The technology learning area in the curriculum has been revised to strengthen the positioning of digital technologies. It now includes two new key areas – ‘computational thinking’ and ‘designing and developing digital outcomes’.
Schools and kura must incorporate the new content into their programmes by the beginning of 2020, if they have not started already.
The Mind Lab’s national postgraduate director Dr David Parsons says the new curriculum aimed to develop students’ abilities to problem solve in ways that were similar to how computer systems were built.
“It also focuses on students being able to develop their own applications using digital technologies as well as being able to use existing digital applications for learning.”
He says the curriculum had to “reflect the world beyond” the classroom, where digital tools were being used every day.
“Children are learning how to achieve their goals using appropriate digital tools for creating, collaborating, communications and developing their ideas.”
New curriculum “empowers students”
University of Canterbury computer scientist Professor Tim Bell says the new curriculum empowers students. “It helps students move from being mere consumers of technology to being empowered to understand and influence new technology.”
Children can learn about taking control of computers to build new, and better, systems.
“If a piece of technology is frustrating, rather than saying ‘this sucks’, you can see the fundamental mistakes and demand change, or change it yourself.”
The new curriculum will also introduce children to New Zealand’s third largest export – technology.
“We can show children that this can be an exciting job and we can start to change the stereotypes around that.”
Ministry of Education acting deputy secretary of early learning and student achievement Pauline Cleaver says digital technologies and devices have a growing influence on our daily lives.
“Most young people are confident users of digital technologies. Moving forward they will need a stronger understanding of what digital technologies are and how they work.”
With more knowledge, the “greater influence we can have on the design and development of better future technologies” that benefited all.
Bell says a common misconception in schools is a focus on equipment.
“Schools should focus on the teacher. When they work out how they want to implement this part of the curriculum, then look at the equipment they need.”
He says schools and parents should allow plenty of time to understand the changes.
“This isn’t hard. It is more of a psychological barrier; it can be easily understood, but it is also not trivial. Realise that it will take time and effort and invest in it.”
Parsons says schools and parents could easily “get lost in the details” of the new curriculum area.
“But the most important thing is for students to be able to utilise digital technologies across the curriculum to support their learning, regardless of subject area or curriculum level.”
Implementation variable across schools
New Zealand Area Schools Association president Stephen Beck says the changes should not be looked at as an addition to the curriculum.
“Rather, it is a way of thinking that can underpin curriculum delivery in all areas.”
He says implementation of the new curriculum area would vary greatly between schools.
“Implementation will be largely reliant on the skills of the current teachers in the school and where this skill base and confidence does not exist, schools will still be at an emergent stage.”
Beck says he was starting to see understanding coming through schools.
“With time we will get there. Good practice takes time to be shared.”
Computational thinking in action
The new curriculum covers two key areas – ‘computational thinking’ and ‘designing and developing digital outcomes’.
The Mind Lab national postgraduate director Dr David Parsons says computational thinking was not ‘thinking like a computer’.
“That would be pointless, since computers do that better than us.”
Instead, it was about finding ways to take full advantage of digital technologies by understanding how to use them for human outcomes.
“At its simplest, computational thinking can be as easy as working out how tasks are made up of sequences, repetitions, and choices.”
The curriculum states that students will develop an understanding of computer science principles that underlie all digital technologies.
“They become aware of what is and isn’t possible with computing, allowing them to make judgements and informed decisions as citizens of the digital world,” it states.
Computational thinking could be broken into five simple steps: describe a problem; identify the important details needed to solve this problem; break the problem down into small, logical steps; use these steps to create a process (algorithm) that solves the problem; and then evaluate this process.
Ministry of Education acting deputy secretary of early learning and student achievement Pauline Cleaver says computational thinking could be taught using non-digital methods.
Some ideas included designing a repeated sequence of dance steps, or examining how knitting patterns worked. Creating a grid on a field and having students move from one point to another with limited instructions also developed computational thinking skills.
The curriculum will also include a ‘designing and developing digital outcomes’ technological area, where students learn how to design digital solutions to real world problems.
“In doing so they consider issues such as privacy, ethics, and the impact of these technologies on people and the environment,” says Cleaver.
Across Hangarau Matihiko, ākonga learn these skills from an explicit Māori world view, ensuring this learning occurs through te reo and tikanga Māori, while considering their roles and responsibilities as Māori digital citizens, she says.