Creators not Users
I usually talk about cyber safety. Today I say to you: the best way to be safe in the cyber-world is to be a creator and not just a user.
The new Digital Technologies curriculum is coming into place next year. ICT capabilities (using word processors, spreadsheets, answering emails, creating wikis) will be incorporated into the rest of the curriculum. It is now assumed that students will know these things but if a History teacher wants a Word document handed in, they’ll have to check to make sure that the student is using styles for headings and not just pressing space a hundred times to get the heading into the centre of the page. Ask yourself these questions:
- Can you get Word to auto-create a table of contents using the headings from your report?
- Could you create a budget in a spreadsheet program that automatically updates as your financial situation changes?
- How would you find out what the Iranians called the Iranian Hostage Crisis?
This is stuff the students should know by the time they hit Year 7. Obviously, that means the teachers need to know it as well. That’s beside the point. We’re not teaching this stuff in IT any more, unless we need to as students hand in reports on the new DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES curriculum.
The idea behind Digital Technologies is that in a rapidly changing technological world, teaching students how to use Word is teaching them software that will be outdated by the time they hit the workforce.
We need to teach them how to think. That’s the concept that underpins Digital Technologies. Students are going to become creators rather than users.
If you know how to break down (decompose) a problem into smaller manageable pieces, and then create a series of steps (algorithms) that can solve each of the steps in an ordered way (computational thinking), allowing for the possibility of change in scope, then little things like working out how to do a mail merge in Word become easy, because you know the steps to solve that problem (Google it).
This cartoon by XKCD sits above the desk in my office. It is guaranteed to turn anyone into an IT support person in seconds. Live by it. (link: http://xkcd.com/627/)
The easiest way for students to demonstrate computational thinking, decomposition and the creation of algorithms is to code. There has been a massive push in around the world to make sure the younger generation can code. It has finally made it to Australia and from next year (if they haven’t already started) students in primary school will be coding as part of their curriculum.
Where does that leave us? The secondary classrooms that haven’t been explicitly coding? We need to do some catch up. It might take a few years for us to be teaching the Year 7 curriculum. And that’s fine. It won’t take our students long to pick up on the concepts they missed out on.
And why am I doing this spiel on a blog? Because as parents (or teachers), you can help. Let’s get our students introduced to coding in a fun way before they need to do it in class. Start them on the basics so that they can take on the more structured lessons as they progress.
Here are some resources being thrown about at the high school level:
- https://codecombat.com/ – learn to code while killing goblins and orcs! You tell your character what to do using code and learn while you’re at it.
- http://Code.org/learn – The Hour of Code is a fantastic starting point. There are coding hours starring characters from Star Wars, Frozen, Minecraft and Angry Birds. Students can create their own Flappy Bird game, mazes and puzzle games as they progress.
- https://bitsbox.com/ – good for Year 7s, but probably not much further on from there. You can subscribe for printed booklets with hundreds of little coding activities.