia. Gail Kenning from the University of Technology in Sydney discussed her approach of individualising design by way of considering particular people with particular needs.  This sentiment connected to another presentation on De Hogeweyk’s Village near Amsterdam; a dementia care facility designed with seven ‘house concepts’.  Residents live in purpose-designed houses that emulate and connect to their individual style, personality and lifestyle before dementia.  I’m looking forward to sharing some of these real-life examples with our students in our next Age Friendly City workshop on 9 May.

As a learning experience, Age Friendly City is much more than a bit of creative fun.  Through the process of empathising with and designing for others, I regularly observe our students also experiencing feelings of individuality and empowerment. As we encourage their ideas and applaud their creative problem-solving we are also providing opportunities to connect our students to their own sense of self-worth, the value of which cannot be underestimated.

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