Digital Technologies | A Curriculum

Last year I was lucky enough to be involved with VCAA in trialling the new Digital Technologies Curriculum in the primary school.  The AusVELS‘ version of the Australian Curriculum is set to be released later in the year and will be the first time we have seen computer science in the primary curriculum.  After presenting on the weekend about this I had much interest in how I got my head around it and I thought I would share some tips and  my learning.

Unfortunately I can’t share access to the AusVELS documents, you will have to wait for their release and you do have two years before it will be fully implemented so technically there is no rush.  But if you wanted to get a head start and look at the Australian Curriculum Digital Technologies will get you on your way.

1. Before we got into what was written in the curriculum it was important to work out why this is even important.  What is it about computer science that is so important to our students that we should be teaching it. This was easier for us to do by discussing why it was important to teach other domains and we found many similarities to our beliefs around why science is important or why students should be literate or numerate. Splash and Hour of Code are great places to start with videos of the importance of computation thinking and coding in our lives.

2. The second step was to unpack the language of the curriculum.  As with any new subject, it comes a new technical language. Words like ‘data’ really needed to be examined, placed in context and revisited with a new lens to understand the content descriptors within AusVELS.

4. Brainstorm what the content descriptors and achievement standards mean. Bring a few people together if you can, read through the descriptors and standards and discuss.  What does this mean?  What could it look like? Compare and contrast with the other descriptors and statements. It was amazing how much clearer it became when we started to jot these down. Even though it might be difficult to start; try and think of some of the learning activities which may go with these. And don’t forget to make changes as you learn more.  By the end we had much of our thinking scribbled out as we became clearer on what was involved.  If you are looking for some Computer Science related tasks check out Tim Bell’s CS Unplugged.

3. Don’t just look at the level you are teaching.  In order to fully understand the progression of skills and understanding it was important to look ahead to how students would be using the learning in the 3/4 level.  It enabled a clearer context to the expectations.

5.  AusVELS is written to cover 80% of your teaching time.  Therefore we all probably ‘overteach’ the curriculum.  An example of this is the Australian Curriculum Digital Technologies curriculum in Year 3 and 4 is expected to be taught in 80 hours or 40 hours a year. (Australian Curriculum, Shaping the Curriculum).

6. Use your common sense (aka professional knowledge or pedagogy). It is easy to get caught up in the curriculum being a linear, sequenced document and feeling that we should teach this way.  We know that learning, and specifically design, are flexible, iterating and complex journeys and will weave backwards and forwards through stages. Don’t fall into the trap that design follows a plan, build, test and evaluate cycle.  Not all designs start with a plan and they are certainly more iterative than how they appear on paper (that’s not a dig at the curriculum but rather understanding at how difficult it is to put something that is not linear into a written document).

Overall I would recommend dedicating some time to unpacking and understanding the new curriculum.  Not only because it is part of the curriculum but because you have done the first thing on my list and know that it is important for us to be teaching.

The #DLTV2014 Conference

It is hard to believe it is only a bit over a week since the first Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria Annual Conference.  It was a two day conference focussing on using digital tools for teaching and learning and innovation in our classrooms, which is the core focus of DLTV, the newly formed subject association.  DLTV works to ensure  “every learner is enabled, inspired and empowered to participate, contribute and shape their world through digital technology”.  It replaces what were two established subject associations in Victoria, VITTA and ICTEV.  As the two associations merged in January, forming DLTV, this was technically a first conference, although we were very lucky to bring our experiences from both organisations.

I was fortunate enough to be the chair for the conference meaning I was part of the planning from day one, which consisted of thinking of a theme. The theme, creating new connections, came very quickly to us and it made a lot of sense from our first meeting.  As educators we are always making connections, and so are our students as they learn. As two former subject associations we were making new connections in coming together. And the icing on the cake was that all of us on the conference committee know how important it is for educators to be connected in contemporary learning.

Once we had our theme in place we met to discuss what we wanted to achieve from the conference. For some time now I have been a big believer that professional learning is changing and there is no better team to be making that change than DLTV. Co- committee member, Kynan Robinson, is also passionate about modern learning (you can read his blog post about the conference here) and we knew we wanted to offer something to our delegates that reflected that if professional learning is changing so is our conference but at the same time provide an environment where people feel confident and comfortable.

It was from this discussion the the concept of a self organising conference came from.  What if the presenters got together and designed their own conference? What if some presenters decided not to have a structured 45 minute presentation but a session that you move in and out of at your own pace? What if the presenters decided to  team up and present rather than repeating the same sessions? And that was the direction we took.

Rather than asking for abstracts, which never really made sense to me anyway, we put a call out for expressions of interests.  No particular focus, no boundaries, no making your presentation fit.  Instead we looked at what the presenters wanted to present on and grouped these to make streams. From here we put these presenters in contact with each other to organise how their stream would run for the two days.   In some streams this was as simple as organising the order of their presentations.  For others it gave the opportunity to start the planning of their presentations fresh and working together to develop streamlined sessions.  Some presenters decided to pair up and present together while others decided to finish the day with a  panel of all the presenters in that stream.

One stream even took it a step further and decided to create a gaming in education playground which ran around three learning experiences. Delegates who headed to the session could participate in learning through presentation, learning through play and learning through experience. It was such an exciting area of the conference to drop by to as people were making poetry with Lego, playing Mario Bros with the Makey Makey and of course the very popular old style console games.

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Along side the gaming stream was the Institute of the Modern Learner.  At first the IOTML was not clear. A card handed by a nameless man in a jacket. A tweet here and there with the hashtag #fixthefuture. And then they started to infiltrate the keynotes.  A slide in Adrian Camm’s keynote followed by more tweets claiming we didn’t see anything.  It certainly had the imagination going and made you feel like you were part of something but at the same time know nothing. “The institute” is looking for thinkers who may be discouraged with the system to experiment and trial modern learnering, as we found at the end of the conference when they took over the final keynote! For me it was a great moment when two presenters took over the stage and talked of their passion as it proved it really is a conference owned by the delegates and presenters.

There were many aspects of the conference that I am very proud of.  One of them was having four Victorian keynotes (3 of which were teachers in classrooms) who demonstrated why we are leading the way in education.   And as Narissa Leung, our afternoon keynote, told us, is why we have the best educators in the world and was happy that DLTV are celebrating that.  For too long now we have flown in educators when we have such high quality educators right here in Victoria.  This was certainly reiterated by the speakers themselves as they opened with a thanks to DLTV for finally putting Victorian Educators on the stage.

Also at conference after conference I have seen more and more male keynotes and it had continued to puzzle me as I know there are so many amazing female educators doing innovating learning and teaching in our schools.  It was great to get two of these females on stage at DLTV and they certainly showed that women in education are great speakers, innovative teaches and have so much to share.  Both Britt  Gow and Narissa Leung were articulate with their message for educational change, engaging and passionate and had the audience enthralled as they shared their narrative of digital learning and teaching. Of course our other keynotes Adriam Camm and Khoa Doh were also exceptional.  Adrian started the conference with a  provoking presentation which made us doubt what we knew but  at the same time make the audience feel like they could make change right now. As for Khoa Doh, the moment he finished speaking I thought crowd’s applause would never stop. It was a special moment in the conference, reminding us that not everything is about technology but from our stories and experiences we can learn so much.

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Another moving moment was when Roland Guesthuasen used Morse code to send a message to space for Maggie Iaquinto who had passed away the week before the conference.  Maggie was such an important member of the IT community and much loved by VITTA and ICTEV.  She had a remarkable history  and the news of her passing certainly put a sombre feeling across the office and committee.  It was fitting that Roland chose to send a message into space for Maggie as she was the first civilian to speak to cosmonauts on Mir.  Using her computer and radio she was able to connect with over 19 cosmonauts over a number of years, using the little Russian she knew to assist her.  Later she set up an amateur radio station at her school so her IT students could quiz space scientists about the technology used on-board Mir.

On reflecting on the conference there are so many highlights it is difficult to list them all.  Some are around the structure, like having 15 minutes between sessions to chat and network, while others were around people like seeing pre service teachers presenting in their first conference.  Of course, regardless of what you do at a conference you are always judged by the quality of your wifi and food.  And I am confident in saying that we nailed it! Our catering was spot on for the dreary Melbourne day and not once did I have any problems with the wifi.

As exhausted as I was after the conference, I was certainly reinvigorated by reading through the tweets and feedback from delegates.  It was such as great feeling having positive feedback to the small changes we had made and the hard work we put in to ensuring delegates were able to experience n the conference in a new and exciting way. So where to next year?  Well, there is plenty more to do!  Certainly some tweaking from this year; better maps to get around, rethinking the rooms and learning spaces and getting more students involved.  Well, best get planning I guess!