The Digital Technologies Curriculum From Scratch
Sir Ken Robinson, respected educator, author and presenter, asserted in his TED Talk from 2006 that schools are killing creativity. The Australian Curriculum’s Digital Technologies curriculum provides an opportunity for schools to redress this and resurrect creativity.
The Digital Technologies curriculum is mandated to be implemented within schools by 2017 and whilst it has not found its way into the AusVELS as yet, it should do so in the near future. Naturally, understanding the depth and breadth of the curriculum and how to implement this within the classroom is essential.
WHAT IS THE DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES
The Digital Technologies learning area aims to help students become ‘innovative creators of digital solutions” to meet both current and future needs of society. In short, it is broken down into 2 strands.
The key to successful understanding and implementation of Digital Technologies is the relationship between the two strands. “Together, the two strands provide students with knowledge, understanding and skills through which they can safely and ethically exploit the capacity of information systems (people, data, processes, digital systems and their interactions) to systematically transform data into solutions that respond to the needs of individuals, society, the economy and the environment.” (Australian Curriculum, 2014) In other words, Digital Technologies aims to enable deeper understanding of digital systems and how data is represented in order to develop the necessary skills to develop digital solutions to problems and opportunities. These necessary skills involve not only using digital systems but also in using critical, creative and computational thinking
Computational thinking is essentially trying to think like a computer. Of course, computers don’t think! So, what this actually means is to apply the computational thinking concepts such as decomposing, abstraction, algorithms and logic that are used by software engineers, across other areas of learning and life.
HOW CAN THE DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES BE IMPLEMENTED?
There are three key components that can not only assist with the implementation but enhance it as well as extending student thinking, learning and understanding in the process.
The first component is the “digital technology” which in this case is a program developed by MIT called, “Scratch”. Scratch is a program that teaches students how to create interactive stories, games and animations through the use of programming language and thinking, and the language of thinking. The beauty of Scratch lies in its user-ability. With the recent creation of Scratch Jnr, children at pre-school age through to teens (and even adults!) can develop digital solutions appropriate for their age level. Supporting Scratch is ScratchEd – an online community for educators to share experiences and stories as well as post in discussion boards or find people.
The second component is Harvard’s “Visible Thinking”. Visible Thinking is a framework that aims to develop students’ thinking skills and dispositions and to deepen their content learning. This includes but is not limited to curiosity, creativity and being skilled at, alert to and eager to take thinking and learning opportunities. To enable authentic thinking and learning opportunities, Harvard identified 8 cultural forces that define our classrooms and direct thinking. One of these cultural forces is ‘Language’. In 2012, Harvard released some descriptions and definitions of the concepts, practices and perspectives of Computational Thinking with Scratch. The language associated with Visible Thinking aligns with the language of computational thinking. For instance, the computational thinking perspective of ‘expressing’ is essentially concerned with creating. Creativity is one of the four visible thinking ideals as well as being present in one of its dispositions of having a creative mindset. The computational thinking perspective of ‘questioning’, which entails questioning the world, connects seamlessly with the visible thinking move of wondering and asking questions as well as the link between questioning and curiosity and learning. Additionally, the Visible Thinking framework incorporates the three dimensions of the AusVELS Inter Disciplinary Thinking Processes domain:
The third component involves “Tony Wagner”, the Expert in Residence at Harvard Innovation Lab. Tony Wagner identified 7 survival skills that students need for their future. These skills, as is the case with the Visible Thinking framework, also link and incorporate the dimensions of the AusVELS ICT Inter Disciplinary Domain:
Using Scratch as a tool for facilitating the digital technologies curriculum not only provides an opportunity for developing computational thinking skills but also for cultivating additional skills such as creativity, collaboration and social responsibility.
To summarise, utilising the Visible Thinking framework devised by Harvard as the pedagogical approach for implementing the Digital Technologies learning area of the Australian Curriculum will support, enhance, extend and challenge learners’ understanding of digital systems and how data is represented. Whilst simultaneously developing computational thinking skills alongside generic and ICT-related skills for the creation of digital solutions that address current and future problems and opportunities as well as providing essential skills for life and the world of work.