Over the past couple of years, we’ve been on a journey to authentically integrate more digital technology into the curriculum, writes Mike Hansen, of Scots College Prep School.
Realising the potential that it has in the classroom to enhance not only the core literacies of reading, writing and maths but also skills such as creativity, problem solving, communication and collaboration was the first step in our journey. The next was that the learning had to be authentic, meaningful and transferrable, so that when devices such as Spheros are surpassed, the boys and teachers can transfer the thinking and language to another device with ease. Mapping out specific skills and platforms was another helpful stage of implementation as it was important to create a progression from Year 1 through to Year 6 that was both aimed at the age and stage, as well as allowed for our boys to extend their understanding. The coding curriculum is a living document, so that it can be developed and reviewed by the teachers.
The final realisation was around staffing and resourcing. Like all schools, our staff are varied in experience with technology, so we dedicated professional development led by teachers and outside providers to give time to upskill and to tinker with coding resources. We also employed an expert to team teach with the Year 4-6 teachers each week to help them upskill and feel confident teaching coding. Here is a glimpse into each year level this year.
Years 1, 2 and 3: Physical coding
In the junior syndicate, the focus is on physical coding along with using a range of early years coding apps, like Box Island, Hopscotch and Sphero EDU.
A range of physical coding learning engagements were implemented or adapted by teachers from CS Unplugged (csunplugged.org). Using this style of coding early on allows the boys to visualise and see how directions (inputs) affect movements (outputs).
In Year 1, integrating storytelling and coding on a grid allowed the teacher to get boys to code ‘The Gingerbread man’ to get away from dangers and to safety. Students in Year 2, have increased their understanding of coding through basic coding apps, including Box Island. Being able to see visually where they have coded incorrectly gives them instant feedback of how they need to ‘debug’ their code so that the box follows the correct path. Year 3 have been working alongside some of the more advanced Year 6 boys in learning how to code the sphero robots. They have been able to transfer their understanding of physical coding and game-based coding into programming an object to complete specific tasks or challenges.
Year 4: Creating animations
In Year 4, the focus is on physical coding and creating animations with Scratch.
Across two sessions the boys created algorithms to code their classmates, and even the teacher, to colour in blocks to match their chosen image. The teacher is new to coding, too, so sometimes he made mistakes, which was a great way to role model problem solving and debugging. By looking at the code, the boys were able to determine where their teacher made errors and helped him interpret the code correctly.
In the coming weeks as we move into an inquiry on ‘Sharing the Planet’, the boys will end up creating multiple animations in Scratch, all around the theme of oceans and the creatures that live there.
Later, students will use the internet to determine whether the Kraken is a real or imaginary sea creature. They will learn how to conduct online research using a search engine, document their results, determine the validity of sources, and defend their conclusions.
Year 5: Starting with Spheros
The Year 5 boys have only started DigiTech this term, but they are enjoying the experience. In their current unit of inquiry, the boys have been creating hypothesis and using measurements to track their findings. We are weaving these same skills into Digi Tech sessions.
After physically coding each other to complete a maze in session one the boys noticed their ‘robot’ classmates all took different sized steps and wondered how they could know how to account for step size in their code.
Spheros also travel a variable distance depending on the value given to the speed and time variables in the code. The boys will use the scientific method to determine the best speed and time settings for coding with the Sphero.
In a few weeks, once they have mastered the basics of coding the Sphero, the class will move onto coding the Sphero to navigate mazes and using it to visualise problems affecting the natural world, such as human impact on animal migration and habitation.
In term 4, we may continue working with the Spheros or move on to coding with Scratch.
Year 6: Coding concepts
In both Year 6 classes the Makey Makey invention kit, Scratch programming language, and physical activities were used to teach coding concepts.
Students also reflected on how online actions impact others and discovered they are a part of a community connected by the internet.
Through coding with Scratch students learned a wide-variety of maths, logic, and problem-solving skills including:
- identifying objectives as a part of the planning process;
- using conditional statements to trigger actions;
- placing and moving objects using X and Y coordinates;
- using variables and operators to increase and decrease scores;
- identifying where errors occurred and working through them to achieve the desired result; and
- visualised algorithms needed to recreate a pre-made game without looking at the code, then created their own versions using the same game mechanics of the original.
For their final project both classes created original Scratch games and functional game controllers using recycled, conductive materials and a Makey Makey. Through this process students had to plan the design of their controller and how it would connect to their game. They also explored how electrical circuits worked, as they had to choose between conductive and insulating materials to build their controllers.
Review, adapt and implement
The boys and teachers across the Prep school continue to gain confidence and push the boundaries in coding and engagement is evident in each class as a result. Teachers enthused by coding have recently been implementing other technologies into the Curriculum to enhance understanding through other medians. Technologies such as stop animation, 3D printing, Laser cutting, Minecraft EDU, Banqer, Quiver and film, have all been implemented in projects throughout Years 1-6. Through sharing and tinkering, staff and boys have become more confident using a range of technologies, which has been excellent.
Although we’re on a journey, the ever-changing nature of technology means that we may not ever reach the final destination but will continue to review, adapt and implement to ensure that the learning is authentic, challenging and meaningful.
MIKE HANSEN IS PRINCIPAL AT SCOTS COLLEGE PREP SCHOOL IN WELLINGTON.