There are plenty of ways to teach Digital Technology*, but in the day of a busy teacher precious resources such as time, energy and creativity are sometimes moved to the back of the queue by the many other small tasks that need doing. Hence the word ‘easy’ in the title of this post – sometimes a small, tidy, manageable bite of DigiTech is all that you need. Naturally, it is hoped that once you’ve taken a bite you will be hooked!
*Please note that I use the title Digital Technology interchangeably with DigiTech, DT, computer science or coding, depending on my mood. No logic to it 🙂
The big ideas
These are just a few of the ideas we can be teaching under the new DT curriculum – there is more detail here, for those who want it. The definitions below are Computer Science ideas:
- Decomposition/algorithms – this is breaking a task down into simple, unambiguous steps. This is fun for people who think logically – it tends to ‘just make sense’. It is the prerequisite to most other coding ideas. Learning this can be as simple as drawing a flowchart or writing a set of instructions for a task.
- Debugging – testing, fixing and improving a computer program. In coding, as the real world, things go wrong. It’s FINE for computer code not to work perfectly the first time – in fact it’s normal! Being able to methodically find and fix problems with your code is a vital skill.
- Binary – computer data is stored and transmitted in bits and bytes, by tiny switches that can be either on or off – represented by 1 and 0. One of these is a bit, eight of them is a byte. Students don’t need to know too much about binary, except that it exists, and that it’s a base-2 system.
- Control structures – these are the main structures found in computer programs, and are used in most (possibly all?) coding languages.
- Sequential – a sequence of steps in order
- Conditional – selecting an option according to whether certain conditions are met. eg it age is greater than 45, do this, else do that.
- Iteration – a loop
Learning a wee bit of binary is a good introductory activity for students before they move into more complex coding. The resources from CSUnplugged are the best that I’ve seen so far. In classes I usually follow the sequence:
- We start with a set of five cards with 1, 2, 4, 8 and 16 dots on them. Together we discover how these can be used to represent any integer up to 31.
- Then we move on to understanding that flipping these cards to show the dots is like flicking a switch on or off, or like writing a number using 0s and 1s. consolidate this understanding by solving puzzles written in binary code.
- Next comes a fun activity in which groups of students are challenged to count to 31 as a team, as in the video below.
Fun! Have one students direct the teacher in how to make a cup of tea, or how to perform the “heads, shoulders knees and toes’ dance, and purposely misunderstand any instructions that aren’t clear and simple enough.
Then set up a grid on the floor and tell students that they only have two instructions available to them – ‘move one step forward’ and ‘turn 90° to the right’. They need to guide their partner through the maze without stepping on any ‘bombs’. This is quite entertaining if done with the ‘robot’ blindfolded!
It’s good if students come up with the idea of using repeating sections of code, or iteration. They can then re-write the program using iteration and notice how much more efficient it is. When they get to this stage it is easier to draw the program rather than just instructing the robot verbally.
Scratch is designed as an easy ‘drag-and-drop’ entry point into coding, rather than diving straight into the more complex text-based language. Although there is an application available for download, the online version will suit most schools. Simply create a login and then click on ‘create’ and start coding. There are built-in tutorials, or try the video tutorials below.
The rest of my beginner Scratch tutorials are here.
Edison robots are cheap, simple to operate and robust. The can be programmed using the EdBlocks app in a browser, EdWare for more advanced students, and EdPy for seniors.
From the Edison website: Make robot programming fun, easy to learn, and powerful with multiple programming languages. Start with drag-and-drop graphical icon-based EdBlocks, jump straight into text-based coding with Python, or anywhere in between: Edison can be programmed using any of our educational robot programming languages. You can easily use the same Edison robot with different languages – just open the programming software application you want, connect your Edison and get started!
You can purchase these from Mindkits, or other online retailers.
Here is the the Workbook for juniors – a good place to start.
Lots more resources and links…
- Simple algorithms
- CS Unplugged (NZ, no computers required)
- My Scratch tutorials
- Coding using people – eg kidbots
- Binary code
- Hour of code
- Sparkfun kits
- Interface magazine – NZ mag aimed at teaching about and using tech
- CSFirst online curriculum and resources (Australian)
- Code Club Aotearoa
The new DigiTech curriculum:
- Trevor Storr’s great collection of links and resources.
- TKI pages containing overview and progress outcome examples.
By the way, if it WAS digital fluency that you wanted to know more about, I highly recommend The Mindlab course for teachers, the Google Certified Educator programme, or any number of online courses through FutureLearn, Open2Study or other online providers.
- Facebook – Learning Tools in the 21st Century
- Student sites (websites made by my students)
- Teacher Tech Tips NZ – My adventure into the world of Instagram (trying to keep up with the kids!)
- E-Learning tutorials for MC staff (feel free to use or steal)
- Rebecca’s Tutorials on Youtube
- The presentation – the slides used with the ‘New DigiTech Curriculum’ workshop
- My DigiTech Curriculum website – from the other workshop