Flicking the switch: taking digital technology education further

Issue: Volume 95, Number 21

Posted: 21 November 2016
Reference #: 1H9d5R

From Raspberry Pi to tuatara, nine local successful applicants from across the country will receive funding for projects that support the new local digital technologies curriculum. Education Gazette talks to those involved with two of these projects.

Nine projects have been given the green light from the Ministry of Education’s contestable fund for digital technologies.

The Ministry was looking for smart and innovative projects from education and digital technologies providers as part of a broader package of support for schools when the new digital technologies curriculum content starts to be rolled out in 2018. This new curriculum content currently being developed will build on the existing key competencies in The New Zealand Curriculum to boost our students’ skills and confidence to identify local and global problems and opportunities, and design and develop digital solutions in response.

A partnership between Ruapehu College and Ngāti Rangi iwi will work to deliver a new curriculum focused on school transitions and future careers within their Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako, and at King’s High School in Dunedin, students will be supported to tap into the potential of the Internet of Things to solve everyday problems.

Strength in community partnerships

Ruapehu College is a small secondary school in Ohakune with big community connections.

The school has a close relationship with local iwi Ngāti Rangi, who have since the beginning of this year operated the learning hub Te Pae Tata on the school grounds as part of a wider community outreach programme.

Te Pae Tata offers a range of digital technology courses to community members, from tamariki to kaumatua and kuia.

When Ruapehu College deputy principal Jason White learned about the digital technologies curriculum contestable funding opportunity, he realised his school had already begun its digital journey.

“We had already been having these conversations about how we could deepen the work we’re doing with Ngāti Rangi at the school, so when we saw the contestable fund open, we decided to go for it,” says Jason.

“Because it’s very much a partnership, we feel this really adds to the strength of our planned project.”
Jason says the success of Te Pae Tata lies in the expertise of its facilitator Kawana Wallace, and the fact that hub manager Erena Mikaere-Most is also a board member at Ruapehu College.

“We’re fortunate to have this learning hub on our school grounds, and especially the knowledge, skills and passion of Kawana and his team, who run community classes and after school programmes. We wanted to find a way to work harder with him to enhance our school curriculum and boost the learning outcomes for our students."

“I know it can be a struggle for a lot of schools to engage with their community; we consider ourselves really lucky that we have meaningful and collaborative engagement with our iwi.”

Ruapehu College project team (l-r): Te Pae Tata tutor Kawana Wallace, Te Pae Tata manager Erena Makaere-Most, principal Kim Basse, and deputy principal Jason White.

Ruapehu College principal Kim Basse and Jason have been at the school for several years, and both say it’s exciting to see new initiatives like the digital curriculum project and Te Pae Tata take flight.

“I think of Ruapehu College as being geographically isolated but globally connected,” says Kim.

“Our students are all highly motivated in this subject, and I feel very lucky we have such close connections with our iwi for the betterment of our community.”

Ruapehu project

The project itself supports the themes of the digital technologies curriculum for years 1–13, and the learning outcomes will be realised through a Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako.

Together with several local English-medium primary schools and one kura kaupapa, Ruapehu College belongs to a Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako and through this framework the hope is that school transitions between primary and secondary will be strengthened and smoothed for all students.

The project aims to develop schemes of work for years 1–8, a year 9 entry profile and a year 10 exit profile for digital fluency.

It also aims to develop a local curriculum programme for year 9 and 10 students that could be facilitated by those teachers without prior expertise in all things digital. The courses will be able to be facilitated by educators who have limited knowledge of digital technologies, will be student directed and responsive to learners’ needs.

“The learner profiles we’re looking at creating will focus on what skills we want our students to bring to secondary school, and how we can get them to build on these skills during their time here,” says Jason.

“In order to create these profiles, each school in our Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako needs to be aware of what everyone else is doing.”

Another element of the project takes the shape of a staff professional development programme, and Ruapehu College is keen to create something that could be used by other schools.

“We’re conscious that as the new digital technologies curriculum is rolled out, schools will be thinking, ‘crikey, we have a shortage of skills here’,” he says.

“We’re looking at developing a PLD programme that other schools could pick up and run with their staff. We don’t necessarily all have to be computing experts, but we do need to understand the basic concepts and how to support our students to use their skills and knowledge in other subjects, such as science or history."

“Our students are now digital natives – how best can we support and assess them in that language?"

“Our goal is to develop something for educators so that any interested teacher with support and training could be in a position to confidently facilitate one of these lessons."

“The sustainability of it is really important. We don’t want to be in a place where we’ve run these fantastic programmes, but then the next year they fizzle out – it’s important we lay the groundwork so this can become a blueprint,” he says.

Why digital technologies?

Jason says that when it comes to big-picture thinking, Ngāti Rangi have helped carve out some insightful ideas and ways forward.

Five years ago, the iwi released a ‘whānau transformation plan’, which identified five areas for improvement: employment, education, health, housing and social development. Coupled with this was an action plan, and from this Te Pae Tata arose.

“Ngāti Rangi see digital technologies as integral to the future of their people, especially as at the moment many are working manual jobs that might not exist in the near future,” says Jason.

“Similarly, here at Ruapehu College we know the paradigms in education are moving very quickly, so we want to jump on board and lead the way for our students. I believe we’re working in a powerful position because we have this fantastic partnership with our community and together we are working to set our students up with good future opportunities.”

The digital future looks bright for the tight-knit Ruapehu College, and Jason says their small size makes community engagement and change all the more possible.

“We have a small school, and I know all of their names, and their siblings and parents too,” he laughs.

“If you’re paddling a big waka, it can take a lot of time to turn it, but we can be agile. We’re so small that all of the staff need to have plenty of strings to their bow, and therefore making changes can be a lot easier.

Proper data

In South Dunedin, students will develop their skills in digital technology within the context of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Defined as ‘a proposed development of the internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data,’ the IoT can be considered the infrastructure of the information society.

It is just this information that is already being collected, organised and analysed by students at King’s High School, Tahuna Normal Intermediate and others within their Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako.

The PILOT (proficiency in learning internet of things) project aims to bring the concepts of the IoT to primary, intermediate and year 9 and 10 students.

Their project targets a community of 1,250 students from years 6–9 and their teachers. The teaching and learning programme is based on student-developed projects that focus on gathering and analysing data directly from their local environment.

To do this, students and teachers in years 6–9 are learning how to capture real-world data through digital devices that they have built.

They’re also learning to manipulate and analyse that data using digital applications (at an intermediate year level) and through writing computer programmes (at the junior secondary level).

Students will learn how to create data transmitters and receivers using Kiwi Patch circuit boards, sensors, receivers and PICAXE microcontrollers at the primary and intermediate levels, while the Year 9 students will develop their computer programming skills using ScratchGPIO and a Raspberry Pi.

Data has so far been collected from local wildlife and native forest reserve Orokonui EcoSanctuary, and from homes in South Dunedin.

Technology for Tuatara

King’s High School technology teacher Julie McMahon says it all started when one of her students decided to base his NCEA Scholarship work around data collected at Orokonui Ecosanctuary.

“He was using digital technology to monitor the opening and closing of the gates of the kiwi enclosure, and also to control a temperature sensor for the tuatara enclosure at Orokonui,” she says.

“As teachers, we’ve realised that it’s really powerful to teach students about all sorts of digital technology concepts through helping them to create their own circuit boards and hardware, and along the way learn about the electronic components of that technology.”

She says it’s also powerful for students to gather real-life data via devices they’ve built themselves, and then to be able to analyse that data and write a program around it, as a true application of theory.

“One example of this would be making decisions based on the data gathered from a tuatara enclosure – what should happen at different points in the data; could the ranger be alerted, or should a notification be sent? It’s possible to write a programme to set those commands.”

In addition to the Orokonui data, students are also collecting information about another local concern: damp houses.

“South Dunedin is built on reclaimed land, and the rising of sea levels has really brought home the fact that we are experiencing weather changes, and floods in particular,” says Julie.

“Moisture levels are high too. We’re tying this in with information from the Otago Regional Council and its study of the changing environment in South Dunedin, and the students are making data collectors from circuit boards.”

By collecting and analysing data about moisture levels in South Dunedin homes, PILOT will weave in other elements of The New Zealand Curriculum, in particular science, maths, social science and the key competencies.

Collaboration and community

PILOT is taking place within a South Dunedin Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako, with the different age groups working on various elements of the project.

“It’s important to us that all the students are part of this project as they move through their schooling pathway, and we think this will help with school transitions, too,” says Julie.

“We’re giving the youngest children a basic understanding of what the circuit boards are, then adding to that at the intermediate level – they’re actually doing some manipulation of the circuit boards. Then the year 9 and 10 students are connecting that to the internet and carrying out in-depth programming.”

She acknowledges this presents a big task for the teachers involved.

“It is a big job for the teachers, but the kids are really quite engaged so far. For us it’s about defining the scope of what is possible within the time frame we have, and developing resources around that."

“The management is tricky because we’re trying to run it across three schools, and it’s the first time we’ve worked with the schools in this way, so it really is a pilot!"Tahuna Normal Intermediate School is the largest feeder into King’s High School, so it helps with transitions, but also foundation knowledge that we can build upon in future years."

“Once we have all the data collected by the students, we’re hoping the older students will go to the intermediate and present their findings and this will lead to increased interaction and cooperation between the schools.”

Like the Ruapehu project, those behind PILOT will create teaching and learning resources that other schools and communities can use to implement their own local digital technologies projects.

“We think we could transfer these things to other places in New Zealand, and to issues relevant to other communities,” says Julie.

“The IoT is a really powerful permutation of how we use the internet, because we all have these ‘aware’ devices around us now – the students are dealing with things that are going to be affecting their future."

“We feel that by doing this project, it will give our students scope to do more creative and interesting projects, and as they move through their schooling, a deeper understanding of what can be done with digital technologies. We want to raise the bar for our students and our teaching.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 8:18 pm, 21 November 2016

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