Monday, July 03, 2017

Coding for their Future

You may have heard that the New Zealand Technology Curriculum has been revised to include two new strands: 'Computational thinking for digital technologies' and 'Designing and developing digital outcomes'. You may be wondering what this is all about, if you are a parent you may have some concerns about what this will mean for your child and if you're a teacher you may be wondering how you will fit this into your programme and why you would want to. Hopefully I have a few answers for you or at least some food for thought.

One question I've often heard asked is how we will fit this into an already busy curriculum. The Education Minister Nikki Kay, attempted to answer this in a segment on Q & A  What she could also have said was that digital technologies, coding and computational thinking don't need to be separate subjects that are shoe-horned into the curriculum. They will become a means to an end, not the end itself.

The 'Designing and Developing Digital Outcomes' area for example, involves having a knowledge of devices, apps and programs so that we can choose the best tool for the task. It has students critically analysing various digital technologies and making informed decisions about the best digital technology (or in some cases non-digital technology) to achieve the desired outcome.

In real life most of us make decisions about use of technology all the time. Will we watch that movie on Netflix, our DVD player, on our ipad or phone? If we need to do a presentation to a group of people will we use Powerpoint, Google Slides, Prezi, Powtoon, make a video or use plain old cards with handwritten notes?

Students will "work through an iterative process to design, develop, create, store, test and evaluate digital content that meets its purpose. They will recognise social and end-user considerations that are relevant when developing digital content." This sort of process can be applied in any curriculum area.

The 'Computational thinking for digital technologies' area is probably the one that is the scariest for newcomers to the world of coding and computational thinking but most people understand this area a lot better than they think.

Algorithms sound scary but I would say that nearly all of you use these in one form another every week. Have you ever used a recipe, read a set of instructions for kitset furniture, done a Google search, decided the best route to get from A to B? If so you've made use of an algorithm which is just a set of step-by-step instructions to efficiently carry out a task.

Coding itself has become so much easier for beginners with block coding programs like Scratch and Tynker enabling even five year olds to code. Hour of Code is designed to get young people coding and has more resources being added all the time, it's a great place to start. Many of these early coding apps like Tynker now include the ability to see what your code would look like in more advanced coding languages like Python and Java, which scaffolds transition into these languages.

Students can use these coding apps to create stories, artwork and puzzles. As they go they are problem-solving, developing persistence, resilience and a growth mindset, they are developing their maths and literacy skills in authentic contexts. They aren't so much learning to code as they are coding to learn.

There are now a plethora of robots available that students can easily program. The hardest part is deciding which one to get as we are now spoilt for choice. Just watch a student program a robot to go through a maze and you can't deny the maths and key competencies that are being developed.

Computational thinking might sound tricky but its what we use all the time when we solve problems or complete tasks and we use things like:
  • Decomposition: Breaking down data, processes, or problems into smaller parts
  • Pattern Recognition: Looking for patterns, similarities  and trends in data
  • Abstraction: Focusing on the important, relevant info, ignoring the irrelevant
When things go wrong we need to de-bug to find out where we went wrong and how to correct the mistake. Being able to logically work through problems is an essential skill.

Lack of devices is another issue I hear mentioned by teachers but it needn't stop you. There are many activities that can be done without any devices. Sure you are going to need some devices eventually but lack of them should not prevent you getting started.
In the Q & A segment the Minister was questioned about how we can prepare students for their future when we have no idea what that future will be. The following quotes sprang to mind:

"Our job as teachers is not to "prepare" kids for something; our job is to help kids learn to prepare themselves for anything."

"Your task is not to foresee the future, but to enable it." Antoine de Saint Exupéry

PLD for teachers and education for the community are going to be essential and the Government is promising funding for this. If effectively targeted, this funding could go a long way towards making sure all teachers, not just a few specialists, can implement these new areas in their classrooms. 

I've started compiling some resources to support this new strand, still a work in progress as details have just been released, but lots to get you started. To teachers I say give it go, start small if you want, but start. 

"Don’t shortchange the future, because of fear in the present." 

For those wanting to find out more you could attend one of the MoE consultation workshops or if you want ideas and resources for implementing this in your classroom I am facilitating a 2 day course on the new areas on Mon, August 14th and Mon, September 11th in HamiltonMore details or enrol here

The revised curriculum is still in draft form and you can have your say here

I'll finish with my favourite quote about technology:

"....Computers are not rescuing the school from a weak curriculum, any more than putting pianos in every classroom would rescue a flawed music program. Wonderful learning can occur without computers or even paper. But once the teachers and children are enfranchised as explorers, computers, like pianos, can serve as powerful amplifiers, extending the reach and depth of the learners."

Alan Kay 

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