For Erin Donoghue, who teaches at Burnside Primary School, a growth mindset is about regarding intelligence as something that increases and develops through challenges. “It’s about having a positive attitude when faced with problems and not giving up when first you fail,” she says. “It’s a way of thinking that we encourage in Year 2 pupils and beyond.”

Discovered by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, this growth mindset is part of the school’s vision to create intellectually stretched, self-directed and powerful learners. Situated in the metropolitan suburbs of Adelaide, South Australia, Burnside educates 800 children. “Many of our children are perfectionists and are reluctant to try new things if there is a chance they may not get it right,” says Principal Susan Copeland. “That’s why showing them that making mistakes is an important part of the learning process and finding a solution may not always happen on the first attempt.”


Creativity in action

The Australian Curriculum is the basis for learning at Burnside, which was first opened in 1869. But the school also uses novel approaches to encourage its pupils to learn about problem-solving, such as 3D printing. The children were set a task of designing a special creature inspired by the picture book The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires. The story’s heroine is a girl who eventually succeeds in inventing a “magnificent thing” after failing many times. “The book’s message is that it’s okay to make mistakes,” says Donoghue. “So we discussed that issue then handed the children some plastic filaments and asked them what they would design.”

Once each child had come up with a fantasy creature, the next step in the learning process was to vote on the best design, make it with the 3D printing design software, then swap the end result with another school. The pupils chose a beast called Spiky, according to Erin, whose superpower was his spikes. “It was fun because the octopus created by the other school spent a week with us and in return we received pictures of Spiky enjoying maths lessons and getting up to all sorts of exploits.”

There was, however, a deeper message behind the 10-week project. The pupils were encouraged to discuss problems that exist in the wider world, pick one and then outline how they would use 3D printing to tackle it. The level of ingenuity behind the solutions they came up with took Donoghue and her colleagues by surprise. One child with a protein deficiency designed a “protein catcher” – a device that would enable him to eat meat. Another with cerebral palsy devised a flexible gripper so he could hold things effectively.


Prepared to succeed

Employing teamwork to find solutions was another important quality that the children learned by working in groups. The project demonstrates how Burnside is committed to equipping children at a young age with the skills they will eventually need in an ever-changing workplace. “We don’t know what jobs will exist in the future,” says Copeland, “but problem-solving, persistence and co-operation is essential for their future success.”

As she points out, it is not just about students working together on ideas and becoming learners – it is the teachers as well. At Burnside, everyone benefits from forward-thinking values. As Copeland and her team know, the ability to succeed and advance in life is often all in the mind.