While this is a fantastic move forward, it poses some significant challenges. The new curriculum has a number of learning objectives that encourage a movement away from using digital technologies toward understanding their inner workings, the use of digital technologies to create and solve significant problems in society and toward providing children with a foundation in computational thinking (which is relevant and applicable in many of our everyday lives). For the many teachers who have little experience teaching computational thinking and computer science, this new learning area may be significantly overwhelming! I use some sentences extracted from the draft learning objectives to highlight the challenging terminology and concepts across the bands:
K-2: “Identify, explore and use digital systems”... "represent and play with patterns in data"
Years 3-4: “implement visual programs with user input and branching”... “transmit different types of data”..
Years 5-6: “how digital systems represent whole numbers”.. "follow, modify and describe simple algorithms"
Years 7-8: "how... data are represented as binary"... "how data are transmitted and secured", "trace algorithms to predict output"
I have completed a 4 year primary school teaching degree, and previous to working on this project, many of these concepts were foreign! So I understand how challenging and daunting it might be for many teachers to figure out what these concepts are, how they can be explained and taught in engaging lessons, and what kind of activities and engaging starters (such as books, everyday world examples for discussion, links to other learning areas) might be relevant to these concepts. However, with the appropriate resources and support for teachers, I believe there can be some pretty exciting learning opportunities for students and that teachers can become quite comfortable, confident and innovative in this learning area.
We are also confronted with the challenge of understanding how to teach and assess computational thinking and computer science to young children as early as 5 years old. What is effective pedagogy? What activities can we use? How to we measure their learning? How can we best integrate these concepts into other learning areas? I think that there are some fantastic strategies and activity ideas that already exist in K-12 practice. These are some questions for another post, however, and our paper to be presented at ACE in New Zealand, January 2014 touches on the existing literature across K-12.
Here at CSER, we have been looking into studies across K-12 CS Education and appropriate resources and teaching ideas (including examples from Maths, Science, the Arts), as well as working with Australian teachers, school leadership as well as international partners to develop a course for supporting K-6 teachers to teach computer science and computational thinking in the new Digital Technologies Learning area. There are already some fantastic resources out there and teachers who are doing amazing work in this area (which we recently witnessed at the Google Summit held in Sydney), it is just a matter of finding these ideas and also adapting them to suit particular school contexts, student needs and age groups. We have been bringing together some of these on our Pinterest Board and are working in partnership with Google to create a free, open online course to teach Digital Technologies.
We are bringing together the amazing work that already exists to make it easier for teachers and we are providing background information on the concepts of computational thinking and computer science and connecting and creating lesson ideas to address these concepts and learning objectives in the Australian curriculum. Digital technologies is not all about using technology, and not all schools or classes will have access to technologies, and so this course will incorporate lesson examples and existing ideas (such as CS Unplugged) to provide opportunities for teaching computational thinking and computer science without the technology! This course also provides a fantastic opportunity for teachers to network and build a community and share resources and learn from one another. The materials developed through the course will become freely available and we hope the participating teachers will also contribute their amazing ideas to this pool for others to use and adapt to meet their needs.
Here at CSER, myself and my colleagues as well as Google Australia are quite excited about this project. We welcome any educators to help us during the development phase and during the course we welcome feedback, so that we may be able to improve the course and our resources for future enrolees!