Sunday, 11 November 2018

Raranga Matihiko 6 months in: Computational Thinking

Raranga Matihiko has been running for 6 months now here at Waitangi. It's one of these things where time just flies. I look back and can't help but think 'wow, what a ride'! There are a lot of different ideas swirling around in my head at the moment; I have decided to spread them out across a few blog posts to keep clarity in my own head and hopefully for any readers.

I feel I now have a better understanding of Digital Technology | Hangarau Matihiko in the NZC. During Term 3 I had the opportunity to run a PLD session on Computational Thinking (CT) with local Manaiakalani Teachers, and in preparation for this I had a good look at the many examples where aspects of CT are already applied in current classroom programmes (especially Progress Outcomes 1-3):
  • For example in Numeracy, when we start teaching "double 2 is 4" and especially when we move to multiplication, iteration is applied (Progress Outcome 3).
  • In Literacy, when we look at word families such as "-ake" and we end up with words like "make, rake, lake, cake", or when we learn rules like adding a suffix to a word such as "hope -> hopeing" and "hop -> hopping". Also in music where we expect that the chord progression I IV V will lead us back to the tonic I - or as simple as the prompts we give our children, e.g. to the teacher's chant "eyes on me" the students will respond "eyes on you". In all these cases we are using prediction (Progress Outcome 3).
  • Sheena Cameron and Louise Dempsey's Oral Language book (which I have sadly misplaced, it seems permanently...) has lots of examples of giving and receiving (non-computerised) instructions (Progress Outcomes 1 and 2).
  • We put steps into logical orders in many contexts, from sorting pictures or text into a logical sequence from ECE onwards to creating an art work to completing a science experiment (Progress Outcome 2). Depending on age, task or medium, different pathways to solutions are acceptable and appropriate (Progress Outcome 3).
  • Debugging can also happen in many contexts : A Kapa Haka routine (tītītorea, waiata-a-ringa, haka), tying shoe laces, mixing colours etc.
You might wonder, if we are already doing all this, is there anything missing at all? Why did we need CT added to the NZC? IMHO, I think that for many teachers the connection between existing activities that use aspects of computational thinking and the application of CT in the world on computer science, programming, software engineering etc. is not clear yet, and if it is, there is still a gap between what we might do at primary school and what professionals do in the work force. And somewhere between primary school and university we are still loosing our girls and our Māori and Pasifika students.

Occasionally I speak with students about who makes our Dash robots and computers in general work. usually we end up with the same old stereotype of nerdy geeky young Pākeha men (I have one living in my house, perfect example). We can only changes this perception is if we continue to give our students of any gender and all cultural backgrounds opportunities to explore and apply CT throughout their schooling. I love our little Dash robots, they appeal to learners of all ages, and such robots are a really good way to visualise coding. But in isolation, without understanding how all the little bits like unplugged activities, block coding, text based coding, AI etc. fit together, we are not going to get far. Cut through the 'fluff' of the Progress Outcomes (see this previous post) and sit down as a staff to map out how your students will learn about Computational Thinking at your school.

On a side note, I don't believe the lower Progress Outcomes for CT are placed quite right yet, but it was always said that the placement of these against the Curriculum Levels was subject to change. Just this week I worked with a y1 class, that is 6 year olds, and once they were introduced to the idea of using a repeat block to move Dash, they saw no need to return to using individual blocks. Iteration is first mentioned in Progress Outcome 3 which sits at Curriculum Level 4, and while this is a good example of a Progress Outcome offering the teacher a 'pick'n'mix' of aspects (rather than a Achievement Objects which always has felt more final, everything had to be achieved before one could move on), I think many students are very capable of applying iteration much earlier than CL 4.

While I am glad that Digital Technology incl. Computational Thinking is now explicitly mentioned in the NZC, I am still worried about that fact that this sits inside Technology. If I was still a high school music teacher (and had not gone through the amazing journey I have been privy to over the last 15 odd years), I doubt I would pay much attention to what it said in a different subject area's part of the curriculum. We have to change this!

(Shameless plug :D) If you teach y7 - 10 (any subject) and you are interested in finding out more about how this can fit into your learning areas, join us for a free DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES & COMPUTER SCIENCE TEACHER PROFESSIONAL LEARNING EVENT at Waitangi Treaty Grounds on Tuesday 27 November, 9:30 - 2:30pm. Register at

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