Digital knowledge – be curious, aim high, keep learning

Issue: Volume 98, Number 11

Posted: 27 June 2019
Reference #: 1H9vXb

As part of a rich local curriculum, three schools in Otara, South Auckland, are empowering students to create local curriculum and connect with their own cultures while developing their digital capabilities.

Students have created and completed projects using digital technologies and computational thinking skills to express their identity, language and culture.

“In the beginning, we asked them what they wanted to do, and they took it from there,” says Otara Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako leader Kallie Ngakuru Syder. “It was student-led.”

The initiative was developed by the two local Kāhui Ako, Otara O’Te Rererangi and Te Puke ō Taramainuku. One of their key goals is for the language, culture and heritage of local students to be incorporated into a local curriculum.

Sir Edmund Hillary Middle School is one of the partners, alongside Ferguson Intermediate and Flat Bush Primary School. The project began at the start of term 2, so the students have come a long way in a short time, using readily available digital technologies.

The topics chosen reflect the Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko curriculum (DT&HM) content in developing computational thinking and designing and developing digital outcomes. 

Building confidence

As part of building their digital confidence and capability, 600 students explored aspects of their culture such as Cook Islands drumming, the layout of their family villages in Samoa, and building an interactive model of a wharenui made on a 3D printer.

They learnt to programme and control robots, and some used drones. Among their creations was a video, The Legend of the Cook Islands Drums, which required the use of stop-motion and green-screen techniques.

Coding, Makey Makey, Scratch (a free programming language for children), Tinkercad, Google Expeditions and Tour Creator, Minecraft and Xbox were some of the digital tools and applications used. Artificial intelligence was used to create virtual tours of Pacific Island destinations. Some students coded, while others were responsible for art and design. 

“It teaches me a lot and it’s much more interesting than studying maths by itself in class,” says Year 8 Ferguson Intermediate student Crenshaw Wilson.

Merging culture and technology

“Games and Xbox are perfect ways of getting information across,” says Iqbal Hussein, Deputy Principal of Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate Middle School. “The technology the children are using is low cost but exciting. Two years ago, we introduced them to coding as a first step, but this year it is full-on.

“Usually, culture and technology are seen as separate things,” he says. “But the children have shown that both can go hand in hand, and they can learn about their culture in an integrated way using digital technology.”

The students designed artefacts and objects and printed them on a 3D printer. They used block coding to design and make the wharenui, which includes audio content explaining the significance of each part.

No achievement data is available yet but Iqbal says that the students have shown much greater engagement because they are gaining ownership of their learning, using technology that is exciting, and doing something of their own choosing. “Having that choice gives the learning meaning,” he says. 

Different robots require different coding, apps and programmes. Ferguson Intermediate students explored picture coding, java scripting and block coding. The school has 10 robots, including a Land Raider robot, which uses MBlock software. The students learnt to programme and control the robots’ movements. 

Skills passed on

Through collaboration and tuakana teina – the concept of an older person helping a younger one – once a group masters a skill, they pass it on to others through scaffolding. Flat Bush School learners from Years 5 and 6 shared their coding expertise by teaching a series of games using small domed robots known as lightning bolts. 

A Code Avengers programme prepares all students for basic coding, gives them feedback, and allows them to self-monitor their learning. 

“All coding serves the same purpose,” says Deputy Principal Imteeaz Mohammed, “but our message is ‘don’t just play around – be content creators’.”

STEAM learning journey

Four weeks after beginning their projects, the students’ achievements went on display as part of an event to inspire other students and raise awareness of where their skills can take them in future. 

The Kāhui Ako-led initiative ‘Otara STEAM Innovation Event’ was held during Techweek 2019 at Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate, with support from the Ministry of Education. 

The event highlighted that collaboration and partnerships can support the awareness and importance of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics).  It also showed how the Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko (DT&HM) curriculum content can be integrated into different learning areas, link to students’ identity language and culture, and drive the development of key competencies.

Career pathways highlighted

Other goals of the event were to connect students with potential employers and career pathways and give them an idea of what skills employers are looking for in their future workforce. 

Seven businesses and agencies took part, including the  NZ Defence Force, Mercury Energy, 21 C Skills Lab, Rush Technologies, GameTan, MyRver and Joy Business Academy. The students co-created the theme – ‘Communicating culture through technology’ – and were involved in organising the event.

Learners and employers co-presented workshops. In introducing and talking about their work, the students were confident, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and the atmosphere was electric as hundreds of students got a glimpse into their future. 

The workshops introduced students to the world of work, including communication. For example, Defence staff ran a search and rescue operation exercise based on a plane crash.

Te Puke ō Taramainuku Lead Principal Banapa Avatea says the intention is to run similar events and strengthen further connections with the local champions in business sector.

Learning essential skills

“It was a chance to lift the community by showcasing their children’s skills and what they can achieve,” says Otara Community of Learning Leader Kallie Ngakuru Syder. 

“We are supporting students with knowledge, skills and capabilities that are transferrable to the workforce they will be joining. 

“We know that digital skills, such as coding, are going to be essential. But they will also need enterprise skills (often called soft skills), such as communication, critical thinking and problem solving, which they are also learning.”

This event was a first for the schools, and for the Ministry. Links established on the day between schools and the employers will be built upon in the future.

Connecting with employers

“Employers connecting with schools and schools aligning their curriculum and teaching with the future needs of the workforce are critical for student pathways into employment,” says Kallie. “This approach helps students to understand why they’re studying something and become aware of the opportunities available. 

“Self-directed learning, which is what they have been doing with the STEAM project, is what they will need once they enter the workforce.

“The event was also innovative in that it broke down barriers between our two Kāhui Ako, so that together we could begin to address the needs of the entire Otara community by supporting the development of valuable work skills in our students.”

Connect to Sir Edmund Hillary Middle School on Facebook(external link)

Support and ideas

Want help to secure future pathways for your ākonga? 

Would you like to discuss some ideas and strategies to implement DT&HM curriculum content within your own local curriculum? The Ministry is keen to support you. Part of this can be through supporting schools to build connections with businesses, employers and other agencies. 

Make sure your school is taking advantage of the range of free professional support available.

Check out: Hangarau matihiko / Hei Āwhina(external link)

Contact details: or

Learn more about the DT&HM content in The New Zealand Curriculum/Te Marautanga o Aotearoa at link).

What students think

“I like technology-based things and I like this project because it made me think about what codes will be needed, and it includes all our main subjects – maths, for example, is used in Scratch, which includes the x and y axis, just as we do for maths.”
Belence Thompson-Konui, Year 8 

“I’ve learnt you don’t need to do reading and writing as separate subjects.”
Nevaeh Ta`ala, Year 8

“We are digital natives who can connect the world we live in today with the past and my ancestors.”
Jaylin George, Year 8

“On the sports field, on the stage, inside the classroom, I am digital.”
Te-Aroa Sonny, Year 8

Be curious, aim high, keep learning

One of the business people who attended the Otara steam event and gave a presentation to the students was Louisa Plumpton, a senior manager with Mercury Energy. She is the programme manager responsible for digital and technology projects in an organisation that is developing amongst other things new sources of renewable energy, such as wind and solar. 

Louisa is originally from Samoa and was raised in Otara. “When I told the children about what I do in my job, and that I came from Otara, they were amazed,” she says. “They had not realised where their new skills could take them. I said to them, ‘Be curious, aim high, keep learning – and the world’s your oyster’.

“The STEAM event was a great hands-on opportunity for them. Essentially, the work they have done in planning, developing and implementing their digital projects is the same process we undertake at Mercury, but on a smaller scale.”

Louisa says discussions are under way in Mercury about how they can build a long-term relationship to support the students’ STEAM-related learning. 

How the curriculum is preparing students for work

The new DT&HM curriculum content is about developing digitally capable thinkers and creators. It is not about teaching students how to use digital devices; it’s about giving them an understanding of the computer science principles that drive digital technologies.

The aim is to enable them to learn how to design and create their own digital solutions.

Learners will need to be equipped with the skills they’ll require to succeed in a world of unprecedented change – skills such as communication, teamwork, and ethical and safety awareness. 

Schools and kura will need to have incorporated this new content into their local curricula from 2020.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 8:49 am, 27 June 2019

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts