The new Technology syllabus: preparing our students for an unknown future.

Daniel Bailey is a Technology Teacher at Knox Grammar School in Sydney.

Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, parents have been asking their children, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” The question these days is not as easy to answer, as the future of employment predicts students having between 10 to 15 jobs by the time they are 40. This restructure of employment lies with what academics are referring to as the Automation Revolution (the fourth industry revolution), as we embark on a disruption of technology like never before.

Video of Year 8 LED technology project: strip lamp in action (discussed below).

While the impact is already being felt, it will be our students who will experience its full effect, as traditional jobs disappear and new ones are created. The Future Workforce Trends in NSW: Emerging Technologies and their Potential Impact Report, tells us that 50% of the jobs in NSW are at risk of being replaced over the next 10 to 15 years by automation and the implementation of machine learning (through deep learning).

How can we equip our students for a future in which the majority of jobs are yet to be invented?

For myself and other educators, this poses a number of challenges, with a key question being, “How can we equip our students for a future in which the majority of jobs are yet to be invented?” Thankfully this question and the imminent disruption of technology has also been recognised by the Federal Government who have developed a National Curriculum for Technology, which aims to assist educators in preparing our students for this change.

While a number of states have already implemented the newly developed National Curriculum, NSW Educations Standards Authority (NESA — previously NSW BOSTES) Technology Syllabus is currently in a draft format. An important addition to the Draft Technology Syllabus in NSW included the following three methods of thinking:

  1. Computational Thinking;
  2. Design Thinking; and
  3. Systems Thinking.

When ratified, this syllabus will provide Technology Teachers with a structure and new ways of thinking which will assist them in preparing our students for a dramatic disruption in Technology. While the terminology may be new, these ways of thinking have components that are familiar to some Technology Educators, in that they still provide our students with an opportunity to create quality solutions but with the added benefit of integrating contemporary Digital Technologies.

Computational Thinking

Despite a number of similarities, we need to ensure that we have a solid understanding of each way of thinking. For example, the addition of Computational Thinking removes the confusion that was often associated with ICT skills. By adding clarity around this, Educators now realise that there is a mandatory requirement to use Digital Technologies as a problem-solving method, rather than using technology for technology’s sake. The Australian Curriculum defines Computational Thinking as “a problem-solving process that involves various techniques and strategies that can be implemented by digital systems. Techniques and strategies may include organising data logically, breaking down problems into parts, defining abstract concepts and designing and using algorithms, patterns and models”. Further information on the difference between ICT Capacity and Digital Technologies can be found at the Digital Technologies Hub’s ICT vs Digital Technologies discussion, which also includes a number of infographics and a video overview by A/Prof James Curran, Director of the National Computer Science School.

By simply exploring Computational Thinking, it becomes obvious that this way of thinking can be beneficial and provide additional opportunities for students; however, a change in any curriculum can certainly be challenging for teachers. This is compounded when the changes in industry, particularly around Digital Technologies have taken considerable time to filter into our curriculum. The implications of this are directly felt by our Technology Educators who are left with a huge hurdle for to jump. Fortunately, several other countries including the UK have recently navigated a similar change, allowing us to benefit from their experience and the many resources they have developed.

One example of this can be seen with the UK’s website BBC Bitesize, which has provided teachers with an excellent Introduction to Computational Thinking. It clearly articulates the four components of Computational Thinking through accessible language, appealing diagrams and students quizzes for immediate feedback.

Australian resources for teaching computing

While sites like BBC Bitesize are incredibly helpful, a number of local resources have become available in preparation for the imminent changes to the Technologies Syllabus. In particularly, the Digital Technologies Hub also provides an easy to follow overview of Computational, Design Thinking Systems Thinking.

Similarly, CSER Digital Technologies Education also provide a number of MOOCs providing Technology Teachers with an opportunity to explore how they can be prepared for the syllabus changes.

More recently we have also seen the establishment of the Australian Computer Academy offering some targeted professional development for teachers around Digital Technologies.

If Technology Teachers are to utilise these ways of thinking in their classroom, they need to have more than just an understanding and must begin putting this theory into practise. The skill of coding is often utilised within Digital Technologies and certainly can be an excellent framework to teach Computational Thinking. However, the issue for many teachers is how to develop this skill. The struggle for many can include limited time to develop these skills at school, being located in a remote area, or not having access to teachers who have taught coding before. As a result, educators in this situation are left to find online resources that provide good support, links to curriculum and are not a financial burden. In my journey the answer was quite clear and that was National Computer Science Challenge (NCSS Challenge) offered by Sydney University’s National Computer Science School via the Grok Learning portal.

Image above Dan Bailey’s Dash Board view at the Grok Learning Portal

We were very fortunate at my school, in that over the past several years we had offered our students an opportunity to participate in the NCSS Challenge. So when the imminent changes to the Technologies Syllabus became apparent, we inquired with Grok Learning about the possibility of our Teachers undertaking the NCSS Challenge as a way to put the theory they had learnt into practise. The response from Grok Learning was not only positive, but they also confirmed that all teachers, irrespective of faculty, could sign up to Grok Learning for free!

Resources for students (and teachers)

There is a broad variety of websites teaching both teachers and students to code, we have tried many; however, we always ran into the same problem that at some point a considerable fee is required for teachers. The other challenge is that the majority are not Australian and don’t link to the Australia National Curriculum. Originally I didn’t think this was a problem as I just wanted our students to learn to code, but we have found that the local connections and the understanding of the new curriculum has pushed Grok Learning to the front of the list. Grok Learning has not only provided us with free teacher access, but has encouraged our parents to participate and provided connections with IT companies such as WiseTech Global.

Since enrolling our first teachers in the NCSS Challenge all those years ago, we have had over 20 teachers from different faculties and even more parents enrol with Grok Learning and commencing their coding journey. In particular, a number of Technology Teachers have moved forward in leaps and bounds. We have been fortunate to have some develop a passion around micro-controllers, others making the switch from using flash based website development to teaching students HTML and CSS using nothing more than text editors. Even our experienced Software Design Teachers have been inspired to teach our HSC Software Design and Development course with more contemporary languages such as Python after using Grok Learning https://groklearning.com/launch/.

Project based learning

We have also seen an influx of Digital Technologies, particularly with Arduino based platforms within the Major Design Projects within the HSC Design and Technology course. With a little knowledge and an opportunity to put this into practise, the NCSS Challenge has been a crucial springboard for us.

Year 8 Technology. LED strip lamp with etched acrylic on timber base. LED strip controlled by Arduino Uno, acrylic etched by laser cutter. Courtesy of Technology Teacher Melinda Valent who has completed the NCSS Challenge.

It is apparent that there are some dramatic changes in our upcoming Technology Syllabus. While they may feel overwhelming for some, we are fortunate to have a number of local online resources to gain both a theoretical and practical understanding of Computational Thinking, Design Thinking and Systems Thinking.

Year 8 Technology. Student video on their research using the Arduino Uno from the Sparkfun Inventors Kit. Video Courtesy of Technology Teacher Dan Bailey who has completed the NCSS Challenge.

You may still be asking, “how does the addition of these ways of thinking ultimately help our students prepare for the disruption in Technology which has begun”. The simple answer is, giving our students the ability to use critical thinking skills to solve problems. Without knowing exactly what jobs, what software, what hardware and how advanced machine learning will become, we can only be confident that we are equipping our students with a range of thinking skills and processes that will enable them to solve the complex problems they will face in an unknown future.

What do you think about the new syllabus? Add your comments below.

References

Chris Angus. 2015. Future workforce trends in NSW: Emerging technologies and their potential impact. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/researchpapers/Pages/future-workforce-trends-in-nsw-emerging-technolo.aspx. [Accessed 19 June 2017].

Committee for Economic Development Australia. 2015. Australia’s Future Workforce?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ceda.com.au/research-and-policy/policy-priorities/workforce. [Accessed 19 June 2017].

Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. 2017. Technologies. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/technologies/introduction. [Accessed 19 June 2017].

NSW Education Standards Authority. 2017. Technology Mandatory Years 7–8 Draft Syllabus for Consultation. [ONLINE] Available at: http://educationstandards.nsw.edu.au/wps/wcm/connect/d9721ae6-02a3-4fa7-98db-c5c7e3f1ccb7/Technology+Mandatory+7-8+Draft+Syllabus.PDF?MOD=AJPERES&CVID=. [Accessed 19 June 2017].

Digital Technologies Hub. 2017. ICT vs Digital Technologies. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.digitaltechnologieshub.edu.au/teachers/australian-curriculum/ict-vs-digital-technologies. [Accessed 19 June 2017].

School Education Gateway. 2015. Computer programming and coding in schools — an emerging trend. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.schooleducationgateway.eu/en/pub/news_events/computer_programming_and_codin.htm. [Accessed 19 June 2017].

BBC Bitesize. 2017. Introduction to computational thinking. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/guides/zp92mp3/revision. [Accessed 19 June 2017].

Like what you read? Give Daniel Bailey a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.