This blog post is from a very special guest. Jonah Maranan sat the HSC in Industrial Technology Multimedia in 2014, and was selected to appear in the exhibition of major works. He worked extremely hard in the HSC and achieved a top mark in Industrial Technology. This is his perspective of the subject.
Think 2013: the year when Edward Snowden leaked information that refuelled the spark of global privacy concerns over the Internet, and the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who was released in cinemas with David Tennant in it. You know, important stuff. But probablyone of the most important events that occurred was the beginning of my HSC year in December and in turn, the beginning of a HSC Major Work.
My Multimedia teacher, who was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had the pleasure of having (she totally did not tell me to write that, but seriously I’m being sincere), told her Multimedia class the same thing she told her previous classes:
“I’m always right.”
No wait, hang on. That’s not it. It was:
“Listen to my advice.”
Best piece of advice I was ever given during the HSC.
And I think students looking back would agree with me when I say that 90% of the time, the teachers were surprisingly right. For once. Just kidding (a little bit). Fixing essays, tweaking projects, following formulas in a structured way, and for once, fix your illegible writing.
Anyway, my teacher told us to start planning our projects immediately. Do something over the holidays, do some solid research before coming in next lesson, and make sure you have the capacity to do it, instead of watching an 18-minute YouTube video figuring out what the hell masking is on After Effects before October. I want to say I did all that, but it was the holidays, so I did a little: come up with an idea.
I loved comic books and film-making. I loved old-timey science-fiction in the 50s and 80s, where almost everything was props, costumes, cheap lighting and cheesy plots. And I also love the Fallout games (Fallout 4 and Doom, everyone!). So, why not make a major work out of it? My original plan was to create a science-fiction short film that takes homage to the 1980s and 1950s (arguably, the greatest decades of science-fiction films) and a small 12-page comic book that exists in the universe of the short film I was creating. In other words, a short film of 5 minutes and a prop replica that exists in the short film. That was my original idea. Probably one of the most important things I ever learnt during my Multimedia Major Work is that you can not be too complacent with the original idea you have. You must adapt to the changing circumstances as the year progresses. You must learn how to kill your (metaphorical) baby.
I became overly concerned with creating a proper plot for my short film and comic book.
What is the story I can tell? Who are the characters? Why are they important? And then I realised:
‘What have I actually done? How’s my folio doing?’
And like the hero my teacher was, she said that the HSC major work was about showing enough skill; impress them with your mastery in post-production effects and graphic design, not how well you can write a screenplay. That’s English Extension. Teachers marking the major works will have 20 minutes to mark your work. They want to see your progression throughout the year, your evaluations, the folio essentially, and probably, the last thing they will watch is the final product. It was the reality check I needed.
That’s when I changed my project. I decided to switch priorities of dedicating my time to creating a comic book that homages to 1950s comics and the Fallout universe, and an accompanying science-fiction short film trailer that can be watched in a good-old 1950s drive-in. Good move, me. Finding the time to work on my folio, an integral part to the assignment, learning how to create something with the Adobe suite and simultaneously creating that thing.
I’m not going to lie. It wasn’t easy. As the title may suggest, I am a perfectionist. Every little detail counts. I would spend the entire day and most of my night until 1am fixing small details on one page of a 24-page comic book. A lot of late nights, a lot of stressing, and then there is the rest of the HSC to worry about.
I used a variety of techniques to create my comic book. I utilised Wacom graphics tablet to draw my assets from scratch, place them into Adobe Illustrator and colour them using Adobe Photoshop, and then organise them in Adobe InDesign. I also sketched my assets on A3 pages using pencils and ink brushes, scanning them, scaling them down in Adobe Photoshop to the recommended size and refining outlines when digitised in Adobe Illustrator. It was important, of course, to take into moderation and always keep learning on how to be more efficient: in my folio work and my major work.
Since I was initially creating a short film, I spent the entire holidays filming and making sure it was all right, until I changed it. After changing my Statement of Intent slightly, I had all these video assets to create something spectacular. From meteor showers and image compositing to 3D backgrounds and laser beam effects, it took a long time learning at home and applying it at school to create all these assets and compile them in Adobe Premiere. I’m not sure if you noticed, but our school LOVED the Adobe Creative Suite. For better or for worse.
There’s nothing more satisfying and also odd at the same time when you realise you’re done. Am I really done? Is that it? Is it finally over? Wow, that went by so quickly. It wasn’t then until I realised that a lot of my time spent creating this Multimedia Major Work was all about planning and evaluating, rather than actual doing. Organising an efficient time plan, finding efficient processes to create something yet shows enough skill, researching media in the 1950s and 1980s for inspiration, and killing almost every idea that were critically evaluated from your peers, teachers and most of all, you in the Development of Ideas. It was important to keep track of what I was doing so I kept a blog to track my development over the Major Work year. I constantly updated my teacher with my progress as a way of validation mostly for the sake of me keeping a less-stressed mind (if that were even possible, during the HSC). But I will tell you, once your folio is finished, your video is uploaded and your other media is printed, you can’t but help put your fist in the air on the footy field. Or go on a float during a city parade and sing ‘Twist & Shout’. I may have been watching a lot of John Hughes’ movies before writing this.
I loved my HSC Multimedia class, when we talked about the right pronunciation of cache or when our principal tried the Oculus Rift for the very first time, and I’m proud of the work I created even if it stressed the hell out of me. And I guess hard work pays off, because I was invited to showcase at the Annual InTech Exhibition for getting 97% on my Major Work. And I also received the coveted Band 6, that every student wants in their HSC year for their ATAR.
So what can you do as a teacher as December arrives or what you can do now to say to your students? Tell them to be optimistic and a little stressed as well (because stress genuinely helps). Tell them to always be evaluating every idea they have, run it by you or their peers. Tell them to research on a daily basis and gathering inspiration. Tell them to update their folio every time they make progress because they will forget what they did that Friday afternoon. But most of all, make sure you give them advice and that they adhere to it because it’s YOU who has the most experience with the HSC, and it’s their first time.
Or, during December, you can tell them, “Welcome to Hell”, put your feet up on the desk and watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens as you sit there laughing at the misery of your students. Okay, maybe not that last bit, but seriously:
One of the most important things you can do right now is to listen to the teacher’s advice (especially during the HSC year) and watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens this December. You know, important stuff.
Short-Film Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEIw9HbMO7c
Evidence of Progression – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaLO0nRNoCo
In-Tech Exhibition Video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgLM24otDJY
This blog post is the second of a new ICTENSW initiative to include guest bloggers who are examples of innovative educators, and their thoughts on technology. This blog post is from Dan Bowen, who is an innovative educator, and ICTENSW member, who tweets @dan_bowen
The reason I have put pen to blog on this subject is not as an educational advisor or tech person but as a Dad of three young kids under eight. Coding and computing seems to be polarising and confusing people in Australia even at the top.
Take this recent news item as an example. Bill Shorten suggests that “Coding is the literacy of the 21st Century, and every young Australian should be able to read and write the global language of the digital age”.
Tony Abbot in response suggests that “He [Bill Shorten] said that he wants primary school kids to be taught coding so they can get the jobs of the future. Does he want to send them all out to work at the age of 11? Is that what he wants to do? Seriously?”
So what going on? The lack of knowledge in the media and the need for quick sound ‘bytes’ have meant that this entire discussion moves the public eyes to that of coding. Just as a quick introduction, there is more to computing than coding. Similarly do we believe that teaching music should always be about one genre or teaching art is all about painting in watercolour. The Australian curriculum for digital technologies is an excellent curriculum and has had in depth review. As we are all aware it has been implemented in many states locally but NOT ALL and has been subject to several debates of late including this one from ICTENSW. However underpinning this curriculum area is a plethora of creative, problem solving and broader concepts that are skills that every employer deems critical in the current and future workplace.
As someone who has spent time looking at curricula in different countries around Europe and now Australia, it’s clear that for a country to maintain its competitive edge it is not about the code – it is about the application of the code, the process of development, the problem solving and creativity to build solutions that matter (and work).
Being able to program is one of the major skill sets you may need but to move the economy forward we need to develop digital entrepreneurs and more effective software developers in Australia and globally. Countries cannot ‘app’ or ‘program’ themselves out of a recession. And I think this might even prove to be a false economy. I have worked on several projects over the years where the creative talent has been sought away from our shores. The Photoshop developer from Singapore, the web developer from his basement in the UK, the moodle technical support from a China and the digital music developer (who is also a full time student) from the US, I could go on.
‘Coding entrepreneurs are needed – a workforce that innovates’
Coding entrepreneurs are needed. We need a workforce that innovates and has ideas. We need to develop the creative and innovative – NOT the robotic. For example: when we think of the creation of worldwide products three concepts spring to mind:
The fruit syndrome – innovation driven in the US, for example the Apple iPhone, but mass produced in China and Asia. Programming and hardware can be a cheap commodity in many cases. We will never compete with the millions of coders coming out of the emerging markets so the ideas are where it is at.
The Italian Job – A quick quiz. Pizza and Espresso were invented in Italy, by whom? I bet you don’t know. But you would know they are now known and developed by Starbucks and Pizza Hut. We need to be thinking as a developer making the products more scalable and possibly more targeted to customers’ needs. Making things better and for a better world.
Flappy bird syndrome – Two years ago a low graphics game was removed from several ‘App stores’ even though the creator claimed it was making him $50,000 a day on advertising. Quick wins are few and far between. This is the same mentality as telling our kids they will be a soccer player when they grow up (even though there is more likelihood that they will play for an EPL team than create a one-off app that will make them millions).
So where does this leave us? Ideas matter, original thinkers matter, BUT everyone coding well doesn’t matter. Having an appreciation of code and the processes of abstraction and decomposition of problems, I would argue, are even more important.
What shortage of programmers?
The UK and Australia do not have a shortage of computer programmers. They do have shortage of good software developers. This is something we need to work on in the curriculum. And for development there’s much more to it than just programming. It can take years to develop the skills and knowledge needed to build reliable, maintainable, secure and scalable software.
It is not the ability to write clean new software, but the ability of the software developers to adapt existing software which can keep pace with and even lead the competition – that is the key to success in industry. Generating a lot of mediocre programmers will result in the need for more developers to correct legacy code that was written poorly. Finally, in industry, to keep up the pace, most development teams are overstaffed, and we know that a majority of software projects fail to deliver any real value when developed like this.
Bubbles and sound bites, such as the Year of Code, although very good could flood the market with average or below-average programmers. When the market is flooded with non-competent programmers then it is very difficult and time consuming, as well as risky, to identify really good developers and maintain the advantage.
So how can we develop entrepreneurship and software developers? Here are some ideas:
Implement the digital technologies curriculum properly and if that can’t be done every state to take it on board and do it consistently;
Teach ALL kids to appreciate code – and not be afraid of it;
Teach MOST kids the basics of coding, process and project management. This group includes the students who will have the entrepreneurial ideas and will deliver innovation;
Teach SOME kids to develop code efficiently and in detail so they become effective developers who can code for scalability, re-use and maintenance;
Upskill the media commentators and government officials to understand the breadth of software development and design and highlight that it is not all about coding!
And here are three final thoughts:
There have been many mathematicians with far greater mathematical knowledge than Einstein. However, his application of the knowledge allowed him to innovate and see things differently. His elegance in developing solutions and theorems provided a springboard to future generations of mathematicians to develop them further, for example with quantum and string theory.
The OECD school rankings do not (as yet) measure creativity and innovation and will certainly not help any economies innovate themselves out of a recession.
Most people reading this will be very pro-technology but we need the majority to start thinking about the Australia and the economy that we want to build for our kids. It’s all very well living in a beautiful country but we need jobs that create products, excite people, innovate and actually motivate for people to lead the world rather than be led.
Last year my school invested in Remark OMR Software (Optical Mark Recognition) in order to improve students multiple choice responses. Some HSC subjects take 20% of their mark from multiple choice, so although it is important to have students write well for the short answers, and for extended responses, it is also important to give students practice in all types of questions that they will get in their examinations. Remark also includes a feature to generate reports which give an item analysis which allows teachers to address common misunderstandings of content. For example, the question 5 graph at the right of this paragraph shows a section of the report generated from Remark. This allows me as a teacher to go back and look at distractor A and explain to students why that was not a correct answer. In the case of this question, more students actually got the question incorrect. Since my exam only has 10 multiple choice questions, I used to do this same thing with a pen and paper tally sheet, and graphs in keynote. However, the software helps to save time in the generation of reports. This is where the power of this software really comes in. It not only saves time, but adds value to the feedback to students.
ZipGrade Cloud is an IOS and Android app that allows you to print off answer sheets, and then use your phone to scan students responses. The beauty of this is that every teacher in the school can have access to it, and do it in class so that students get instant feedback. Unlike other digital versions such as Flubaroo, or Socrative, teachers don’t have to pre-prepare anything, they can use already existing exams (such as past HSC exams), and keep copies of answer sheets in your drawer. The answer sheets, unlike Remark, don’t have to be specific to the exam that you are running. The workflow is basically, students sit the exam, then you set up a new exam on your phone, scan the sheets, and generate the results. This doesn’t create the pretty graphs that Remark does, but you can export to CSV and then create the graphs yourself in Excel. The cost difference between this and the Remark system is substantial. The ZipGrade app is free for 100 scans to try out, then they have a variable pricing structure, where you can purchase for either 2 months ($2) or a year ($7). If the school was considering a Volume purchase, they can purchase the app for $10 with no recurring charges.
Aside from answering paper based multiple choice responses, there are also a number of web based tools and apps available that are student response clickers. Socrative, Kahoot, Poll Everywhere, GoSoapbox and E-Clicker are all systems that allow students with individual devices to respond to a question with then immediate feedback to the teachers. Each of these use different devices and systems. For example, PollEverywhere uses SMS technology, whereas Socrative and E-Clicker are apps. I particularly like E-Clicker, as there is also a computer version for the teacher, so that you can create quizzes on your computer (so much easier to type than ipad). These are all reasonably priced (under $10), or free for teachers, and all are free for students.
Finally, if you are a Google Fan, you can create a form in Google forms, which is easy to do, but does require some preparation. I created this one, by looking back through old exams that I had constructed, and copying and pasting across. The good thing is, if you have a list of bullet points, it will allow you to paste into the google form with every point then becoming another option. Once you have answered the form yourself, then you can run an add on for Google Docs,Flubaroo, in order to get it to automatically mark your responses, and then email students their feedback, straight away. It also generates you a spreadsheet, which highlights questions that are worthwhile going over with with students. (see right)
The power with all of these systems are the analytics provided. This gives you the opportunity as a teacher to determine where are the gaps in your student knowledge, and then to design differentiated learning activities in order to address those gaps. There is also the added benefit of giving teachers feedback on construction of multiple choice questions, including appropriate development of distractors.
I have attended iSTE since 2010 and the best advice I have for newbies is: pack your sense of humour and keep an open mind. iSTE is a different country and remember it is big. Sooo big there is a chance you won’t get into ANYTHING without forward planning and queuing – and that includes the keynotes. Its actually really obvious when you think about it. iSTE can be 10-15,000 people. No single conference room holds that many people. The queue to get in the door for the keynotes last year started hours before the doors opened.
So take care to look at the program way before the event (that would be now, if you haven’t already), book in to whatever you can, but don’t plan lots of back-to-back sessions (especially in the first couple of days) because if the presenter is any good, the odds are the queue for that session will have started before the previous session has finished.
Having said that, I keep going back. Its the journey, not the destination. You can see the keynotes streamed from lots of places around the venue. You might prefer to park yourself in the blogger’s cafe rather than standing in a queue for ages? If you can’t get into any sessions at a particular time, go up and look at the posters. They change frequently and the people there have the time to talk to you (just remember to talk slowly because although we can understand most of what they say without difficulty, many have trouble with the Australian accent). Or there are numerous playgrounds to visit and there is always the Exhibition Hall. Some of the exhibitors, eg. Google, Microsoft, Adobe, etc. put on workshops and demonstrations that are not always crowded (but sometimes they are really busy too).
Talk to anyone you come across. You will learn lots while queuing. Although there are actually many Australians at iSTE, most people you come across will not have met an Australian before and they will be really interested to talk to you. If you don’t feel confident walking up to random people and starting a conversation – do it with purpose – become a Volunteer. When you are a Volunteer, people come to you – with the most amazing questions. The Volunteer Captains are really professional and give you training, they supply you with the most common answers and what to do when you don’t know an answer. I was asked last year how to book baseball tickets (apparently the local team was playing that night), where the nearest WalMart was and how to find the local Governor’s house so they could complain about a decision in person. Fortunately the majority of the questions I was asked were exactly what we were told they would be: toilets, venue locations, lost and found and food outlets. Oh, don’t use the word ‘toilet’. ‘Bathroom’ or ‘restroom’ is preferred but Canadians seem to like ‘washroom’ I think, or is it the other way round?
As a Volunteer it is REALLY important to talk clearly and a bit slower than usual. And although if asked, we would all say we speak English, communication can be at times a little tricky. If people look shocked when you say something – rephrase. For some reason, there is a problem with how we say numbers – a linguist once told me it was to do with our vowels. If you get a blank look, write the number down.
There are also things you can do that will make understanding what is going on in sessions a little easier for you. Take the time to look over the iSTE Standards – they are usually talked about a lot. Google what a ‘Charter School’ is. Some of you will have watched enough American television to work most things out but make sure you know what the age groups in an Elementary School, Middle School and High School are so you attend appropriate sessions. Like Australia, American school organizations are different state to state but their District also has an important Administrative function and that frequently comes up.
And remember American educators are often used to dealing in huge numbers. Last time I checked, the largest Sydney high school was just pushing 1,500 students. 1,200 is considered pretty big. These are small compared to some American High Schools. This has implications to how things get done.
There are probably plenty of people who can add to this list, and others who recognise the gross generalisations I have made. But forewarned is forearmed. Hopefully we can up somewhere at iSTE and compare the hilarious mis-communication stories.
For another viewpoint, try The Nerdy Teacher.
PS One of the most difficult words for the Americans to understand when I said it was ‘queue’. And it comes up a lot. Americans ‘stand in line’.
Regards, Leanne Cameron (@leannecameron)
(This piece originally appeared on May 24 in the iSTE Connects Forum. If you have already registered to attend iSTE2015 and would like to read more from Australians travelling to iSTE, go to the ‘Calling all Aussies at ISTE2015’ thread.)
This blog post starts a new ICTENSW initiative to include guest bloggers who are examples of innovative educators, and their thoughts on technology. This blog post is from Cameron Paterson, who teaches History at Shore Grammer School, and blogs regularly at http://learningshore.edublogs.org/
A few years ago I returned to fulltime study for a year in the US. My favourite classes were with Tina Blythe and Eleanor Duckworth. Both banned technology from their classes, preferring face to face interactions, and I experienced my most powerful learning experiences in their classes.
I also took a class with Chris Dede, who was fresh from having written theNational Education Technology Plan for President Obama. His class was a dizzying array of top US educational technology experts and we were encouraged to use our devices in class. While I sat spell-bound, some of my peers would surf Facebook and this made me question the benefits of technology in relation to learning. I now oscillate between believing that the deepest learning experiences I can design in my classes are face to face conversations, and simultaneously arguing that technology should be invisible and ubiquitous. One of the ways I am reconciling this tension is by explicitly teaching students mindfulness in order to cope with continuous partial attention and our always-on lifestyle.
I have often argued that pedagogy should be the driver, and technology should merely act in support. Project-Based Learning is a pedagogy that works well with technology. My students produce audio e-books for young children, makefilms, and design social media campaignsfor rights and freedoms. We also take part in global learning projects and conduct Skype learning calls.
I know that I need to improve the documentation of the learning in my classes. While I’m a fan of post-it notes and speech bubbles, we also have a class Twitter handle which tweets out photos of our learning, and, when students work in teams, one of them sometimes has my Go-Pro on a headband for real-time KidCam.
Next year I am planning to explore Sugata Mitra’s Self-Organised Learning Environments, I want to get my students blogging, and I’m thinking of using Snapchat to run a short project for students to share photos of local war memorials and commemoration activities. We have a student voice team who attend our Heads of Department meetings and I am curious about what would happen if we adopted the radical transparency of broadcasting these meetings via Periscope. Also, I am in awe of the work being produced by students at theRoyal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne and I want to learn how to do this myself.
Finally, George Couros now has me wondering whether pedagogy really should always be the driver? This video of Lachlan getting his hearing aid shows how technology can be transformational. Maybe learning and technology are increasingly linked? Could transformational learning become the norm, rather than the exception?
There is a fragile tension here because, despite the wonderful affordances, in most of my classes computers and tablets are off and we still talk to each other in face to face conversations.
Last December I wrote a piece (“NSW and the Australian Curriculum: What is all the fuss about?”) urging NSW education decision-makers to review our aging Technology subject curriculums, especially in light of the decision the other Australian states and territories have made. That is, to work toward adopting the new Australian Technologies curriculum. So I was very heartened to hear the Independent Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich, was prepared to further the cause by putting the following ‘question without notice’ to the NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli. The question posed was:
“Given that Australian tech companies and start-ups are reporting a chronic lack of local skilled graduates, and other States are progressing with a new digital technologies curriculum, when will New South Wales schools move beyond the general ICT General Capabilities focus and implement this new curriculum?”
I was pretty impressed with this question. It told everyone NSW is behind the other states. It highlighted the Minister for Sydney wasn’t talking about students word processing their assignments or doing powerpoint presentations: he was concerned that NSW students should be being taught to use design, system and computational thinking to solve real world problems – like all other Australian kids will now be. We keep being told creativity and innovation are skills the workers of tomorrow will need and this is exactly what this type of thinking encourages.
I also thought the question would strike a chord with those concerned about local jobs going off-shore, not to mention that talking about tech companies and start-ups is really trendy at the moment. It seemed to have all the ingredients for a question worthy of a well-considered reply.
Alex Greenwich asked us (ICTENSW) to provide him with evidence of the need for this revision – which we glady supplied. What’s more – he read it, collated it and then sent it off as background so the Minister could make a fully informed response.
The question was put to the Minister last week (14 May, 2015). To see his response in its entirety, click here. You will have to wade through the usual rhetoric some politicians seem to think is necessary in these responses. My personal favourites are:
“I have, in the four years that I have been Minister, supported by our Government, never taken a backward step in protecting the integrity of the New South Wales curriculum, and our syllabus documents that support for that curriculum.”
“The kindergarten to year 12 curriculum is highly regarded across Australia for its quality and rigour, and for the learning opportunities it provides for all students. This includes preparing students to work and live in increasingly technologically focused careers and societies.”
However, my hackles rose when the Minister confused the ICT General Capabilities and the new Australian Technologies Curriculum. The clue was in the question! Honestly, I would really mark my own students down if they handed me an essay that included this in response that question:
“In New South Wales schools, the term “digital technology” is used to cover the full range of ICT use from using digital tools to prepare English essays, through to the agile coding methods used in the development of programs in year 12 Software Design and Development.”
“A study of digital technology is mandatory in the New South Wales K to 12 curriculum, and the specific use and application of digital technology is a part of each New South Wales syllabus. For example, the new K to 10 English syllabus has more than four times the number of references to digital tools than the syllabus it has replaced.”
As we know, there is just a bit of a difference between requiring students to use tools and studying Digital Technology as a subject. However, in the end, the Minister made it clear he really doesn’t know what the new Australian Technologies Curriculum is. It is SO much more than coding. He went onto say:
“During 2014 several countries, including England, Finland, France and Singapore, as well as some jurisdictions in the United States, have made coding mandatory for students from year 3. Such opportunities are already available to students in the New South Wales curriculum.”
Of course when reading the paragraph above, the word MANDATORY leaps out at the reader. ICT Educators of NSW want to ensure that ALL NSW students receive the opportunity to study the various aspects of the Technologies curriculum – not just the lucky few whose teachers are probably members of this Association and understand its importance to the future of our students.
The Minister finished his answer with, “I look forward to the final version of the Australian curriculum in technologies being released soon.” One can only wonder why, as it is simply a revision of what other states and territories are already able to teach.
The new Australian Technologies Curriculum is a cohesive, comprehensive program that could readily be incorporated into current NSW curriculum structures. I urge all of you to continue to inform parents, industry contacts and parliamentarians of the inadequacies of the current subjects we are forced to work with, and to encourage them to expedite revisions. In the meantime, NSW technology education will increasingly slip behind what can be taught elsewhere in Australia.
President, ICT Educators NSW
This is the presentation I did to introduce the Teaching Kids to Code stream at the Future Schools Conference 2015.
Hello World! I’m Amanda Hogan. I’m a second-career teacher who has come from IT to teaching a little later in life. I teach at a girls’ school and am doing my darndest in a small way to break down some of the barriers to and get girls excited about tech. I like to think I’m a life-long learner and I’m a bit of a maker. My colleagues think that I might be building an army of nerds from my own two primary aged kids. I get to be your chair for today in the best stream of the first Future Schools conference.
I want to talk about the opposing views about kids and coding. These debates have been in play since Papert first wrote Mindstorms in 1980. One high profile detractor is Larry Cuban – an education academic and sometimes edtech commentator. He wrote the book “Oversold and Underused” about the period of time when the investment in technology in education far outstripped the use of it. He spoke of the US but much of what he said was relevant here. There was a period where schools had lots of computer labs and even maybe the early 1 to 1 programs where the amount of technology increased but not much else changed.
He’s since agreed that this is no longer the case but for a time he seemed to be one of the few people questioning the value of all this technology. I enjoy reading his work as it helps me to question what I do at my school and ensure I’m acting in the best educational interest of our students. It’s important that as we teach our students to think critically about their studies we also think critically about our teaching.
Cuban has recently weighed in on the Teaching kids to code movement with an article titled “All students should learn to code. Right? Not so fast.” In the article Cuban calls those who believe that all students should learn how to code “True Believers”. Unfortunately it’s not a compliment. He means that we believe uncritically that kids should learn how to code. That we only “believe” without scrutiny or proof. He harks back to the 70s when logo was first being introduced to schools and claims that the efforts were a failure because they didn’t deliver the promise of transformed education. Since it didn’t work then, is his reasoning, there is no reason why it should work now.
I think he’s wrong. I think that programming is an essential literacy <pause> that our purpose for being here today is to show our evidence for why this is important, to talk about the wins and challenges and to weigh the possibilities with a critical mind. I also get to be a little fan-girl giggly about introducing Gary Stager to the stage in a minute.
I much prefer Dougals Rushkov’s take on things. He is a media theorist who believes (and wrote a book about it) that if we, as a society, are not literate in how hardware and software work fundamentally then we are at the mercy of those of us who do. I’ve heard this argument reversed also… We don’t need to know how to code because it’s the software engineers’ job to make software that’s so intuitive that I don’t have to understand what’s going on to use it. This kind of thinking worries me. If we are dictated to by the companies who make the software then in some small way they dictate the way we engage with the world.
Rushkov’s book is also along these lines. It’s called “Program or be Programmed: Ten Commandments for a digital age” and is really worth a read to understand his ideas that there is always a lag in communications between those who control the media and those who use it; from the creation of text, to printing, blogging and now coding. There was a time after humans invented text when there were only an elite few who could read, then the printing press was invented and many could read but only a few could be published, then the interactive internet was invented and many could publish (though it is a little unsure at times how many are reading our publishings) but few understood and controlled the platforms on which we publish.
It’s interesting to think about the possibility that if we receive our information pre-filtered and vetted by whichever search engine or aggregator we are using, does that mean we’re getting the whole story? If we don’t understand the filtration process does that in some way undermine our ability to form valid opinion and exercise our democracy?
Despite my geeky snippet of Python in a previous image I don’t actually think it’s important that all kids can code fluently. I’d rather use the word “program” than “code” to mean can solve problems algorithmically as opposed to can type correct syntax in one or other language.
Algorithmic thinking is a form of problem solving that breaks problems into their smallest components to find ways to proceduralise their solution. Employers have said this is a more and more valuable skill for workers in the knowledge and information industries. I also believe it helps my students to analyse and form arguments in other subjects. Maybe it even helps them to think.
Donald Knuth (Ka-nooth) (no really I looked at his website and it’s in the FAQ under How do you pronounce your name) put it far more eloquently than I ever could when he wrote “Computer programming is an art, because it applies accumulated knowledge to the world, because it requires skill and ingenuity, and especially because it produces objects of beauty. A programmer who subconsciously views himself as an artist will enjoy what he does and will do it better.” My only critique is that we need to add “she” in there somewhere.
One of the challenges of being a computing teacher is that we often work alone in our schools. By alone I mean being the only computing teacher there. This is certainly my case and I have to make the effort to avoid isolation.
Here are some of my strategies:
In short, I make the time and effort to connect. I find that most people are really happy to chat and share their experiences, stories and resources. That’s really awesome….and thus I feel less isolated, even just for a little bit.
We would like to bring to your attention to the opportunity for recognition of NSW High School students and their teachers for their excellence in innovation and technology and through their nomination for the 2015 iAwards. As a retired TAFE NSW Institute Director, Kevin Harris has seen the calibre of many graduating NSW high school students in the ICT and related fields, and he believes that the excellence of NSW students and teachers in all things digital and computing should be celebrated. Kevin thinks one of the best ways for that to happen is for them to be recognised on the national stage in the industry’s premier event, the annual iAwards.
Last year, a group of students from Coffs Harbour supported by their teacher nominated for the awards and were recognised at the NSW State and national level receiving the Highly Commended award. NSW students and teachers can win the national iAwards but only if they nominate. The following links provide an overview with links for nomination.
For more information, see:
iAwards Secondary Students video
iAwards Undergrads and Postgrads video
Hills YIA video
Regards, Leanne Cameron
I survived 10 days of NCSS and all I got were these 7 free t-shirts.
Like any good bedtime story there is an arc toNCSS. It’s starts slowly with introductory lectures, team building activities and lots of food. It ends with a race full-pelt to the climactic finish line before everyone falls asleep on the way home.
NCSS is the National Computer Science (Summer) School. It’s a 10 day camp early in the new year run by Sydney Uni School of IT for students from years 10 and 11 (with a handful older who are returning for their second go). It’s been running for 20 years now and has grown over time; it now caters for over 100 students in two streams. The streams on offer are Web and Embedded. The Web stream centres mostly on Python with some database and HTML and CSS. The embedded stream deals with programmable electronics using a cut down version of C++ and Arduino.
Each stream works towards a completing major project (mostly student defined) by the end of the 10 days. It’s a whirlwind! And the best thing is they let teachers attend as students. That’s right, I didn’t attend as a tutor, teacher or mentor, I got to attend as a student; living on campus at women’s college, being fed throughout the day and entertained each night for a measly $400.
This year I attended in the embedded stream. Our group wired and rewired (and rewired and rewired – circuitry is frustrating) various beginner projects to develop the skills we would need to complete our major project. The kinds of components we got to play with included LEDs, buzzers, 8 LED digit displays, accelerometers, potentiometers, capacitors, resistors, joysticks and Bluetooth chips. The processes we got to learn about included turning stuff on and off, turning it on and off really fast in different increments (PWM) calibrating signals and signal noise reduction. There’s still so much I want to know but it was an amazing introduction.
On top of all that we get schwag from the industry sponsors involved (T-shirts everywhere) and had well planned evening activities to help build our teams – they were so much fun. Over the 10 days we had a newspaper tower building competition, Trivia night (completely rigged against the teachers), Scavenger Hunt through the uni, Programming comp, Cryptography challenge, Formal dinner, Simulation (act out computer processes in teams) and All-nighter. We had one night off and I used it and the simulation night to hang out with my family (10 days is a long time).
Why I go and will go again
Despite being 10 days out of my very valuable January Holidays it’s worth every second because unlike training designed for adults, which is polite, finite and often sedentary, this training is designed for the best kids at high school and is anything but polite and never sedate. It’s deep-end learning with real problems to solve and hard, difficult to attain deadlines. It teaches me about the detail of programming I’ve forgotten since uni in my dark distant past. I also like the meta-learning of watching how the lecturers and tutors interact with the students both stretching those who need it and supporting the others. These lecturers and tutors are brilliant, dedicated, patient, energetic individuals who are incredibly generous with their time and expertise. It’s a brilliant program that won’t break the bank and so long as family logistics allow I’ll keep going back ‘til they tell me to stop. I leave completely afflated and ready to stretch myself and my students through the coming year.
You can read my day by day blog of the whole experience here:
NCSS 2015 – Day 1
NCSS 2015 – Day 2
NCSS 2015 – Day 3
NCSS 2015 – Day 4
NCSS 2015 – Day 5
NCSS 2015 – Day 6
NCSS 2015 – Day 7
NCSS 2015 – Day 8
NCSS 2015 – Day 9
NCSS 2015 – Day 10
Amanda Hogan. ICTENSW Board Member
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