Programming with Scratch – An educator guide.

An underrated programming language.

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The ‘Hello World’ program written in Scratch – Hello World is often used as a simple program to illustrate the basic syntax of a programming language for a working program.

Scratch is a graphical programming language and online community where users can program and share interactive media such as stories, games and animations. Whilst it is targeted at 8 to 16 year olds, anyone of any age can write a program in Scratch.

At first glance Scratch looks pretty basic, which for a large part it is. As a visual programming interface, blocks are dragged from a palette and assembled to create programs without the need for the user to type written commands or syntax for the computer to process.

However, when I work with some teachers who have wider experience in computer programming languages, they are often critical of Scratch for reasons such as:

“It isn’t a real programming language!”

“Real coders don’t use blockly…”

“It’s far too basic and not challenging enough!”

“Would a paid computer programmer use Scratch in their workplace?”

Beliefs such as these miss the point that a programming language is a language that allows people to communicate instructions to a computer. This is exactly what Scratch does, without the worry of having to manually type and assemble the commands through text. For example, a user can give instructions like “make that character move forward on the screen”, or “wait 5 seconds, then play this sound”. The friendly and easy to use approach with blocks means that the gap towards understanding computer programming is minimised, as it is far easier to use and evaluate intended code. Hence, children as young as 8 years can be immersed in the world of computer programming with much delight.

However, beyond moving and meowing cats (which is what users typically create the first time they use Scratch), projects can be far more complex because of important features such as ‘loops’ (repeat blocks) and ‘conditionals’ (if-then blocks). With these commands, users can create algorithms, or instructions to complete specific tasks upon specific events. This ties in beautifully with the scope of Digital Technologies found in the Australian Curriculum, where students from even as early as Foundation begin to conceptualise algorithms.

 

The Papert legacy heralded by Resnick.

Long time advocate and founder of Scratch, Mitch Resnick, believes that as children create with Scratch, they learn to think creatively, work collaboratively and reason systematically (Resnick, 2014).

Today, Resnick leads a research group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, where amongst many other initiatives, the team continues their work on the Scratch programming language and social platform. There are more than 20 million users worldwide, known as ‘Scratchers’.

Scratch is based on the seminal work of Seymour Papert, who died in 2016. Papert developed the Logo programming language, which was essentially the first programming language for kids. He was a pioneer of educational technology and among the first to advocate laptop programs in schools. Papert pushed the envelope for young children to explore, experiment and express themselves through the use of computers (Papert 1980).

Resnick has written about the profession’s default assumption that computers are a way to pour knowledge into our kids. He argues that we should be focusing instead on creating open sandboxes with “low floors” (easy ways to get started), “high ceilings” (ways to chain together tools to make sophisticated projects), and “wide walls” (lots of paths to accommodate many learning styles). (Resnick, 2017)

In my experience, Scratch really is a perfect experimental and development playground when it comes to developing notions of computer science with young children. The interface and language is intuitive and logical to express simple ideas, yet expansive enough to make even sophisticated games, animations and stories.

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The Scratch Cat is the mascot of Scratch and the default sprite when opening a new Scratch project. He / She becomes the protagonist for many projects.

 

The 4 P’s of Creative Learning.

Resnick and the Lifelong Kindergarten team attribute the success of Scratch upon 4 ideas or elements: Projects, Passion, Peers and Plays (Resnick, 2014). The so-called Four P’s of Creative Learning are strongly aligned with (and inspired by) the Constructionist approach to education, which emphasizes the value of learners playfully creating personally-meaningful projects in collaboration with peers:

ProjectsWe learn best when we are actively working on projects – generating new ideas, designing prototypes, making improvements, and creating final products.

Peers – Learning flourishes as a social activity, with people sharing ideas, collaborating on projects, and building on one another’s work.

Passion – When we focus on things we care about, we are likely to work longer and harder, to persist in the face of challenges, and to learn more in the process.

Play – Learning involves playful experimentation — trying new things, tinkering with materials, testing boundaries, taking risks, iterating again and again.

In Scratch, students can create projects which interest them through play. They are able to share their projects through an online community which has the potential to be viewed by others. Providing an audience to students can be incredibly motivating and purposeful. One only has to look at the gallery of published projects on the Scratch home page (see scratch.mit.edu/explore) to find that audience members indicate their enjoyment for a project through comments, and perhaps even more flattering, can also remix and make variations on the original project. It’s not uncommon to find suggestions or questions to the author about why they made certain choices. The author can choose to become engaged with these comments and make changes based upon them, illustrating how something becomes better when people think through it together.

Whilst these four P’s are not radical new ideas, they do provide a valuable framework in supporting creative learning and thinking – an essential 21st century skill to equip our students with.

 

Using Scratch in a classroom setting.

The Scratch team has put in a lot of effort into moderating the community to maintain the type of positive and safe environment where people can play – not just to have fun, but to take risks, test boundaries and try new things.

Scratch originally started as a tool for kids, but it wasn’t necessarily built for classrooms. In the past, managing projects has been challenging for some teachers trying to use Scratch in schools. However, teachers have the option of creating a teacher account to create classes. From within the class, the teacher can send a signup link so that students can sign up for the class and create an account within that class. This process does not require individual email sign-ons for each student, which might be challenging for some schools and age groups.

Within class accounts, teachers can change student passwords, assign projects, send updates and moderate student behaviour. If a student does something against the policies of the Scratch community (see scratch.mit.edu/community_guidelines), MIT will send an email to the teacher. Teachers can also create studios, which is like an assignment, where all students in the class will automatically be followers of the studio and be able to receive updates about it and add projects to it.

 

Scratch platforms

Scratch has seen many versions and iterations since it’s conception in May 2007. For a while, the only way to use Scratch was to use an offline installer on the Linux, Mac or Windows platforms. In May 2013, the arrival of Scratch 2.0 meant that users could now create programs using an online editor at the Scratch website. It also made it possible to instantly see the code inside other’s users projects and remix those.

Scratch 2.0 is fantastic for students who can read, but users younger than 7 or 8 years old often struggle to understand the concepts in Scratch.

In 2014, the Scratch Junior (or Scratch Jr) platform was introduced, specifically designed for younger children. It runs on tablets as well as Chromebooks, and is much more touch friendly and suitable for early year learners with it’s bright and appealing interface. Many of the programming concepts of Scratch 2.0 are also found in Scratch Jr, however the difference is that the commands are made much more simple by representing them as images or symbols, rather than words.  This means that children aged 5 to 8 who are still learning to read can create their own interactive stories and games. Similarly, children snap together the graphical programming blocks to make characters move, jump, dance and sing. Users can modify characters in the paint editor and add their own voices and sounds, even insert photos of themselves – then use the programming blocks to make their characters come to life.

You can get started with Scratch 2.0 at the website scratch.mit.edu/create using most modern browsers (flash enabled) with an internet connection.

Offline versions of Scratch for Windows, Mac and Linux can be found at scratch.mit.edu/scratch2download/

The Scratch Jr app can be located on iTunes for iPads, on Google Play for Android, or the Chrome Web Store for Chromebooks.

Due to be released later this year, Scratch 3.0 will land on public release and will not be reliant on flash, which means it will basically work on anything AND be able to program USB / Bluetooth connected devices / peripheral / robotics. You can check out the pre-release now by going to preview.scratch.mit.edu

 

How to get ‘scratching’

Upon launching the editor you will notice the interface divided into several panes:

  • > The Stage – is where the action happens when the program is run. The stage can also contain several backdrops that can be used for titles or interfaces.
  • > The Sprites – which contains a library of objects or graphics to use in the program. Sprites can also be created from a blank canvas or imported as images from an external source.
  • > The Scripts – which contains the available set of programming blocks.
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The Scratch interface as viewed by default when the program is launched.

Blocks can be dragged out into the work area to program the various sprites in the project. Snapping together like lego, it’s very easy to see how the relationship and order of the blocks affect each other.

There are 10 types of block categories:

  • Motion — Make the given sprite move, whether by steps, toward another object, or via direct coordinates.
  • Looks — Lets the sprite hide or show itself, switch costumes, change size, or move between layers.
  • Sound — Play sounds, change volume, or adjust the tempo.
  • Pen — Draw with a marker and change its color and shape.
  • Data — Lets you create your own variables. This comes in extremely handy for elements that Scratch doesn’t have built-in.
  • Events — Criteria for kicking off other actions, like when you click the green flag or press the spacebar. These blocks connect with the other blocks to make the action happen.
  • Control — Loops to repeat an action, perform an if-else statement, or stop something.
  • Sensing — Place these blocks into others to perform actions when a sprite is touching another element or the user is holding down a key.
  • Operators — Math elements that let you perform arithmetic or basic boolean operations on variables.
  • More Blocks — Make your own blocks if these aren’t enough!
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Users can select from various categories of commands. Blocks are colour coded to make it easy to distinguish.

 

Resources

Educators wishing to explore the possibilities of Scratch with their students may find the following resources useful:

Scratch for Educators (scratch.mit.edu/educators) – Contains advice for all educators for using Scratch. See also scratch.mit.edu/parents.

Tutorials and activity cards (scratch.mit.edu/tips) – Easy to follow and navigate, these step-by-step tutorials are a great way to explore application uses within the Scratch platform, for example making objects fly, animating a name, making music, or making a paddle game. Many of these tutorials can also be found in the help tab inside the Scratch editor.

ScratchED (scratched.gse.harvard.edu) – An online community for educators by educators, ScratchED contains resources and ideas for using Scratch with students.

Computer Science First (csfirst.withgoogle.com) – CS First provides enrichment materials for students in Years 4 to 8. Facilitators use video tutorials to teach concepts of computer science through themed clubs, for example Game Making and Storytelling.

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An example of an animated storyboard that students can be guided through using the CS First materials.

Makey Makey projects for Year 3 to 6 students (anthsperanza.com/2017/06/27/mmprojects/) – Previously, I have written about project ideas and lessons involving Scratch and Makey Makey hardware to make physical objects interactive.

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An interactive electronic paper circuit, powered by Makey Makey and Scratch.

Let’s Teach Kids To Code, TED Talk by Mitch Resnick (ted.com/talks/mitch_resnick_let_s_teach_kids_to_code) – Mitch Resnick demonstrates the benefits of teaching kids to code, so they can do more than just use new tech toys but also create them.

 

References

Resnick, M (2014) Give P’s A Chance: Projects, Peers, Passion, Play. Paper presented at Constructionism 14 Conference, August 19th – 23rd 2014, Vienna, Austria. Available at: http://constructionism2014.ifs.tuwien.ac.at/papers/1.2_1-8527.pdf

Resnick, M. (2017). Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity Through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play. MIT Press.

Papert, S (1980) Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas. Basic Books, Inc. Publishers.

 

About this article

This article was originally prepared for the November 2017 issue of the ACEL e-technology publication, and has been modified to suit this post.

 

Makey Makey projects for Year 3 to 6 students

MaKey-logo-events

Makey Makey together with Scratch is a wonderful combination of tools that can be used to create all sorts of nifty solutions with students, as well as teach the basics of circuity, conductive materials and algorithms. Whilst we have used Makey Makey and Scratch on a small scale at my school before (commonly during Genius Hour projects), this term we have used the CSER lending library so we could teach components of our Digital Technologies Curriculum (Victorian) to all students in Years 3 to 6. You can read more about what our students thought about these projects here.

As all students in year’s 3 to 6 have their own Chromebook, so it was very easy to use the Scratch 2.0 application via the Chrome browser. As Chromebooks all have a USB peripheral port, Makey Makeys will plug directly into Chromebooks and essentially behave like an input device. Therefore, you can program in Scratch to respond in certain ways when specific keys are pressed, and Makey Makey can mimic those keystrokes.

A good way to see the potential behind Makey Makey is to check out the Makey Makey Labz page, which includes a gallery and a set of guides or tutorials from other people around the globe who are inventing with Makey Makey. They also have an educator page which contains some basic to advanced lessons, as well as a link to a forum which is growing in user activity.

For further materials and educator resources relating to Scratch and the links to the Digital Technologies curriculum, see these relevant presentations by myself here.

Below is a series of lessons that were conducted with our 3-4 and 5-6 year levels. Our lessons are usually made available on our Google Site or Google Classroom, where the teacher can display the lesson and the relevant part of the lesson on the projector screen. Students can also open the lesson on their own device when required, so you will notice that the lesson has been designed for this in mind. All lessons are licensed with Creative Commons, so feel free to make a copy, add to and modify, simplify or extend. Most of these plans were carried over at least 2 lessons, and in some cases, several weeks. The particular concepts explored could also be made to suit 1-2 or 7-8 level. Do reach out to me if you use these successfully, I’d also love to know if you adapt or modify beyond these plans.

Most of these lessons are designed around Learning Objectives and Success Criteria framed using the SOLO Taxonomy verbs. This was deliberate by design as the SOLO Taxonomy can be useful as a schema towards deep learning and higher order skills required for creative work. For example (below), you wouldn’t expect students to be able to create a drum machine (EXTEND) unless they were able to apply their knowledge of Scratch and Makey Makey (RELATE), of which they wouldn’t be able to do unless they were able to assemble the components in the correct order (MANY IDEAS) after understanding and identifying the correct function of each system component (ONE IDEA).

Capture

Also included in the table is a link to the relevant way of thinking within the Technologies curriculum (Australian) at each SOLO stage, mainly for the teachers as a reminder to be explicit about these concepts and ideas.

Year 3-4 lessons / project ideas

Sound machine project (foil drums) (link) – 3-4 students commenced with a simple sound machine project using plastic cups wrapped in foil, and an alloy bbq tray to act as a grounding point. Students played the electronic drums by placing one hand on earth and the other hand on a foil cup to create a complete circuit. This project could be modified so that students can wear an “earth bracelet” so that both hands are free to play, or conductive materials are used as drum sticks which are connected to earth so the circuit completes when the sticks and cups are connected.

 

Paper circuit project (link) – Students then created a paper circuit that could be touched by finger to create a circuit. It worked surprisingly well using plain white A4 paper and 2B grey-lead / graphite pencil. They observed many examples of paper circuits that were found online before creating their own. If we had more time on this project, it would have been great for students to recreate a musical tune that will play when a finger is run across the circuit page as per one of the examples we saw. This circuit project could also be extended to making interactive posters.

 

Wire game (link) – The final project that 3-4 students worked on was a buzz wire game using wire and play dough (which contains water and therefore makes as a good conductor) to recreate an old carnival fare classic. The game can be made easier or harder depending on the positioning of the wire components. This project was also a good introduction to IF / ELSE conditional loops. This project could be modified so it includes a counter every time the user makes it to the end of the wire, as seen here.

 

Year 5-6 lessons / project ideas

Sound machine project (foil pads) (link) – 5-6 students commenced in a similar way to 3-4 students, except they had to cut and paste foil onto cardboard to make their own synthesizer inspired music pad. Again, this could be modified so that drum sticks or an “earth bracelet” are used to free up both hands.

 

Electronic bin project (link– As part of our term 2 inquiry focus on inquiry, students were invited to make a working prototype of an electronic bin. Working under the umbrella of “How might we change human behaviour to have an impact on our environment?”, students took a design thinking approach to plan, build and improve their designs. This project took a good 6 weeks to complete but could be shortened.

 

Other projects

 

As mentioned earlier, several students have incorporated Makey Makey in their Genius Hour projects over the last few years, for example:

A true / false buzzer system that interacts with a quiz on Scratch (link)

A safe fencing game made out of foil vests and wands (link)

An interactive dance mat (link)

A basketball shot clock and score keeper (link)

A shuttle run counter and timer (link)

 

 

Is there a secret sauce for organisational change?

Recently I was working with primary and secondary educators at a conference about leading organisational change.

I usually start this workshop with a Socratic circle, asking colleagues to share their biggest challenge or obstacle towards adoption of technology in their school communities. As attendees rattle off bugbear after bugbear of their sticking points, I listen intently to their key messages and (attempt to) make connections from what they are describing by way of a mind map.

It is always interesting to see how varied these connections are, but ultimately, it seems that regardless of the type of school or where it is located, the problems are seemingly universal:

“Our teachers are not motivated to use the tech”

“We are still debating acquisition strategy (shared / 1:1 / BYOD)”

“Leaders higher up the scale are not supportive of my change”

“We are still trying to push the envelope to truly transform our classrooms with technology”

Once everyone has had their say, I often take a deep breath before I admit a simple truth. There isn’t a silver bullet, a definitive recipe, or even a secret sauce for dealing with all of these challenges.

As I have written previously, schools can be incredibly hard places to change, and at times, difficult spaces for re-imagination to take place. Technology itself often becomes the focus of anything that is to be supported or enhanced by technology, when the reality is that it is only just one piece of the puzzle. I use the diagram below in a lot of my workshops to illustrate the point that social capital makes up most of the equation, not technology.

Screenshot 2017-04-14 at 6.51.37 PM

Driving change with technology can be particularly complex, and for some school communities, still not even well understood. Some of my favourite authors around change, leadership and re-imagining schools include Michael Fullan, David Price, Andy Hargreaves, Eric Sheninger, Guy Claxton, Clayton Christensen, John Kotter… and I could go on. But that’s not the point.

Their ideas, frameworks, strategies and even research can indicate how to drive change in our schools, and what that can look like. Whilst their suggestions on what ‘works best’ can be taken as definitive, we should be mindful of the conditions of where and how it ‘works best’.

Schools are incredibly diverse in their people, their needs, and their structures; and just because a strategy worked in my school with my team, doesn’t mean it automatically works somewhere else!

 

Transformation Center

One of the resources I suggest to educators who are interested in driving change in their school community is the Google for Education Transformation Center. It still surprises me how many school leaders I interact with who have not heard of this useful resource, even though it was announced last year.

Google TransformationCenter

The Transformation Center is a hub of resources, materials and best practices to support schools in the change process. And whilst no magic secret sauce is offered towards transformation in schools, it does highlight success stories, case studies, and guides which have come from real schools that are driving real change.

The Center categorizes a seven element framework that educators and schools have emphasised when dealing with change:

  1. Vision
  2. Learning
  3. Culture
  4. Professional Development
  5. Technology
  6. Financing and Durability
  7. Community Involvement

 

Under each of these themes, educators can find suggested strategies and questions for consideration that can serve as an individual reflection, or a great discussion springboard at a team meeting.

There is also a resource directory where you can filter by ‘problems solved’, which contain the most common challenges reported by schools under each element of the framework, and gives related support material.

Even though our schools are different, we often face the same challenges and opportunities. The Transformation Center is a great way that members of our profession can connect more widely with educators around the globe to realize that change is hard, but possible when coupled with certain strategies for certain conditions.

In my opinion there is no generic secret sauce for change, because change depends very much on the purpose of change, the community context, and stakeholders at hand. However, The Transformation Center does reveal that through the power of a connection and sharing our practices, we can equip ourselves to move our agendas of innovation forward.

If you have your own experiences of innovation and change, consider sharing your idea to the Google for Education team for inclusion of your story as a powerful resource.

Screenshot 2017-04-28 at 11.43.34 AM

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Educators, are you using the Transformation Center?

How might educators connect to drive agendas of innovation and change?

 

 

 

 

 

 

What if teachers and schools were less risk averse?

This text was originally prepared for Educational Services Australia and published on the Scootle Lounge, and has been modified to suit this post.

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A photo by Alex Wong

Developing the positive connotations around failure, effort, and growth mindsets is one of the most powerful gifts that we can give to our students.

People would agree that if students are not making mistakes and learning from them, they’re not developing as they should be.

I would argue that if you are not making mistakes as a teacher and learning from those, you are not developing as you should be either.

Of course, mastering the classroom curriculum is very different to mastering the fine art of teaching. However, when it comes to the professional standards for teachersI would argue that a teacher cannot possibly develop through these standards unless they are willing to try new things, reflect, and learn from their practices.

Modern students are encouraged to take risks in their learning. Therefore, we as teachers should be encouraging ourselves to do the same. If we are not failing and learning from these failures, we really need to be asking ourselves if we are daring audaciously at all.

We are creatures of comfort

Teachers tend to find the familiarity of daily practice comforting and predictable. A new process, idea or organisational change becomes a very threat to that because it is in opposition to what we know and expect.

The human brain is hardwired to keep us safe, the consequence of which is to be habitually averse to change. We tend to stick to tried and tested units of work rather than embrace new methods. We wouldn’t want to look silly in front of our students if that new gadget or gizmo didn’t behave on the day, and we certainly wouldn’t want to deal with the mess or chaos that might ensue if we gave a bit more freedom and autonomy to students in the classroom.

Change is both hard and uncomfortable.

We plead with our students to take risks in their academic work, yet many adults in our system seem to stay frozen in time, rarely changing their classroom structure, embracing a new technology, redesigning a curriculum unit or reimagining a lesson plan.

If we are serious about providing the best possible education for our students, we need to face the reality that the traditional schooling that we have inherited is inadequate. If we want to change the way our classrooms and schools operate, then we must put the expectation upon ourselves to dare to do things differently, better and more deliberately.

Previously, I have discussed the need for schools to think and act in agile ways if they are to remain relevant for modern students. Progressive change in our schools goes against the traditional notion of schooling where educators teach masses of content in an orderly and easily digestible way that is ultimately measured on a report card or a test score. We can avoid the ‘same old, same old’ if we decide it is time for us to embrace change and approach our professional practice with a willingness to innovate, try new technologies and pedagogies, and constantly reflect upon and improve students’ classroom experiences.

Pausing to reflect

To progress is to learn more about what we don’t know, which requires a curious mindset and a willingness to be investigative by giving something a go.

All teachers should be encouraged to innovate in their classrooms if they are to reimagine the possibilities for their students. This requires thoughtful reflection around asking the right questions about the current state of the school or classroom, and thinking about where the desired outcomes should be.

This happens best when we slow down and step back. This is seemingly difficult because humans can be very task and goal orientated. Especially, when it comes to workloads, teachers can have the feeling that there should be no time for pausing and reflecting, but rather, getting on with the task at hand. It is hard for individuals, and even harder for organisations to build a culture where reflection and questioning is prioritised.

Stopping may be perceived as the antithesis of progress but, when you stop, you pause and invite questions. These can lead to insights, ideas and new possibilities. For example:

  • Why is teaching content decided by teachers?
    Asking ‘Why’ can provide insights and offer perspectives on problems and challenges that can be used as opportunities for improvement.
  • What if students had genuine co-creation in the curriculum plans?
    Asking ‘What if’ invites the creative imagination and brings an innovative mindset to the fore, allowing for the exploration of new possibilities in the classroom or school community.
  • How might we include student voices in the design of the curriculum?
    Asking ‘How’ invites action and the execution of ideas, which can be explored in an iterative manner, embracing risk and failure as part of the process.

Taking a leap of faith

Organisations and schools are facing times of dramatic change, reflective of the world around us. Therefore, the school community and individual teachers need to be comfortable with constant questioning of and reflecting on current practices.

We may find that each time we challenge ourselves it becomes a little easier and that, in doing so, we gradually expand our comfort zone and deal with our fear of change. It is through deliberate practice that we can build our own capacity for change, just as we tell our students.

Every day we have the opportunity to improve ourselves. Let’s think about our own practices and the bold path and required actions towards great educational experiences for our students.
In the wise words of Dr Suess:

“If you never did, you should.

These things are fun and fun is good”

(From ‘One Fish Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish’)

 

#DisruptEDU – Disrupting the traditional education paradigm in a positive way.

disruptedu-logo

Today, I’m excited to formalize the #DisruptEDU pet project from the incubator. It aims to amplify disruptive thinking and actions in education by providing useful resources for people, and assist myself and others to find their tribes.

You can read more about how and why I chose to be bothered with the status-quo of education by reading these two posts.

The DisruptEDU logo above depicts a speech bubble within a representative D. To me, amplification of disruptive thinking and ideas in our schools requires dialogue; that is, understanding perspectives from multiple sources within the school community and beyond, conversations and questioning around the current status and intended status of school as we know it, and communication of ideas that helps us to understand that it is possible to design our own relevant futures if we believe we can.

There are a few ways that people can be involved in this dialogue:

Flipboard Magazine

At a simple level, you can check out resources that I am collecting through a Flipboard Magazine. Useful for sharing a provocation with that fixed-mindset colleague, or to lobby your school board, or just to have a read to fuel the heart and mind.

flipboard-icon-150x150 – http://flip.it/Pwa-Uj

 

Google+ Community

As a more social avenue, the #DisruptEDU community on G+ is a space for like-minded individuals to discuss stories and ideas.

googleplus-logos-02.png – https://plus.google.com/communities/117977025614247793043

 

Twitter

If Twitter is more of your thing, you can use the #DisruptEDU hashtag to connect with others in your PLN, and share your own relevant content that you find.

twitter-128.pnghttps://twitter.com/hashtag/disruptedu

 

#DisruptEDU on this blog

It’s no secret that I am advocating for change in education whenever I have a captive audience. You can view relevant posts and updates by following the #DisruptEDU category on this blog, or view talks and presentations on the subject from the static #DisruptEDU page at the very top of this blog.

 

Mind the (Digital Technologies) gap.

This text was originally prepared for Educational Services Australia and published on the Scootle Lounge, and has been modified to suit this post.

mind the gap

(Image credit: A photo by Pawel Loj)

With the nation’s first Digital Technologies Curriculum available here and now, many schools have begun implementation into their own school settings, or are looking to do so in 2017.

As a new curriculum which brings challenges that either excite or terrify teachers, how do schools prepare themselves for successful implementation?

Below is a list of questions, key considerations, and resources that might be useful for school communities who wish to successfully implement the Digital Technologies Curriculum.

 

mind-the-digital-technologies-gap

Key considerations and questions to ask in order to prepare for implementation and sustainability of the Digital Technologies Curriculum

Audit Teacher Readiness

  • Are teachers willing to shift?
  • Are teachers familiar with the curriculum?
  • What is their level of expertise?

Some teachers might sigh at the thought of continued ‘meddling’ with our curriculum, but we need to face reality; advancements in technology are rapidly shaping the world as we know it. It is our obligation to ensure that students are best prepared for a world which is increasingly reliant on technology. The Australian Government’s National Innovation & Science Agenda is one reflection of this response to a shifting workforce and innovation economy.

It should be of no surprise that the NMC and CoSN reported that these trends are already having an impact in schools as identified in the 2016 Horizon Report; with the idea of ‘Coding as Literacy’, and ‘Makerspaces’ as the new classroom. The report certainly puts into context the changing landscape of education in light of technology, and will remind teachers of the need to be responsive educators that provide the best possible learning for their students.

In July of this year, the ABC produced a compelling documentary titled ‘Future Proof’: 44 minutes of provocation that will ignite plenty of healthy discussion around the need to introduce concepts of Computer Science at an early age.

TED talks can also be useful for sparking conversation. Mitch Resnick’s ‘Let’s teach kids to code’ talk clearly outlines the benefits of  students learning to code. Also worth looking at is a talk by Linda Liukas titled ‘A delightful way to teach kids about computers’. Linda is the author of the picture story book Hello Ruby.

 

Audit Student Readiness

  • What prior knowledge do students have?
  • What are their needs?

With several toy manufacturers placing toys that involve computer programming into the marketplace, some students are becoming exposed to certain skills and concepts of Computer Science before their teachers even deliberately provide these opportunities.

Modern students who grow up with technology are fluent with ICT, and navigate technology easily. Teachers will be called upon as expert learners to assist students to be effective at using those fluencies for productive learning, and designing solutions with technology. A key distinction between the ICT Capability in the Australian Curriculum and the Digital Technologies Curriculum, is that the Capability assists students to be effective users of ICT, whilst the Curriculum assists students to be effective creators of solutions with ICT.

 

Digital Leadership

  • Which teachers or programs can be used?
  • How is ICT embedded in curriculum?
  • How is ICT supporting Learning & Teaching programs?

The introduction of Computer Science concepts into our curriculum is unfamiliar to most teachers (I am yet to meet too many teachers that have degrees in both Education and Computer Science!)

Teachers on the front line will be the crucial linchpin to determine implementation success. TPACK is a framework that identifies the type of knowledge required for effective pedagogical practice in light of technology. Leaders should be aware that the knowledge and practice of concepts such as computational thinking or algorithms is adding another layer to the already complex problem of leveraging technology with students in the classroom.

The University of Adelaide has been pioneering teacher education of Computer Science in recent years, and offers a free MOOC for teachers to prepare them to be effective educators with the curriculum. More recently, the university has also provided access to a lending library for schools, and supporting project officers in each state. More information can be found on their website.

The Digital Technologies Hub which contains plenty of links, curriculum resources, implementation advice, and access to professional development is also an invaluable resource for schools.

 

Curriculum Leadership

  • Where are the strategic links between Technologies and other curriculum areas?
  • Is there solid planning in place for weekly, termly, semester, yearly overviews?

Schools must make deliberate decisions that consider when the knowledge and skills of the curriculum are taught, and how evidence of student’s development is captured, assessed, and reported upon. It will be up to the collaborative expertise of teachers to design cross-curricular opportunities to develop students’ knowledge and skills in purposeful and engaging units. This will require dialogue and support with a variety of stakeholders within the planning process, and should not be left to one individual, or the resident ‘technology expert’ in the school.

Are schools agile enough to evolve with society?

This text was originally prepared for Educational Services Australia and published on the Scootle Lounge, and has been modified to suit this post.

A photo by Denny Luan. unsplash.com/photos/ovm_b91yEgY

(Image credit: A photo by Denny Luan

 

Agile: the ability to move quickly and easily.

A question worth considering is, ‘Are our schools agile enough to evolve with society?’

Do they move quickly and easily, with clear purpose? Or are they clumsy, stiff, and slow?

Most importantly, are they responsive to changes happening in society? If so, how responsive are they, and in what way?

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said ‘Everything flows and nothing stays’ — a striking reminder that the only guarantee in our complex world is that change is constant. In modern society, change is occurring all around us, at a seemingly exponential rate. In particular, technology has changed the way in which we live, work, play, and socialise. Yet at times, it seems that our schools are stagnant, unresponsive, and unwilling to adapt, reinvent, and reimagine learning opportunities in order to stay relevant.

google-define-agile

‘Agile’ as defined by a Google search. Interestingly, its use over time shows a significant spike just before the turn of the 21st century.

Let’s rewind only a modest 10 years ago. No iPhone existed, nor did any iPad. Instagram was unheard of, and Facebook had a mere 12 million users.

Fast forward to today, and it’s hard to argue that technology hasn’t fundamentally shifted our world as we know it.

But has technology pervaded our schools in the same way that it has augmented our lives? To a degree it has, in scattered classrooms, with teachers and leaders who recognise the potentials and pitfalls of technology, and are agile enough to adapt.

Has technology pervaded into every classroom, or has every teacher changed their processes and structure in response to technology? Not a chance.

Our ignorant inheritance

Today we live in an ‘innovation economy’. The skills required to succeed in life have intersected with the skills required to be an effective citizen. Several decades ago, well before teachers and students used the internet, it made a lot of sense to teach the facts and content of a specified curriculum. This ‘factory model’ of education, where the teacher was the ‘dictator’, was acceptable for the time, but bears little relevance for today. However, the influence of an industrial era model can still be observed in schools now.

The tragedy of this inheritance is that we hold a lot of traditional structure that has become engendered in us. Generally speaking, learners are grouped according to age, with the teacher then deciding how to unpack the specified curriculum to those groups of learners. We tend to favour the telling of content to students rather than allowing them to discover. We tend to teach to the cohort rather than personalise pathways. Innovative teaching methods that involve technology such as flipped-classrooms, blended learning, game-based learning, makerspaces, inquiry, and project-based learning are yet to become the ‘norm’ in every school community.

Above all, technology has made access to information ubiquitous. Students no longer have to rely on only the teacher to learn or discover. Yet, the majority of our schooling system reinforces that students should come to school ready to listen and memorise the content from the teacher, or risk a demotivating failure on a test.

There should be no competitive advantage on how much ‘Student A’ may know in comparison to ‘Student B’. Both have, or should have, the commodity of knowledge available to them with the swipe of a finger. Instead, both students need to be able to ask great questions, critically analyse information, form expressive opinions, create products and solutions, and collaborate and communicate with one another, with and without technology. These are the skills essential for life in today’s world.

Essentially, school as we knew it, depended on how well pupils could passively consumecontent and retain facts and knowledge from the teacher, assessed by what students knew. School as we need to know it, should depend on how well pupils can actively consume then create content, critically ascertain facts from multiple sources, and be assessed with what students do with what they know.

So we need to ask ourselves, are we consciously and actively developing these opportunities with our students in mind? Or are we falling short? As the 2016 education machine turns out the next graduates from a system that teaches and tests narrow aspects of a curriculum that any smartphone can handle, we potentially set our future generations for failure, unhappiness, and social discontent.

We need to face the facts and recognise that technology has caused disruption to our economy and society. However, embracing technology will also be one answer moving forward, with many schools having already done so. Has technology fundamentally changed the machine of education? Not yet… but it certainly has started to put the wheels in motion.

Change in our schools

With the rapid change in the last 10 years, one has to wonder what the next decade will bring. Will schools be responsive enough to meet the needs of today and tomorrow, with one eye on the present and one eye towards the future? Will they be agile enough to remain relevant for students and their parents?

Schools will need to be prepared to change, adapt, and reimagine the established machine of school as we know it.

Change is taxing and requires effort. It requires us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. It requires us to challenge the status quo, recognising that what we have always done may not be the best solution; and being dissatisfied with ineffective and no longer relevant pedagogies, procedures, and structures. It requires relentless dialogue and shared vision with all stakeholders about the purpose of school, the alignment of our beliefs and practices, and asking the question: ‘is this best for our students right now’?

We have natural a disposition to protect the tried and tested, rather than embracing the ‘new’. This is why new and innovative ideas are difficult to launch and gain traction, as the natural response of the status quo is to favour the known road rather than the risky foreign pathway.

Creating the space for innovative change to occur requires risk, trial and error, and an open mindset. After all, no real learning happens with failure, for either students or teachers. This means schools, leaders, and teachers need to be prepared to try new techniques if we are to disrupt conventional methods of education. We also need to be prepared for the status quo push-back, and allow space for positive conflict, disturbance and uncertainty to occur, in order to find ideas that will provide the highest level of value and outcomes for all stakeholders.

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Schools need to create space for innovation, and at times, tolerate the messy and chaotic rather than the predictable and ordered. (Image credit: A photo by Azrul Aziz)

The age of disruption

Examples of disruptive innovation and its impact on society can be observed at an increasing rate, as more and more organisations exploit technology and the consumer. Uber and similar ride-sharing services are changing the way in which we travel, Airbnb is changing the way we sleep abroad, and Google Cars and other autonomous vehicles are changing the way we commute, deliver, and transport goods.

The innovators behind these initiatives have a few things in common:

  1. They are agile and responsive. They have grown quickly, and have a ‘fail fast, fail quick’ approach to rapidly improve their services.
  2. They leverage technology to find gaps and meet the needs of clients in new ways.
  3. They are not afraid to find problems and tackle them head on.

Schools could probably learn a lot learn from these examples!

American businessman Jack Welch once said: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near”. As tomorrow comes around, current and future technology trends will continue to push the boundaries of traditional schooling.

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Can schools keep up with the pace of change on the ‘outside’? (Image credit: A photo by Tim Gouw)

Responding to these trends will be crucial for schools. They may struggle or embrace, dissolve or evolve with society. Those schools that are not agile or responsive may eventually be scrutinised by society. It is possible that we could see the whole notion of school questioned, and formal education challenged.

A useful resource for schools and teachers alike is the NMC Horizon Report, which discusses developments in technology, short to long term trends in education, and the associated challenges for schools. It is essential reading and research for any educator who wishes to stay abreast of the influences that will drive educational change and policy.

 

horizon

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2015). NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Available from http://cdn.nmc.org/media/2015-nmc-horizon-report-k12-EN.pdf

There are no easy answers available to shift schools in the right direction. The ‘right direction’ will need to be determined by the schools themselves, who will write their own futures. It is reliant upon the stakeholders within school communities to acknowledge the need to take appropriate action. The obvious stakeholders who wield the heaviest axe are teachers and staff leaders.

It is up to us to challenge ourselves to embrace change, so that we might evolve education to a rate that reflects evolution in the society in which we live.

It is up to us to challenge ourselves to let go of the past, recognising that it’s not about what we know from past experiences; but about being open to what could be, and what might better suit the needs of young people today.

Every decision we make contributes to this. When we teach in a certain way, question a traditional paradigm, leverage technology to new potentials, nudge a school in one direction, or influence today’s generation, we co-create what is coming next. It is up to us to be responsive. If we are passive, we will be too late. We can make change happen. We are all, each of us, practising futurists and world-makers. Let’s do so with open eyes, hearts, and minds.

Let’s think differently, learn differently, and disrupt the machine of education as we know it.

It’s up to us to define our own relevant futures.