TEACHER Kylie Burrett had just finished her Masters of Education when she noticed a "fundamental gap" in the visual spatial ability of primary-aged children.
Prior to teaching, Ms Burrett worked for ABC TV in communications and consulted on media strategy and product development for Keith Chapman, the creative brain behind Bob the Builder and Paw Patrol.
"I worked with global industry creators and came to the other end of the pipeline to work with children and saw this fundamental gap in their ability to visualise their ideas," she says.
In the classroom, she observed kids "simply drawing what they thought was a pretty picture" without "drawing to think".
"There had been a massive decline in quality of process and thinking," she says, adding that a child using a device "outsources their ability to the device, and if you do that too early, kids don't have the same neural pathways set up between the head, heart and hand.
Discussing it with her teacher husband Glenn, she developed the Splat, a small, plastic device she labels "a world-first junior engineering tool".
Sponsored by Engineering Australia, it is designed to stimulate critical and creative thinking and visual problem solving.
"Our whole world is based or designed on four basic shapes - the cone, the cube, sphere and cylinder - and the Splat! creates all four of those shapes in 3D, teaching children how to visualise, connect and design," she says.
Through her company, Nuts n Bolts Design, Ms Burrett is sowing The Splat seeds to gain recognition for a product, recently winning the "people's choice" vote for it at Hunter iF's Pitch X competition.
She says the number one predictor for success in STEM learning is visual and spatial ability, an area that is also the number one cognitive difference between boys and girls.
"The Splat helped me and is as much for teachers as the kids. Supporting teachers to visualise or design in 3D is key to helping them develop their own visual spatial ability, making them more confident to assist their students develop this future-focussed skill set." [Teacher tutorials on The Splat are online].
Ms Burrett hopes to take the Splat to the global market, with applications beyond education.
"We are looking to develop skills in students that can't be automated. That's how we can safeguard our region. If we can do that here, the ability to critically and creatively think, they are less likely to lose their jobs," she says.
"Design remains one of the hardest skill sets to automate because it requires empathy, understanding and creativity."