Growing digital citizens of the future

Issue: Volume 99, Number 2

Posted: 12 February 2020
Reference #: 1HA5Rf

As the Education Gazette releases its second part in its video series on Digital Technologies & Hangarau Matihiko, we look at a foundation school near Christchurch that has incorporated a digital thread throughout its curriculum and is taking teachers, the Board of Trustees, parents and the wider community along on the journey.

West Rolleston Primary School is one of five new schools built in the town of Rolleston, which has seen exponential population growth since the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011. The school opened in 2016 with a roll of 77 and now has about 600 pupils.

Sylvia Fidow has been the principal since the school opened and says she and her team were able to ensure digital technology was naturally threaded through the new school’s local curriculum.

“When we were setting our vision for the school and developing our curriculum, we knew that it would be really important that our children were digital citizens, so we have always had a thread of digital use and literacy throughout everything that we have done. Our vision for our children is that they are creators of technology, not just users,” she says.

Early adopters lead the way

Starting from scratch to develop a future-focused 21st century school begins with having a team of teachers with the right skills and attitudes and Sylvia credits her deputy principal, Ben Galletly, with project-managing the journey. 

“Ben is a really creative digital thinker himself and formed a professional learning community of early adopters who were tasked with the challenge of making sure that everybody understands the vision around our children being digitally literate and how we will enable teachers and support staff to awhi (support) our learners and provide that platform to enable them to be computational and design thinkers,” Sylvia says.

Making a difference

West Rolleston School decided to adopt an ethical problem-solving approach to its new curriculum with a focus on learner-centred discovery and making a difference in their local community. 

“From there, digital tools are used to access and research information and ultimately to present their learning in a different way. For example, they might develop an app that helps people be more aware of rubbish or recycling in the area. 

“It makes it meaningful for learners. We try to do this from Year 1. It’s more teacher-led in the early years, and then as they get older and develop some more learner agency, skills and independence, the intention is that they are driving that themselves,” Sylvia says.

Digital problem solvers

Children love the approach where they start with a broad ethical question, which could be a local, national or worldwide problem, and develop ways they can use digital technology to try and solve a problem, says Ben.

“For example, one of the topics the kids are really focused on is ‘Innovative Ōtautahi (Christchurch)’; around what Christchurch has done to rebuild after the earthquakes. So they have used technology like a green screen or an app to promote some of those innovative ideas that people have had across the city and they have come up with ideas of what could be next. 

“The kids have loved it and it’s a good first step into engaging with the new digital technologies curriculum content. They love to use a range of really fun tools, which is a really motivating factor in learning. They are motivated because they are driving their learning. They are using their expertise and various different technologies to see it through to a solution,” says Ben.

Last year West Rolleston Primary School placed second in a section of the Canterbury region Digi Awards with their entry ‘Te Ara Whanake One Christchurch – The Best Little Place in the World!’

Purchasing priorities

When making choices about the new school’s vision, Sylvia and her team thought about what students needed as 21st century learners. The board has funded iPads, iMacs and Chromebooks on a 1:3 ratio and in the past two years, budget has been allocated to buy robotics such as Beebots and digital Lego WeDo. 

“Kids absolutely love robotics. They involve critically thinking and problem solving to make something work. We’ve got a code club where there’s programming on all different levels. It’s engaging and interactive and they get results,” she says.

Resourcing staff PLD

In the school’s first year, with a much smaller roll and staff, Sylvia was able to resource one on one PLD time for teachers with a local digital company.  

“Each teacher had a goal related to where they were on their digital journey in terms of their confidence and capability, so for some teachers they might have wanted to learn how to green screen, or how to make an iMovie. Then the expert would come into the studio and do some demonstrations with learners, so they were modelling and the teachers practised with the learners as well,” she says.

As the school has grown, Sylvia says it’s become a challenge to find the resources to release teachers so they can undertake some training. She now relies on the experts on her staff and says staff also find opportunities to undertake free professional learning and development (PLD) as it is expensive to release teachers during term time.

“A group of teachers went to a free course in the holidays at the University of Canterbury. It was offered to people doing post-grad learning in coding and digital as a three-day workshop before they begin the post-grad work.”

Explore and play

Sylvia says a key challenge is to provide PLD opportunities that give teachers time to explore and play. 

“We have to think about how we enable our staff time to play with tools to be creative themselves. We have definitely jumped onto the Technology Online website on TKI and used the resources that the Ministry has provided, which is awesome. We have shared those tools with my board as well and the expectation is that they will keep up with what is happening,” she says.

Balanced skills for the future

West Rolleston’s students are learning a range of skills such as computational thinking which is about algorithms and coding, and then designing and developing digital outcomes, says Ben. 

“We have mapped out how the kids will develop the skills over their eight years here. There are also a whole range of other life skills such as collaboration and taking turns,” he says.

While Sylvia and her team have whole-heartedly embraced the new digital technologies curriculum content, she says the community has said they also want the local curriculum to be balanced.

“We have a really supportive community and I think they understand the benefits, but they also want to see a very holistic balanced local curriculum.  

“We still teach handwriting and learners use books to research and that has been important for us in our local curriculum. There are times when children have to work independently and times they have to work collaboratively. We try to make sure that our school day is balanced and caters for diversity,” she says.

Cyber-safety and digital literacy

Digital literacy is an important literacy skill. Sylvia and Ben say today’s learners need to be critical thinkers who can understand and discern whether what they read online is true or not.

“We are mindful as educators that it’s important we are teaching our children to have a balance between when and why they use technology [digital fluency], so they are only using digital tools if they are the best tool that they need at the time. If they are not, then they need to look at other tools they can use. 

Sylvia says it’s important that children are digitally safe citizens and that their parents keep up to date with what they are using.

“I’m really conscious of cyber-safety and I don’t believe that too much digital is good for our young generation. 

“I think we have to be really cautious of that. It’s about making sure that we have boundaries and that kids aren’t using digital tools all of the time with their learning. That’s where that social aspect of learning is important, that it doesn’t always need to be around an iPad or Chromebook. 

“It’s just making sure you are teaching all of the key learning. There are issues around what kids access at weekends and this will be ongoing for our nation – it’s a real challenge,” she says. 

Top tips for a future-focused school

  • Get people on your team (board and staff) who are forward-thinking and bring the right skills and attitudes, such as having a growth mindset. Make ‘future focus’ a strategic priority. 
  • Share best practice within your Kāhui Ako or school cluster; if for example you are leading communication, or wellbeing, think about how digital enhances the piece of work.
  • Form a professional community of early adopters and people from the technology industry who can support school staff, help to develop a digital culture, and provide a view to students of potential pathways after they leave school.
  • Work with parents and the wider community to develop a balanced local curriculum.
  • Communicate regularly with parents so they can understand why children have access to digital tools, what’s important and the benefits. Make sure they are supported to deliver cyber-safety messages.
  • Seek funding to resource expert support and seek opportunities for free PLD for teachers from online sources, local tertiary providers and others.
  • Check out digital tools on special and buy small amounts, which can be trialled at various levels in the school in support of teaching and learning programmes, before bigger purchasing decisions are made.
  • Find competitions and awards where learners can develop solutions to real-world problems using digital solutions – and get accolades and acknowledgment for their work. Check out 123Tech(external link) – a nationwide challenge for students and teachers to get involved in supporting the new Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko curriculum content.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 12:31 pm, 12 February 2020

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