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.

#ISTE2015: The most emotional, yet inspiring conference I’ve ever attended

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Photo Credit: @TeachingSC

After a journey of some 30 hours and over 18000km (11,603 miles), I arrived in the United States for my first ever ISTE conference. It proved to be an incredibly emotional, sometimes overwhelming week. Despite the very best advice I received in the lead up to the event, I soon discovered nothing can quite prepare you for a conference with 20 000 plus attendees, over 1000 vendors, and nearly a 1000 workshops and presentations.

In trying to tell the story of my ISTE2015 journey, I’m going to focus on some key themes and experiences which stood out for me.

The power of the Unconference

Arriving in Philadelphia on Saturday morning with my good friend @lparisi, the weather turned nasty – and very wet. Forced to scrap my planned photo walk and city orientation, I immersed myself in the Hack Ed Unconference. Joining halfway though the day, I started meeting people I knew online, some of whom I’d been following for years; and joined group conversations about topics which interested me. I was less thrilled with the after party (I am not your typical party person), but meeting @lynnrathburn and her colleagues there made it all worthwhile.

Global Connections and Collaboration

Judging by the responses to our poster sessions, and the Twitter feed for several big Ignite presentations, connecting and collaborating globally was of interest to many attendees. I thoroughly enjoyed the Global Educators Brunch, hosted by @globaledcon and @VIFLearn; and the Global Education Day event. The brunch was made all the more special as it was the first time nearly all the #globalclassroom project leaders and organisers, from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and all around the United States, were in the same room. Most of us were meeting for the first time after over four years of working online.

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The Global Education Day was interesting, but its most important aspect was the people in the room. To sit alongside and converse with global educators who have inspired, guided, and helped make me the person I am today was an amazing, and very emotional experience.

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Coding and Makerspaces

I must admit this is a particularly big interest of mine at the moment, as I am trying to advise my school on the future direction of our ICT program. I am quite keen to delve into robotics and Makerspaces, and I loved the chance to explore the Maker and Coding playground events at ISTE. I played with Cubelets, shared my experiences with the MakeyMakey, searched for information on LittleBits, Squishy Circuits, and collected as much information as possible about 3D printing. I have plenty of pics, and some big ideas which I’ll be taking back to school.

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The opportunity to share my story & expertise in global education and iPad integration

When I applied to present at ISTE last year, I was well aware that the organisers accept less than half of all applications. I submitted proposals for the Global Classroom Project Poster session, an iPad Creative Challenge Workshop, and joined another poster session focussed on global blogging and the Student Blogging Challenge. To my surprise, I was accepted for all three – which was unusual to say the least!

The two poster sessions were incredible learning experiences, and I thoroughly enjoyed the informal, conversation based format – even though two hours proved utterly exhausting (and a little overwhelming). My workshop was a challenging experience. With just five registrations, four people turned up on the night. One left shortly after it started (I have no idea why), and one gentleman was deaf! Among the challenges was trying to run a group collaborative session with just four people, and working with American Sign Language interpreters to ensure my deaf colleague found the session valuable. I received positive informal feedback in the session, but I’ll admit it was probably the most challenging presentation I’ve ever given.

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Stories from The Global Classroom Project With Lynn Rathburn (USA), Heidi Hutchinson, Betsey Sargeant, Louise Morgan, Robyn Thiessen (Canada), Tina Schmidt, Barbara McFall, Anne Mirtschin (Australia), Michael Graffin, Julia Skinner (United Kingdom)

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Global Blogging – With Tina Schmidt (USA) and Julia Skinner (UK)

Thank you for the memories! 

Perhaps the greatest, and most emotional element of this conference was meeting Twitter friends, new and old, from all over the world. I lost count of how many hugs I received, and I won’t get started on the selfies :P. I had my first, second, and … who knows how many selfies at ISTE!

While sadly not all of my #globalclassroom PLN could attend ISTE, I was deeply indebted to those who made the trek, especially those two dear friends who drove 25 hours (each way) to come and see me. I hope I was able to make that incredible roadtrip worthwhile for you.

Dear @LParisi, thank you for picking me up at the airport in NYC, and the lift to Philadelphia. Your kindness, hospitality, and relative calm in the NYC traffic were deeply appreciated. I still maintain you have a very beautiful home – all protestations to the contrary :). (Please pass on my regards to your husband – it was a pleasant surprise to find a fellow photographer after a 30 hour trip to the USA. )

To @MrsSchmidtB4 and family, thank you for your warm hospitality. I still can’t quite believe that I was helping a “local” navigate Philadelphia, but I couldn’t have managed to see the city without your help :).

To everyone I met, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You made this conference one I will remember for many, many years to come.

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Demystifying Coding and Programming – Just Scratchin’ Around

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Jenny Ashby @jjash may not know it, but her Sydney #slide2learn session on Beebots and coding gave me the push I needed to take a risk, and experiment with Scratch programming in Years 4 and 5 in late 2014.

Openly acknowledging in class that I had next to no idea of how Scratch worked, and what it could do, I set my students a challenge to create a game, or tell a story. With the help of YouTube tutorials, older siblings, and coding enthusiasts amongst their classmates, the girls merrily set to work planning, problem solving, and coding their projects; and they were only too happy to teach me in the process!

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The Task

Challenge 1:

Use Scratch to tell a simple story which includes at least one talking character (sprite), and at least two settings or backgrounds.

Challenge 2:

Create a simple game where the user or player has to choose a key on their keyboard to make the sprite move or perform an action. This game could be a maze, a guessing game, or your own idea. It needs to include at least one Sprite (object/character), and a background.

Self Assessment Criteria

I have:

  • Storyboarded what my story / game will look like, and what will happen.
  • Created a simple story or game using Scratch
  • Included at least one Sprite and background
  • Used code blocks to require user/player action – e.g. IF the player clicks their mouse or presses the A key, THEN ….

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Some Results

Arcaine

Press ‘s’ to start, then use arrow keys as per in-game instructions.

Super Grandma!

Press the following keys to progress the dialogue: a, c, e, r, q.

Ask Katy Perry

Start by clicking on the green flag.

Fun Maze (Year 4)

Click on the green flag to start, then use your arrow keys to navigate.

What did we learn?

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Introducing Scratch programming to my students was a huge professional risk, as to the best of my knowledge, it had not been formally taught at the school before. It was also the first time I had ever attempted to run a coding/programming project, something which I wouldn’t have dreamed of trying before #slide2learn.

Through this project, I learnt a great deal about the power of play – allowing students to explore, experiment, tinker, and collaboratively solve problems as they pursued their coding projects. I was surprised by the level of student engagement – both in, and outside of class. Many went home to ask their older brothers and sisters for help and advice in coding their projects! I was also really impressed with the power of peer teaching and support in class, as we even brought some Year 4 students into a Year 5 class to explain how they used a particular Scratch tool !

Next time I run this, I intend to more formally stress the need the storyboard and planning aspect of the project, and include some higher level coding skills in the assessment criteria (drawing upon the Australian Digital Technologies Curriculum). I’d also like to try and provide better summative feedback to students, beyond the whole class discussion and reflection sessions we ran last year. The peer teaching and problem solving approach worked very well for most students, encouraging them to think and learn from eachother.

Later in 2015, I am hoping to introduce Beebots and coding apps into Early Childhood maths / procedural writing, and explore how to integrate Scratch programming into other learning areas in upper primary. We are at the very early stages of teaching coding / programming at our school, but I am very curious to see where this little experiment takes us over the next few years.