What were you doing when you were 17? Perhaps, like me, you and your friends were wading through the eerie Dustwallow Marsh in search of Onyxia’s Lair, or perhaps competing in the Bigpond Game Arena Counter Strike ladder… no, just me? Okay, that’s fine. I’m old.
Now while all of that was pretty cool… it really doesn’t hold a bar to what 17 year old Illawarra Grammar School student Macinley Butson is doing. Macinley is the type of person you read about and then go into a deep reflection trying to figure out what exactly you’ve spent your time doing – because this total badass has not only been named NSW Young Australian of the Year, she is literally creating life altering technology!
Among her many creations is a shield that significantly improves protection for women from radiation during breast cancer treatment and a system that dramatically improves the effectiveness of solar panel technology.
Labelled “a rising star in the male-dominated world of science” and unaided by the schooling system, Macinley has only been able to develop her projects in her free time.
At a TEDxSydney and Acer panel, Macinley took a swing at the current education system saying “We need an education system that has been revamped. Allow us to be critical thinkers and use inquiry-based learning because the schools are currently not fostering curiosity.”
“Year 11 and 12 is far too outcome-based and I Can say that from perspective” she continued.
Macinley believes the current schooling system judges students based on how well they can memorise a definition or formula and apply that specific example repeatedly.
“One example is chemistry class. We have to memorise liquids, solids, gases and the changing of state. But I have to memorise that in relation to refrigeration and if I don’t mention refrigeration in my exam, I won’t get the marks,” she said.
“There’s something seriously wrong. I know that’s a broad example, but I can’t take that knowledge and apply it to different situations.”
“Someone who is an IT person doesn’t stand next to a plumber and tell them how to do their job, so why is the government telling teachers how to teach?”, she asked.
Macinley says the evidence for success in allowing students to think freely and think outside the box could be in her “Smart Armour”shield. A shield made of copper that can be used to protect breast cancer patients’ non-treated breast while undergoing radiotherapy.
When taking her findings that copper provided 20 per cent more protection from radiation reaching the non-treated breast than the traditional lead aprons, her supervisor was suspicious and told her to continue running tests.
“It was a perfectly reasonable response when you get findings that contradict expectations of society and what’s been put out there before,” she said.
However, upon proving her findings were accurate, the technology has since been implemented for use by not-for-profit integrated cancer treatment centre Chris O’Briend Lifehouse at RPA Hospital Sydney and could see a roll out to other hospitals across the country as soon as this year.
Macinley said this is an example of why we need to be thinking outside the box and go against what is currently established. She added that schools are incredibly slow at implementing emerging technologies such as augmented, virtual and mixed reality.
“Unfortunately, I haven’t seen this in school at all – it’s something people my age at the end of high school will miss out on. Obviously it starts back at primary school and starts with getting people curious and interested at a young age in the technology we have emerging.”
Head of professional development and learning, Steve Iuliano demonstrates to schools exactly how technology can be integrated into the classroom while achieving curriculum-based outcomes.
Steve works to demonstrate to teachers the benefits of technology in the classroom, however says the real difficulty lies is convincing government officials and captains of industry.
“We need to start thinking outside the box and looking toward the future, while making sure we are not neglecting traditional methodologies of the classroom,” he said.
“You still have to write, you still have to type, but the focus needs to move to a new level of augmentation.
“We need to modify the learning environment and completely redefine how the classroom might look when we do things previously impossible before we had technology.”