It is May the fourth and the force is strong with Cooktown State School teacher Herman Rijken who is wearing a short sleeved button-up shirt adorned with Star Wars motifs; think Death Stars, Tie Fighters and Millennium Falcons in repeating pattern.
Herman is perched on a barstool in the State Library of Queensland The Library Café sipping a juice. He is in transit to New York to take up an eight-week fellowship as the newly appointed 2018 Queensland-Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian fellow.
The Queensland-Cooper Hewitt Fellowship through Advance Queensland is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for teachers to travel to New York to gain knowledge and experience at the world-famous Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum (CHSDM).
It will not be his first time in the United States as Herman originally hails from Los Angeles; he and his family migrated to South East Queensland when he was a teenager. After high school Herman followed a path into IT in the 1990s, however it was the clarion’s call of helping others learn and grow that led him into a career as a teacher.
When Herman speaks about teaching the word vocation is frequently mentioned. He sees his role as a teacher as more than just a ‘job’. His list of teaching positions in Queensland – Kowanyama, Yarrabah, Redlynch State College in Cairns and Cooktown – is a testament to his commitment to education in regional and remote communities.
In his spare time Herman also runs the Cooktown State School Robotics Club. For the past two years, Herman has taken students to the RoboGames in the United States where they are considered worthy opponents in the world of robotics.
Working as an ICT Coordinator and teacher, Herman uses design thinking as a process to impart information to his students and believes that in the science and technology subjects, design and innovation is pivotal.
His students are asked to reimagine ordinary household items such as the humble sprinkler system and through a design thinking methodology they are challenged to find ways to improve the design and overall practical function.
“I like to inspire them through real or simulated tasks,” explained Herman.
Herman believed the current curriculum can be too prescriptive: “A lot of the curriculum tells them what they should be thinking, and what they should be doing… it forgets about sparking the imagination.”
“It’s hard to teach kids in high schools to think for themselves, but design thinking at least gives them the scaffolding and the structure,” said Herman.
He described design thinking as a framework students can use to explore an idea from beginning to end. His own students are empowered to research and develop low-fi prototypes and with constructive feedback they are able to come up with more sophisticated prototypes to create a viable product.
While in New York, Herman is keen to learn what an authentic assessment piece would look like from the CHSDM perspective. He is also interested in learning how CHSDM conduct educational workshops and how he can run his own workshops in the Far North Queensland region.
His ultimate goal is to bring student designs as close to a real world situation as possible, where senior students are encouraged to be entrepreneurial and are confident to forge ahead with their ideas.
When Herman returns to Cooktown after his sojourn in the Big Apple, expect to hear more from this passionate advocate of design thinking.