Tech and teamwork: student innovations inspire

Issue: Volume 98, Number 19

Posted: 8 November 2019
Reference #: 1HA23i

Education Gazette soaked up the excitement at the Auckland 123Tech regional championships, one of many regional events to be held around the country ahead of the national finals in Wellington. 123Tech is supporting schools and kura to learn about the new digital technologies content in the National Curricular.

When you think about digital technologies, you might imagine children sitting in classrooms working on computers or using devices. 

Rather, the new digital technologies curriculum content is about helping children and young people understand how digital technologies and programming works – the logic and thought processes that sit behind it. 

Learners will understand how digital technologies are playing an increasing role in our daily lives in our evolving digital society and changing world – and their role in being the creators and designers of positive outcomes for the future.

Pride and sharing

At Arahoe Primary School in West Auckland, this learning looks like awareness, compassion and focus, embodied by rangatahi helping each other out. 

The school uses the 123Tech Digital Challenge, a digital support for schools and kura, at two levels: Discovery (for Years 0–6); and First (Years 5–8), which involves teams creating digital solutions to real-world problems.

A team of Year 6 tamariki, ‘Couch Potatoes’, beam with pride as they share their ideas and feelings about their mahi. These children used the challenge to create an electronic timetable for one of their peers with autism.

“The student was using a wall chart and the kids thought a gadget with lights and buttons could be a lot more fun,” says teacher Megan Connolly.

The team provided a prototype for user-testing and was delighted to see how much the student liked their gadget, particularly the lights. They also took onboard a suggestion to add an audio function, though ultimately were unable to do so before the project deadline. 

“The communication is really hard but the boy we made it for liked it (the timetable) and that made me feel happy,” says Illinois, 11.

Ten-year-old Aidan recalls working through many frustrations. 

“The 3D printing was hard, the prototypes kept warping and the LEDs wouldn’t fit inside. I kind of felt like giving up but I didn’t because I thought my team would need me. When we gave the box [timetable] to the boy he was very happy, and I was proud.” 

Key lessons

Megan says one of the key lessons around technology learning is that without communication, teamwork, and collaboration the students can’t develop their own competencies or the project.

“It’s good for them to have an authentic context to achieve those skills. They get to know their team really well. 

“They do find it a bit uncomfortable at first but the further they go in the challenge the better they get to know others’ strengths and weaknesses, and they realise they need each other. You notice when they make that shift because that’s when the project really takes off.

“I had a team this year who accidentally deleted the entire programme, halfway, because they hadn’t been communicating. They were all quite angry and blameful at first then they realised they couldn’t go back and change it so they knuckled down and recreated their game. 

“They actually recreated it better and faster, and they learnt that when everyone’s on the same page you can be more successful.”

This is Megan’s second year running the 123Tech Digital Challenge at Arahoe. After winning last year’s challenge, Arahoe purchased a 3D printer. Megan can see the value in supporting future learning.

“I like that it’s not just ticking the computer programming box; it gives them a bit of a foundation in digital technologies which inspires them to go on.”

“The hardest thing is the time constraint; the kids have big ideas, hopes and dreams but coding takes time and sometimes the progress can feel very slow. At the end there are still things they want to change, just like in real life, but the good thing is that the judges don’t look for a finished product, they’re looking for the thinking process and the teamwork.

“The kids are taking responsibility for their own learning; it’s up to them how well they do because it’s all about attitude. I can’t code but I can support them so if they’ve got the right attitude then they get there.”

“Mind-blowing” projects

123Tech judge Joy Keene, Deputy CE of IT Professionals New Zealand described the overall calibre of the projects as “mind-blowing”. 

“The projects focused around social and health issues had a huge amount of empathy shown by the students to ensure that their designs were purposeful and useful to its audience.

“Many learners undertook a structured approach, had a solid plan and executed those plans well – there was a huge tenacity and perseverance shown to complete the project. 

“We even saw field research – real people, face-to-face questions, no emails. And this was matched with fantastic presentation skills and confident speakers,” says Joy. 

Tuck shop queues inspire tech solution

At Selwyn College in East Auckland, a group of Year 10 students frustrated by long queues at the school’s tuckshop used the digital challenge to design an online lunch order system. 

“We have hundreds of international students who need a long time to order at the tuckshop and we also have students using wheelchairs who find it really difficult to access the shop,” says Jesse Coleman, 15. 

“We thought that if we had a website for ordering, everyone would have easy access to the shop.  

“We could have product translations for international students to make it easier for them to access the shop, and with everyone being able to order in their own time we could clear the lines and make the system much more efficient.” 

The team was disappointed not to be able to finish their project in time for the competition. 

“The coding was very time consuming and we had to work as a team, which we didn’t really know how to do. We all knew each other from performing arts so it wasn’t that we don’t get on, we just had to learn to communicate in a different way,” says Jesse. 

“We definitely know each other a lot better now.”

IT Industry supporting curriculum learning

123Tech|Tahi Rua Toru Tech is a New Zealand digital challenge available to all students and ākonga in New Zealand schools and kura, and for Years 1–13. This 12-week challenge initiative can help build pathways for students in the technology industry and the future workforce, as well as help to develop the key competencies of relating to others, thinking, and participating and contributing. 

Partnering with the IT industry

The Ministry of Education has partnered with the IT Industry to make this professional support available. 123Tech is part of a support package to assist schools and kura with implementing the new Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko curriculum content.

In 2019, more than 6,000 students participated in the challenge, and regional winners will compete for the national titles in Wellington in December. 

Students in Years 1–5 are challenged with teacher-led activities and games which teach computational thinking and digital design without the use of a computer, known as unplugged activities.

Students in Years 5–13 are tasked with identifying a problem in their community and solving it using digital technologies. Many students begin the challenge without any coding knowledge but pick up these skills through inquiry-based learning.

More inspiration

These were some of the other inspiring, innovative ideas to emerge from the regional championships.

Health and wellbeing 

  • Education about Osteogenesis Imperfecta (a form of brittle bone syndrome).
  • Getting out and getting fit.
  • App and pill box solution to help people remember to take medication.
  • Mental health.
  • Bullying.
  • 3D printed visual diary for kids with autism (hardware + software solution).
  • Heart rate monitor (hardware + software solution).


  • First Aid app – talking you through what to do in various situations, choking etc.
  • Flood water warning system.
  • Road safety education game.

Home and school life

  • Introduction and orientation to new schools.
  • Tuck shop/canteen management.
  • Recipe collection app.
  • Eco-friendly stationery supplies.
  • School pet tracker.
  • Trade Me alternative for students.
  • Education around digital technologies for seniors.

Ecosystems and our environment

  • Ocean and plastic education paired with a rubbish bin solution for schools.
  • Full rubbish bin design and software for an accompanying notification system when the bin is full.
  • Recycling leaderboard for schoolhouses.
  • Smart lure to attract possums.
  • Personal carbon footprint tracker/counter.
  • Climate change.
  • Public bathroom tracker; includes rating system.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:00 am, 8 November 2019

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