Facing the Challenges of the new Digital Technologies Curriculum

As schools around Australia prepare for the implementation of the new Digital Technologies curriculum, teachers are starting to come to terms with some difficult new terminology, content, and skills. While Western Australian schools have been given two years to implement a slightly more user friendly version of the national Digital Technologies Curriculum, we are facing a number of significant challenges in common with our interstate counterparts.

Challenge 1: Explaining the difference between Digital Technologies and ICT

There is a common misconception that ICT and Digital Technologies are the same, and teachers who haven’t read the curriculum are in for a shock.

While ICT focuses on the use of technology for learning, Digital Technologies focuses on empowering students to be creators, producers, and developers of technologies through the development of computational thinking. 

For example, students use ICT skills when they make movies, podcasts, and digital stories. They develop understandings of digital technologies when, for example, they explore the role of hardware and software in their smartphones;  and when they use computational thinking to code digital solutions to problems – e..g. programming a robot.

A good way of defining the difference is comparing ICT General Capabilities to Literacy Skills, and Digital Technologies to the English learning area.


Challenge  2:  To integrate, or isolate, that is the question.

At the start of 2015, we introduced major changes at my school. In line with the purpose and goals of the ICT General Capabilities in the Australian Curriculum, classroom teachers became responsible for integrating ICT across the curriculum. There were two reasons for this change. Firstly, we believed that learning with ICT should not be isolated in the computer lab, segregated from the rest of the curriculum. Secondly, building our school’s reputation for high-quality ICT and digital technologies programs will rely on the expertise of every member of the school community, from the Principal down. Can schools really afford to reply on one expert? What happens when they leave …?

In our school, many teachers are exploring the power and relevance of ICT and digital technologies to their classroom teaching. I’ve watched teachers become the most excited learners in the room, empowering their students’ creativity and problem solving through digital storytelling, coding, and robotics – and starting to see authentic connections to maths and literacy.

My coaching experiences this year, and discussions with teachers (through Twitter and ISTE), raises an important question in regards to the implementation of the Digital Technologies curriculum.

What is the point of teaching students to collaborate, think computationally, and solve real world problems in one lesson a week outside of everyday classroom learning?

Yes, this may be appropriate for a technologies extension program, but surely these skills are important and applicable for all students, across a range of learning areas?


Challenge 3:  Supporting Teachers’ Engagement with Digital Technologies

The implementation and integration of the Digital Technologies curriculum will be a steep learning curve for most teachers. Some of the concepts in the new curriculum are scarily new, especially the parts about binary language and coding. Yet, others are familiar. For example, we use algorithms for problem solving, cooking, and giving directions / instructions in English , Science, and Maths. We use spreadsheets for collecting and making sense of data in Maths and Geography. These learning activities provide an authentic, relevant context for the integration of digital technologies.

As indicated by the WA curriculum writers, it makes sense to integrate Digital Technologies at the primary level – both through classroom learning activities, and through your library makerspace (if you are lucky enough to have one). If we learned anything from last year; however, it is that teachers are going to need a lot of support, both through collaborative PLCs and resourcing, to become comfortable teaching this new curriculum.

At my school, I have been working as a part-time teacher coach, supporting teachers’ integration of ICT and digital technologies in the classroom. This approach is most empowering for those teachers seeking help to develop their relatively limited technology skills, and those keen to push pedagogical and technological boundaries. I know that most schools can’t afford to fund this kind of role, but I would suggest that teacher relief for collaborative planning, classroom observation, and targeted professional development in Digital Technologies would be money well spent. I’d start by developing the skills and capabilities of a small group of interested teachers across a range of year levels, and then giving them time and space to share their learning with their colleagues. I am hoping to do this in my own school this year – it is just too hard to lead this change process alone.


Challenge 4:  Finding resources and fellow pathfinders.

As we begin our Digital Technologies journey, I take a great deal of comfort in the knowledge that we’re not alone. Around the country, and around the world, teachers are developing resources, activities, and tools that we can adapt for use in our school.

As schools begin their familiarisation and planning with the Digital Technologies Curriculum, it is important to consider what tools and resources they already have available, e.g. iPads; and plan for strategic investment in edtech tools which add value to the curriculum, such as BeeBots, Dash (Wonder Workshop), Sphero, and MakeyMakey. I’d add LEGO EV3 robotics if you can afford them!

For developing skills in computational thinking and coding, there are a range of free resources and communities available online, including:

If you’re interested in developing your understanding of the curriculum, or if like me, you’ve been tasked with leading its implementation, I’d highly recommend connecting with your local ICT subject association, joining Twitter, and exploring the CSER Digital Technologies MOOC. With the rest of Australia (except NSW) implementing this change from 2017 (2018 in WA), things are about to get really interesting!


 I’m learning as I go, and I don’t have all the answers.

Leading the familiarisation and implementation of the new Digital Technologies Curriculum in my school is probably the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my career to date; and I’ve learned some valuable lessons.

You don’t need to have all the answers when you’re starting out. If you can develop a basic understanding of the concepts and tools, don’t be afraid to learn and experiment alongside your students. It took me months to overcome my fear of learning in front of my students and colleagues, but I soon discovered that the more I threw at our girls, the more they came back and surprised me..


 Leading curriculum change isn’t easy, but its worth fighting for.

You will treasure those little moments … Watching a girl who struggles in class successfully code a robot for the first time . Noticing that a group of students have continued the Hour of Code 2015 activities independently through their Christmas holidays. That time I sat down with a Year 5 student and asked her how to explain how she did things I didn’t know were possible with Scratch.

At the end of the day, my students are the reason I teach.

Looking back on a year with @adobevoice

In March 2015, I wrote about an iPad digital storytelling app that was beginning to have a transformational impact on my teaching practice. At the time of writing, I wasn’t aware just how big an impact it was going to have on my Early Childhood colleagues’ practice as well. Over the course of the year, our teachers and students in PP, Year 2, and Year 3 used Adobe Voice extensively, across a range of learning areas.

I love Adobe Voice for its simplicity, and especially how it makes it so easy to find Creative Commons / Public Domain images and backing soundtracks. Our students love it because of its ease of use, especially in pairs (they take it in turns to record a slide). I wrote extensively about our pedagogical approach and suggested teaching strategies in March, and on The iPad Creative Challenge wiki, so I won’t rehash those comments here.

Here are some of our Adobe Voice highlights of 2015: 

Celebrations – Year 2 (Student Blogging Challenge)

Keep Australia Beautiful – Year 3, Persuasive Writing

 Time – Year 3 Maths

 

“Thank You Mr Faulkner” – Year 3 English (Narrative Retell)

Teaching Time with iMovie!

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One of the highlights of 2015 was watching one of my colleagues starting to take big risks with her integration of ICT. In Term 3, I was taken aback by her suggestion that we should teach her students how to use iMovie in Maths, creating movies documenting students’ learning about time.

We worked together to teach students how to storyboard and script their presentations, and gave them some basic instruction in the use of iMovie. The students spent several weeks filming and editing their projects, and some were actively experimenting with the more advanced features of iMovie. We were so impressed with the results that we invited our Acting Principal in for a special screening, and shared the videos with parents on Open Night.

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Bringing Geography to Life with Google Maps & Skitch

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There are times where a chance remark can lead to amazing learning outcomes. The use of Google Maps and Skitch in Year 2 and 3 Geography was one of those occasions …

A conversation about mapping skills led to a suggestion that we take a risk, and see if we could integrate Google Maps (which I know and love) and Skitch (which I’d never used with students) into my colleagues’ Geography unit. We soon had four excited teachers, and some incredibly excited students, learning about “bird’s eye view”, “street view”, voice navigation, and labelling maps with Skitch.

We gave a brief demonstration of how to use Google Maps (looking up our school), and then let students play – looking for their homes and local neighbourhoods. They loved the Voice Search feature, although some soon realised they didn’t actually know their home address … ! Others were a little frustrated that Google apparently didn’t understand them! We also encouraged them to explore Google Street View, and the photos that people upload to Google Maps and Earth.

We then asked students to take screenshots of the map, and gave them a basic introduction to the Skitch annotation tools. In Year 2, students annotated maps of their homes and neighbourhoods. In Year 3, students explored, and annotated photos of the natural and built environments in Papua New Guinea. These are some of the results! (Note: some slight edits / cropping to remove street names).

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Exploring Papua New Guinea

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Next Steps

We were blown away by how quickly our young students learned how to use Google Maps and Skitch, and just how powerful a tool it can be for teaching Geography concepts. We will definitely use it more extensively in the coming school year, possibly in Maths (directions), Science, and Geography.

Please share how you use Google Maps and Skitch in your classes in the comments below!

Experimenting with Popplet in Year 3 Science

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For those who have never heard of Popplet, it is a nifty brainstorming / concept mapping iPad app. While covering a Year 3 science class last year, I asked my students to have a go at using it to describe characteristics of living and non living things. These are some screenshots of the results.

I know this is barely scratching the surface of Popplet’s potential, and it is on my list for exploring further this year. If you use Popplet, or know of some great Early Childhood examples, would you mind leaving a link in the comments? I’d love to show my colleagues. Thanks 🙂
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Teaching, Learning, and Publishing with the @BookCreatorApp!

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Last year, working in a new ICT coaching role, I was determined to introduce our Early Childhood teachers to just a handful of creative iPad apps which they could use across a range of learning areas. We started with Adobe Voice, moving on to Pic Collage, Skitch (in Year 3), and Book Creator.

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of Book Creator – it is an integral part of my new iPad Creative Challenge workshop, which I took to ISTE 2015. I am also lucky enough to be a Book Creator Ambassador, helping to inform its future development.

Over the course of the year, we experimented with the different features of the Book Creator app at a variety of year levels. In Year 1, we used it at the start of the year for Online Safety activities, where students drew pictures of safe online behaviours, and made audio recordings of their learning. I blogged about this in April 2015. As the year progressed, our students and teachers learned how to import photos and videos, how to draw their own illustrations, and make use of the brand new comic book formats!

In Year 1 (Term 4), students worked in pairs to create a Book Creator page showcasing their favourite season, typing a sentence about why they liked it. They uploaded their creations as PDFs to Dropbox, renaming the files with their names for easy identification (and adding their first name to the page). Their teachers then printed them off for classroom display.

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In Year 2, students used the latest (comic strip) version of Book Creator to share their learning with BeeBots. They imported photos, videos, and made (some rather entertaining) audio recordings. I am planning to write another post on this, so I’ll only share a few pictures and one video here!

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In Year 3, one of our best, although somewhat time consuming activities, was a writing project, where students retold a fable and drew the illustrations in Book Creator. It took a little longer than we’d expected, and not everyone finished; however, I think the results are well worth sharing! Click on the links to download as PDF.

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The unlucky penny Maggie

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Looking Ahead

2015 was very much an experimental year for our Early Childhood teachers and students. Now that most of our students are familiar with the use of Book Creator, I am confident that they will continue to surprise us with their creative works and book publishing in the coming year!

If you’d like to learn more about how to use Book Creator, please see The iPad Creative Challenge wikispace.

Adventures with @PicCollage in Early Childhood

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At #slide2learn 2014 in Sydney, an early childhood educator pulled me aside and said that my early childhood teachers would just “love” PicCollage. Unfortunately, I can’t remember who you were; however, I am truly indebted to you. …

Without question, PicCollage was the ‘breakthrough’ app for our early years educators. It was the first app they felt confident using independently, and it featured prominently on many classroom blogs over the course of the year!

In Year 1 Geography, the students were tasked with identifying features in their natural and built environment around the school, using PicCollage to record their findings.

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As part of the Student Blogging Challenge, as an introduction to PicCollage, our students were asked to photograph & share their favourite parts of their school. We had students visiting the Art Room, Chapel, Library, Oval, and more. We taught them how to take photos, and the bare basics of PicCollage – with an expectation that they work it out for themselves. They did so with gusto, discovering features of the app that I hadn’t realised existed.

Later in the year, the Year 2 teacher decided to integrate PicCollage into her poetry unit. We taught the students how to use Google Image Search by License to find Public Domain images, and they created amazing PicCollage Haikus for the Open Night displays. They looked fabulous!

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Thoughts and Recommendations

PicCollage, or the ad-free version PicCollage for Kids, is a simple, yet powerful iPad app which can be integrated into almost any learning area. Students can use it to document their learning, and once you’ve taught them how to share their collages (via AirDrop / Dropbox / Google Drive), they can be very easily printed for classroom display, or posted to your classroom blog. I’d especially recommend PicCollage for teachers starting out with iPads / mobile devices.