On June the 3rd I attended a Professional Development session hosted by EDTECHSA. Paula Christopherson flew into to Adelaide and shared her insights into the Digital Technologies curriculum with us. It was very interesting to hear how slightly differently the Victorian department for education have chosen to work with the Australian curriculum. It actually made my heart sing a little to hear her talk about teaching to stage and NOT age. I so wish that we could see more of that here in South Australia. Realistically however, I’m not sure we are ready for that. We simply do not have enough consistently effective data collation and reporting to do it well.. not yet anyway.
Paula was one of the co-writers for both the ICT General Capability and the Digital Technologies curriculum. Having come from a completely different culture (having been trained in the UK) it was really interesting to here her thoughts on the development of those two documents. Honestly, I felt that my understanding of them was broad and deep and as she spoke about the many (sometimes confusing) and varied terms we have for ICT in our curriculum my mind was lead to consider how confusing this must be for all. Especially with my work with pre-service teachers. In fact, this musing has lead me to dedicate some time to the difference between what I see as the three ways we talk about ICT in relation to teaching and learning with the Australian Curriculum.
- ICT as a general Capability – This is vastly important (and often, sadly, underrated in a culture that seems to equate this with mere cyber safety and the random use of a technology). The Social and Ethical Protocols and Practices strand of this fit most prominently with the Melbourne Declarations purpose for the general capability. As we use technology to create, investigate or communicate we simply can not our obligations to teach students about intellectual property, the impact of technology (both negatively and positively on society) and more.
- ICT as a pedagogical tool – You know from my work over at teacher technologies that I am a passionate advocate of thinking pedagogically first. Why are you using that tool? Just because it’s cool or because it allows your students to access information and learning in a way that means they get an opportunity to deepen their understanding?
- The Digital Technologies Curriculum – The media seems to be focusing the general public on Robots and coding but the digital technologies curriculum is so much more. It’s about how we can use digital technologies to solve problems. That involves critical thinking, computational and systems thinking as well as data use, coding and neat little robots.
These three elements will now definitely be discussed together for a while in one of my workshops during this years EDUC9404. We need to ensure that we can define and understand how all of these things interrelate. Especially as, it would seem, the hours allocated for the teaching of Digital Technologies Curriculum are slim… it will need to appear cross curiculuarly ( is that a word!?) … which is going to make it a little more complicated to define when the ICT General Capability should be taught in the same way too. Of course, there are also two ways to deliver and assess digital technologies in the earlier years of Primary School either merged with the other technologies or as a strand on it’s own. The consensus in the room seemed to be that it was being delivered as a separate strand of the curriculum.
One of the first things that Paula asked us to do was to sketch what we thought the Digital Technologies Curriculum might represent to our students. Here’s my little scribble. I find all of my thinking around teaching is heavily influenced these days by my work with the entrepreneurial worlds I’ve started walking in with Edufolios and Reflect Growth and I have to admit it was pleasing to see that a bit of what is in the curriculum is relevant to real life. What’s important is that the Digital Technologies curriculum is about the way in which we think, the way in which we see and solve a problem for a user – You can see now why that links so nicely with the world of the entrepreneur. What the Digital Technologies curriculum IS NOT is the new name for ICT or E-Learning… Digital technologies focuses on technologies… technologies being things we invent to solve problems. It’s not an excuse to buy a set of robots. 😉
Students may be creating solutions using programming languages (or those robots) but what’s more important is the process that they go through to get there. Defining the problem, researching solutions, making prototypes, testing them, evaluating their solution, making changes etc. It’s a process that encorporates many skillets. What they create as a result is only really limited by their own thinking, logic and imagination.
The Over arching Aims of Digital Technologies in the Curriculum
There are five key concepts across the content descriptors within the subject (Design and Technologies Knowledge and Understanding and Design and Technologies Processes and Production Skills). They all circle around the idea of being able to design, create, manage and evaluate sustainable and innovative solutions. To do that, students will need to apply computational thinking concepts, confidently use digital systems as well apply protocol and legal practices (Oh there’s that ICT General Capability again)
The five key concepts can be described as:
Abstraction – In this area of the curriculum students are generalisation and rule-making. They need to be thinking about issues such as “How do you design something so that it can be scaled up?” What every they design has to be able to grow from a small idea with a little impact to something that can grow. This can be difficult in the earlier years but it’s something to be encouraged and bore in mind as you plan.
Data – They need to look at and analyse data in order to evaluate their product, design and plan. They need to understand the concepts of properties of data and what they represent. They’ll need to know how to get good quality data – data that allows them to get the information they need to answer key questions. This obviously links beautifully with numeracy and I’m hoping to do a whole workshop on this area with my educ students next semester.
Implementation – This is the design and development phase all the way to evaluation. How do you actually go about making this technology come to life? What processes, resources etc will i need to make sure that my initial idea is the right one. You can see obvious links here, I am sure, to the other two concepts above.
Digital systems. This comes down to understanding the hardware and software that might be used to deliver the solution. They’ll need to consider how data is stored how it’s protected and hpw it’s communicated with the user and the back end interfaces they use. In some cases (in the older years) they need to be very aware of how systems communicate between each other (APIs etc)
Interactions and impact – In this area they need to think very carefully about the implications of their solution. Especially in the context of it’s real world application. If they were to scale it what other considerations would they need to bear in mind?
What you might notice here is that coding is not actually the most important part. In fact it is a tiny part of a much larger picture. The digital technologies curriculum is more about the skill set required to go from concept to implementation and back again (making improvements at each iteration of design). If our students can use a bee bot or scratch that’s great but that’s not going to get them great marks in Digital Technologies.. not in isolation. We need to be assessing their thinking and the processes they choose to implement as they go.
To encourage and to guide these kinds of thinking skills, Paula suggested that every lesson should contain a 2 – 3 minute thinking routine. She used the metaphor of a musician practicing scales to master an instrument as an explanation for the introduction of such as task to a regular lesson routine. It’s all about getting them to exercise their thinking muscles. Something I am sure we all agree we should be doing all the time 🙂 Thinking is learning 🙂
Computational Thinking activity:
Paula had us all using flow charts as a means of abstraction. We create diagrams which made simple problems abstract. For example, in the photograph to the left here you can see us creating a simple, yes / no flow chart about how to subtract. The types of information we are dealing with are categorised and represented with shapes The oval being start the rectangle a task or action, the rhombus a condition and the arrows a link between concepts. This well known and simple technique is a very easy way of introducing the concept of abstraction, data types and even the process behind implementing an idea. Of course, this is also a very easy way to introduce digital technologies in another subject. How about creating one for a spelling rule or a science concept or the conjugation of a verb in a language? If statements, of course, form the basis of many simple programming languages too so, in using these techniques you are also preparing students for basic concepts of programming such as branching.
If students were to create several of these flowcharts for similar concepts and ideas they may also be able to understand the effective nature of abstracting information in this way. The simple use of symbols or shapes to represent processes might reveal a pattern to them that they might not otherwise be able to see. They can also be given the opportunity to evaluate the flow charts of others. I know that when asked to create one about a spelling rule mine looked a little different to Paula’s. I’d gone into more technical detail… I am an English Teacher. That’s not a criticism… that’s a learning opportunity. By looking at the two side by side we have an chance to see two slightly different processes (two ways of thinking) and we can begin to evaluate which one is more efficient. Is it really necessary to the outcome of the process that the reader answer my extra question? Would the ‘program’ be more efficient without that extra value or will that value enable us to have better data? Now… we’re thinking… Can we reduce the number of instructions without damaging the integrity of the outcome? If we talk coding for a bit… then you might know that the less lines of code the less processing power a computer needs.
Of course, we also need to let them research pre-existing solutions to problems and perhaps let them spend some time connecting their new learning and thinking skills to evaluating these designs and processes for themselves. See if they can find patterns and common models between a previously solved model and their own ideas. There will be opportunities there for some great demonstration of skills in all 5 areas and a brilliant chance to do a quick formative assessment to help guide planning for the future.
Other examples of representation were discussed such as the representation found in maps. Geography teachers will love the opportunity to explore the design thinking around maps. The representations of scale and keys. Look at the ways in which train timetables etc are laid out. The design and representation of the data for a particular purpose. The London Tube map is perfect for this – or, indeed our own Adelaide metro ones. Each of these sources represents ideas moving to manipulation of information through design choices. They are clear examples of design thinking.
Resources and Ideas
Computational thinking doesn’t have to involve computers. It’s about process and design. The I See, I think, I wonder method was raised here by Paula. A resource by Harvard which asks students to deconstruct an idea in order to create a new (hopefully improved) solution. This resources also support the Creative and Critical thinking element of the General Capabilities as it encourages students to think in divergent and convergent ways.
Creativity is the key here. Paula spoke of the work of Land and Jarman who had conducted a study into creativity in children. It suggested that children in schools are unlearning how to be creative. They don’t want to stand out, they want to conform. We need to address this by encouraging personalized learning approaches and celebrating difference in learning, creating opportunities for them to be celebrated in these difference and make growth in innovation or thinking outside the box a good thing.
Avoid jumping in and trying to control their thinking, attempting to make it fit your own pre-conceived thoughts… Give them a chance to make mistakes and learn from them. Let them explore their thinking, just guide them – if they need you to. To be honest I think that is true of many aspects of learning and teaching!
This is about processes, systems and how the parts of that system work. Each part being called a variable. Students will be asking questions such as:
- How does the system work?
- What’s the impact if we change a variable? Does it affect anything?
Systems thinkers think in patterns so one of the first things students need to be able to do is to see patterns in the first place. They need to understand the connections between, user, , the technology, the type of data being used and how the output can be displayed. Each step in the process of displaying a user experience being made up of many variables which create a working system. By looking for patterns it is possible to make the system more efficient. Think CSS in HTML.
Systems can also involved binary – which in itself if a system.
At the various year levels:
F-3 Look at how digital systems are used. HOW meaning their purpose.
Year 4 we start to look at how peripheral work. I.e. what are the connections between the devices I use and the data I see on them. I.e how does my USB drive / cloud drive work? What are the variables involved in the process of serving up the data? By the time we get to Year 6 – we’re talking components and networks. How is data transmitted in a network? by Year 8 we start to explore how these networks transmit and what security protocols are employed. By year 10 they should be able to manageme and control systems within a network.
This makes me think, again, that there is a real need for schools to create a virtual network over which students can create their own rules and learn how to manage their data. This also lends itself really nicely with the ICT General Capability. If students were building their own networks (from a system up approach) they would definitly be considering the ethical and social protocols that might involve.
This area of the curriculum seem so sit beautifully with Science and Mathematics.
At the various year levels:
In the very early years of the curriculum (f-3) we’re beginning to explore the types of data out there in our world. These could be of various types (images, lego, numbers, words, colour) Students should be sorting and presenting data in different ways.
In year 4-5 They should recognise places where data can be found and they should be collecting them in different ways – creating a project of their own that requires data to solve a problem. – Of course there are opportunities to add in some systems thinking here too.
In years 6-7 they need to start validating their data. They become gatekeepers of data and they begin to explore how best to validate and present it.
By the time we get to years 8-9 we begin to talk compression, privacy and modelling and visualising data (Think Pied Piper ;))
Students need to be able to define a problem and then design a solution. The basic entrepreneurial skills that we will all need in the future – if we don’t have them already 😉 This is where we start to think about pain points, solutions, design and resources.
In the very early part of the curriculum our youngest students practice simply finding a problem and presenting them. They’re not necessarily expected to offer an answer but they do need to be able to identify a pain point that needs resolving. There is nothing in the curriculum that requires them to use a visual programming language at this point.
By Year 4- Those well defined problems are being used a stimulus to design a solution – Now using a vusual programming language to do so, if you so wish.
By Year 6 – Those students need to start thinking about their user experience (UX). There solution to a problem needs to be user friendly and intuitive to the user. The design part begins to fall more into designing interfaces as well as designing the solutions to the problem in the first place.
In Year 7- They should be analysing how UX works. To do so there needs ot be evidence that they aret alking to stake holders (people who are interested in their solutions – the user base for example) They need to be geting feedback on their design and beginning to act on it. Considering what to include and exclude and how to edit their UX to improve it. They will begin to explore object orientated languages at this point (Java, PHP, C# VB .net, Python)
In Year 9-10 they are applying this feedback and beginning to design, apply and operate inside a feedback loop. Managing changes effectively with meaningful analyse influencing their design choices (UX, system effeciency and more)
Implementation and Evaluation of systems.
Our youngest students begin to consider who the user of information systems are – this is all done from a local perspective.
In years 4-5 they begin to consider how systems iterate. Tey explore branching inside their solution. Again, this is all done from a local perspective
In Year 6-7 they begin to explore the sustainability of their solution so that by the time they’re in year 8 and 9 they’re beginning to consider scaling systems and the resources and implications of that scale. The focus is on innovation using text based coding. Looking at how efficient their system is and looking for ideas to make it run better. By Year 10 they beginning to consider these issues in a more enterprise based environment.
Over all this was a very interesting session for me. It was really interesting comparing my own understanding and interpretation of the Digital technologies curriculum with that of one of its writers! I can certainly see the complexities that lie ahead for teachers as they begin to grapple with integrating these thinking skills into their other subjects (at primary level at least) and was reminded, once again that there is a real possibility that this new ‘shiny’ curriculum is being mis-understood. That Robots and coding programs might soon become the next shiny object distracting us from the important skillset that we’re actually supposed to be delivering. As usual, it’s vital that we consider exactly why we’ve just invested in that tech.. We’re not being asked to teach coding or robotics simply for it’s own sake. Those topics (if you want to see them that way) are a tool to enable students to obtain vital skills that will be in incredible demand in the future – problem solving. processes, entrepreneurial skill, communication and more.. Please don’t assess the code base or the robot’s movements… Instead record and assess the processes and conversation that occur as that code is written and that robot is programmed. That’s what this curriculum is really about.