AutonoMate is a new Digital Technologies curriculum resource for Years 9-10 that aims to activate student design thinking around the future of transport.
Possums are better off dead, for the sake of New Zealand’s wildlife. Most people would agree but mashing that thought into the global debate around autonomous vehicles was the creative leap taken by a high school student in Queenstown.
Last year, the NZ Transport Agency’s Innovation Lab visited Wakatipu High School for an AutonoMate workshop on future transport.
“This particular student came at the topic from very real concerns about the environment, but not in a way anyone expected,” explained Fiona Millar, the Lab’s Community Lead. “He wanted to know if an autonomous vehicle would be able to recognise and avoid his pet cat, but still do its bit by hitting possums on the road.
“I don’t think anyone working in this field had thought of that.”
Full curriculum resource
This exchange exemplifies the aim of the Lab’s AutonoMate education programme, to get the next generation involved in our collective conversation about the future of transport and mobility, says Millar.
AutonoMate has now morphed into a full curriculum resource for Year 9-10 students, free to download from the Transport Agency’s Education Portal.
“The resource integrates Digital Technologies progress outcomes with achievement objectives in English and Social Studies, all woven into an open-scope design thinking project about the challenges and opportunities of emerging mobility technologies. Think self-driving cars modelled by robotics kits or virtual learning environments plus context-driven provocations beforehand and prototyping and presentations afterward.”
The Lab’s goals for this curriculum resource include fostering a long-term sense of engagement in young people, especially around STEM careers and their application toward societal problem-solving.
“We would love to see a bigger pipeline of people wanting to not just upskill in technology but apply themselves in the public sector on those big systemic challenges around the environment and access and safety.”
The AutonoMate curriculum resource is written by educational resource developer Andy Crowe. He says it takes students through a design thinking process, and it emphasises the importance of young people learning how to identify which problems to focus on.
“If we’re trying to create a more innovative society in the long run, a big differentiator will be having young people who can solve the right problem, not just work on their own inkling of what it might be. I work with how young people can become problem finders.”
Crowe believes AutonoMate opens up exciting contexts for such learning, such as the ‘first and last mile’ of journeys.
“There’s a gap in public transport, the need to figure out how I get from my front door to the bus stop. Here’s a real problem that companies are trying to make solutions for, so why not put it in front of 14 to 15-year-olds and find their perspective on how it might be solved.”
Managers of ideas
By marrying context to a design process, teachers gain a structure to scaffold student thinking – part of the move from being a fount of knowledge to a more executive role, as Crowe puts it.
“If teachers are more like CEOs, then you can trust your students to be the managers of the ideas that come from the classroom while still holding them accountable. And teachers are good at that, at getting the best out of young people.”
Fiona Millar reiterates that transport is a context that connects with the concerns of young people at a time when their diverse viewpoints need to be understood.
“The future of transport is about impacts on sustainability and the environment; about choice, accessibility and inclusion; which all allow participation in society,” she added. “We need more diversity in who gets involved in this conversation, and through AutonoMate so far, we’ve seen this age group are ready to be involved. They want to look at transport and mobility in a wider global context of those big issues that many of them feel really passionate about.”
FOR MORE ON AUTONOMATE GO TO EDUCATION.NZTA.GOVT.NZ/AUTONOMATE
FIONA MILLAR IS HAPPY TO DISCUSS ENGAGEMENT EXPERIENCES FOR SCHOOLS AND THE INNOVATION LAB HAS A SMALL SET OF EDISON BOTS THAT CAN BE LOANED FOR THE TECHNOLOGY COMPONENTS OF THE UNIT. CONTACT SAFESCHOOLTRAVEL@NZTA.GOVT.NZ
COMPILED BY WAYNE ERB.