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Trialing the Emergent Digital Technology Curriculum

This article was written for interface magazine August issue.

With the release of the draft Digital Technology Curriculum, the media is reporting that primary teachers will be teaching kids to ‘code’.  Some even feel it is not needed and misses the point of 21st-century learning, but that is not its intention.  Obviously, many teachers are worried about having to learn to program computers to teach the curriculum from next year. 

This is partially true but there is more to it than just writing computer programs.  The Teachers that I have worked with to trail and prepare for the new Digital Technology Curriculum really enjoy it!  The focus of the new curriculum is about preparing our students for the future, jobs that don’t yet exist.  Automation, robotics and artificial intelligence will revolutionise the workplace our students will be working in and this curriculum will prepare them for that.

This is approached with the two main areas, Computational Thinking; Design and Development of Digital Outcomes.  Certainly, Computational thinking will involve some computer programming, but the real magic and fun are to be had in the design and development of digital outcomes.  What might these outcomes look like at each level and what tools can teachers access to get started?

Get Started Now

For teachers that want to start getting involved now, they can.  In fact, they are probably already doing some useful computation thinking in the maths curriculum.  Let’s begin with recognising patterns and creating flowcharts.  Most five-year-old students can organise a recipe if it is cut into parts and they can certainly organise the steps involved for getting ready for school in the morning.  Something as simple as that is thinking about tasks in a computational way.  Many teachers may like to approach it without touching a computer, and that’s okay.  The University of Canterbury is developing there tried and proven csunplugged with printable resources aligned to the NZC.

Stepping up you may like to use tools like Lightbot which works online but is best on a tablet and ScratchJnr which you can find exemplars for in the draft curriculum at level one and two.  ScratchJnr and Scratch both use an easily accessible drag and drop interface based on Googles Blockly technology, which you will also find on sites like  Students love this application and I have used it with children as young as five with no framework and they can generate cause and effect outcomes.  But Scratch is no toy, many NCEA teachers use is for level one programming!

Code Avengers

Code Avengers is also developing material using the blockly interface to improve accessibility for young students, expect to see this soon.  They are investing a large amount of time with the support of the MOE to develop New Zealand Curriculum specific resources for all ages.  They have a gamified storybook approach with speech, music and age-appropriate language that you can preview in its beta mode here.  The young students I work with really enjoy, engage, and learn from this and it’s there now ready for you to use now!

Hour of code

Whenever I run one of my workshops, after an initial show and tell where kids get to see working robots I like to run An Hour of Code.  This is something you can do in your school today there are hundreds of fantastic resources including some branded by Disney, Minecraft and Star Wars!

BBC Micro:bit

This little fantastic resource is the newest addition to my toolkit, the BBC Micro:bit.  Developed by the BBC and 29 major industry players like ARM and Microsoft.  It also uses the Blockly drag and drop interface, yet allows programming in JavaScript and Python.  One Million of these devices were delivered free to year 7 students in the UK and what that means for us here is loads of free teaching resources!

Digital Curriculum Hits a bull’s eye!

I am delighted with the release of the new draft digital technologies curriculum.  It is open enough to start implementing straight away and allows students to create exciting relevant outcomes.  Digital Fluency and 21st Century teaching and learning skills are not the focus of this.  The government is addressing that separately and has announced a $40m Digital Fluency package.  It is a very exciting time to be involved in education and this draft technology curriculum in conjunction with the digital fluency package is helping us to prepare our students for years to come.