By Daniel O’Hara and Elfyn Jones
The Design, Innovation, Computing, Enterprise (DICE) curriculum at Nord Anglia International School Dubai (NAS Dubai) recently won the International School Awards (ISAs) Innovation and Creativity in Learning category for its novel and creative approach. The award is testament to the work and dedication of the staff, students and school community.
Preparing students for the future
Our world is changing rapidly, and this generation of students need to be prepared for the unknown. Whilst we cannot predict the future, we can fully prepare our students with the skills needed to evolve and develop into leaders of change. The world needs thinkers who can not only be analytical and academic but who can build connections and thereby find unexpected solutions to some of the most pressing global issues of our time. Fundamentally, this is about encouraging students to take risks across disciplines, to think both creatively and synthetically.
The development of the DICE curriculum, which puts creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication (the 4 Cs) at the forefront, allows students to approach real-world problems in a fun and nurturing environment, whilst also developing an entrepreneurial mindset in communicating ideas.
At its core, the curriculum combines design and technology, computer science and business alongside previous bespoke challenges and gives students the autonomy to bring their ideas to life through the use of computer-aided design and physical prototyping.
Design learning challenges and process
In Year 7, students are challenged with designing a wearable device to aid with a health issue such as obesity, allergies or deficiencies. Here, students must delve into their chosen problem to develop a working prototype through the intertwined lessons of design and technology, and computer science. In term 3, the students are introduced to enterprise and marketing skills to maximise the saleability of their product, before pitching their product in an EXPO style pavilion to teachers, peers and the wider community.
In Year 8, the students complete the same process under a different theme involving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They choose an SDG and design an educational game with a programmable aspect and bring it to market by the end of the academic year. By using the SDG, students are drawing on knowledge and applying it to the project from a host of subjects, such as geography, history, languages and, of course, the STEAM subjects.
The spine of the curriculum is the design process, encompassing five strands: empathy, research, develop, test and evaluate. Each strand of the design process is interconnected and develops the product throughout the journey. This is an iterative process that encourages failure and further development. To make the experience as real as possible, students work in teams of four and have specific job roles which act as the adhesive in skill development such as the 4 Cs, problem-solving, and leadership. Combine this with exposure to companies such as Apple and Microsoft on how they use the same process and our students are now seeing the critical importance of the design process in the development of their project.
A more innovative curriculum
The effects of the pandemic have been challenging for all but they have also allowed time for reflection, evaluation and curriculum exploration, leading to a more ambitious way of learning. With the support of the senior leadership team, who are passionate about providing our students with opportunities to be creative and collaborative, we are on a continuing journey to invigorate our curriculum through the spine of innovation.
This journey that we are now on allows us to explore a fresh, innovative, skill-driven curriculum, inspiring students to work collaboratively and creatively to solve real-world problems on our doorstep and further afield.
Next year will see the opening of a newly constructed Innovation Hub at NAS Dubai. The hub has been designed to be a versatile space with research labs, design studios, workshops and collaborative classrooms, as well as makerspaces and enough room for engaging with both community and industry. Moreover, by connecting with the UAE and the GCC network of industrial, educational, civic and governmental organisations, the hub will encourage a new generation of socially responsible student entrepreneurs. Through collaborations with industry, our students will have ample opportunities to be part of internships and accelerator programmes that expose our future leaders to the application of their ideas in the world of work.
The aim of the innovation hub will be to cultivate and nurture the next generation of change-makers and will be used as an incubator for fresh ideas, creative solutions and global impact.
We recommend that schools should start planting the seeds for the International School Awards today! The pace and work intensity in international schools often does not allow time for staff to reflect on their journey in a particular area of the school. This process allows time for colleagues to step back, communicate, evaluate and celebrate successes of the school and community. Kick-start the process today and celebrate the small steps as well as the big leaps.
Tips to evaluate and celebrate school progress, improvement and innovation
Nominating ourselves for the Innovation and Creativity Award gave us the time to connect, reflect and celebrate the work of staff, students and the wider community. Schools are busy places and often we do not get the opportunity to fully reflect on the journey we have been on, to evaluate and celebrate past successes. The ISAs application was a great way for us to not only capture our current position as a school within today’s society, but also to think about the next steps of connecting with our local and global community. Involving the students in the application process is a great way to build relationships, listen to student voice and tweak aspects of the curriculum to improve student experience. Alongside the application we were also asked to create a 30-second video to reflect innovation and creativity at our school. Here our students enjoyed putting their skills to action to showcase the journey DICE has taken them on.
Top tip 1 Don’t be afraid to break the mould. Our world is rapidly changing and we as educators need to change with it. Take risks, let your passion and vision drive the curriculum adaptation, and always allow time to celebrate the work done by all.
Top tip 2 Connect and engage with your community, particularly the parent community who work in a wide range of backgrounds. The parents love to get involved and share their expertise with the students through workshops and assemblies, all of which assist in improving students’ skills and knowledge across a plethora of areas.