Developing computer programming concepts and skills via technology-enriched language-arts projects: a case study
Volume 19 Number 3, 2010; Pages 307–326
Researchers have trialled the use of a new educational tool designed to allow children to learn computer programming. Computer programming has in the past been considered too abstract and complex to be taught to children, but the tool, Scratch, is designed to reduce this difficulty. Instead of having to remember and type in programming commands, children need only to recognise and select 'visual programmable blocks' from a menu. The blocks of programming only work when syntactically correct, alerting the user at once to errors. Through this process, Scratch allows children to create multimedia products such as games and animations. When working with Scratch children are required to describe a complicated task, separate it into sub-tasks, solve these tasks, and reassemble them to resolve the larger task. In this way Scratch introduces students to the algorithmic thinking required for computer programming. This type of thinking is required in a wide range of problem-solving situations beyond the academic environment, but in schools it is currently taught only in mathematics classes. Scratch was evaluated through the case study involving one nine-year-old boy. Short activities with the tool were used to teach him key programming concepts and skills, repeated and reinforced in different contexts. Through these methods the participant proved able to learn most of the required concepts and skills, though in two cases the investigator had to explain them. The article includes a table listing Scratch activities and associated programming concepts and skills, as well as reproductions of some Scratch screenshots.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Thought and thinking
Volume 33 Number 2, 22 June 2010; Pages 134–150
The writing skills of a Grade 3 class improved after participation in a project that exposed the students to high-quality literature in the classroom. The two-week project, based in New Zealand, was run by their classroom teacher in collaboration with a university lecturer. The children were immersed in the study of high-quality texts with proven appeal to the young readers, on the theme of cats. The selected texts contained strong characterisations and plot, and rich vocabulary. A flipchart was on display allowing students to re-read keywords and passages from the texts. The teacher took the children through the techniques that authors used to achieve their effects, such as employing similes. Students were encouraged to conjecture about plots and characters. The teacher then encouraged the students to write new texts, applying newly acquired words and appealing phrases from the literature. The work also included scaffolded poetry exercises designed to deepen students' sense of rhythm and sound in language. In another exercise, students collaboratively rearranged passages they had written, while a further exercise called for children to prepare their own descriptions of cat characters. The project was observed to improve students' motivation, writing technique and awareness of language technique. The authors initiated the project in response to concerns about the 'genre approach' in New Zealand's English curriculum: at school level it often led to a 'sequential decontextualised' approach to writing instruction, with teachers 'policing' set textual rules at the expense of students' creativity and independence. They were concerned as well about a significant decline in the oral language proficiency of children entering the teacher's school, and more general perceptions that students' interest in writing declines as they move through primary school. One of the authors' inspirations for the project was earlier research activity with primary students undertaken by the CLPE in England.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Number 24, Summer 2011; Pages 16–18
The National Diploma of Education is a new qualification for the post-compulsory years. It combines academic and vocational learning with a focus on developing life skills. Students undertake a 10 week vocational placement during each year of the course, as well as 40 hours of community service, in forms such as community-based projects, family care, support for refugees, or other forms of volunteer work. The course can be undertaken at Standard or Advanced levels. The Standard level is aimed at students who wish to move from secondary education directly into work or advanced vocational courses. It covers industry learning, personal development, various employability skills, literacy, ICT literacy and numeracy. Students in this stream also complete a VET qualification, the Certificate II in Work Preparation. The Advanced level of the diploma is designed for students who wish to pursue academic studies at tertiary level. This stream can be combined with mainstream senior secondary qualifications. English is a compulsory element of this stream: it includes English subjects currently undertaken for state and territory curricula, or the International Baccalaureate. Students must also complete three subjects covering at least two of the domains of humanities and social sciences, STEM, and the creative arts. The course is offered at selected schools and TAFE colleges this year. It was developed by the ACER in association with Wesley College in Melbourne.
Subject HeadingsSenior secondary education
Vocational education and training
Facebook and other Pandora's boxes
November 2010; Pages 24–32
Facebook, like other social networking tools, offers potential benefits for schools and school libraries. It can be a very helpful way to connect with parents and students, for schools or individual teachers. Working with Facebook provides professional learning about technologies used by students. School libraries can use it for book promotions, and reference and news services (eg see advice from David Lee King for ideas). Suitable use of Facebook also allows a school to model good digital citizenship to students. When using it, however, schools and libraries need to put in place a number of educational and procedural measures to safeguard their interests and the interests of students. Schools need to establish guidelines and a code of conduct covering all online communications related to the school. These guides should cover expectations regarding interpersonal behaviour and procedures regarding cyber-bullying. It is often recommended (eg by Education Queensland) that teachers do not 'befriend' students on Facebook, and teachers need to be generally circumspect about their online profile. Facebook's privacy procedures are complex, changeable, and influenced by commercial interests. The surest way to protect privacy is not to upload any information that is personally sensitive or personally identifiable. Students should be alerted to the concept of the digital footprint and to the dangers posed by passwords that are easily hacked by peers, by forwarding of individual or group emails, and by businesses that collect data online and offline. Further advice is available from sources including EFForg, Nilay Patel on Engadget and David Lee King. School filters to control Facebook use may be undermined through students' use of smartphones, or by websites advising how to bypass filters and other 'nanny software'. School filters may also block educational sites. However, not having a school filter increases a school's responsibility to monitor school-based online activity. Intellectual property issues also need consideration, especially as Facebook 'essentially owns all user data'. An effective school or library Facebook account also requires interest from students, and time from staff. Alternatives to Facebook include chat and forums on protected intranets. Parents should be encouraged to monitor their children's use of social media, for security and to prevent the erosion of study time. The author also examines the general social impact of Facebook. (Readers may also be interested in the Curriculum Leadership articles Applying social media in schools and Schools and social media – CL.)
Subject HeadingsInformation services
School and community
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Volume 68 Number 4, December 2010; Pages 87–88
Educators are joining an increasing population of people using social media. A recent US survey found that 61 per cent of teachers, principals and librarians are active in at least one form of social media. Principals are using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to share good news stories, promote school events and provide links to local newspaper articles, videos and resources connected to student learning, building a sense of community and parental involvement. These forums also provide an insight into student thoughts and feelings, which can now be considered when discussing teaching and learning. At many schools, however, teachers have had their attempts at using social media blocked by school firewalls. These schools are wary of introducing social media for fear of cyberbullying or inappropriate postings. Schools looking to embrace social media may want to take some precautionary measures before proceeding. For example, observe what other principals are doing to get an idea of what information is being shared; obtain signed media release forms from families when using photos or videos of students; and keep the school community informed about the purpose of the social media efforts. (Readers may also be interested in the Curriculum Leadership articles Applying social media in schools and Schools and social media – CL.)
Subject HeadingsSocial media
November 2010; Pages 10–15
The success of educational interventions in the USA varies independently of their scale. For example, Head Start is a major, high cost project that has delivered only modest and short term gains in student performance. Another major intervention with disappointing results is the school voucher program, designed to offer choice of schools for low-income parents. Semi-independent charter schools have had a high profile but on average have not produced better results than public schools. Other large-scale K–12 interventions have been very successful: the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), Uncommon Schools, and the Harlem Children's Zone. KIPP, the most comprehensively evaluated of these programs, substantially extends students’ hours at school and offers students 'experiences that are typical of what upper-middle-class children get', such as trips to cultural centres, and music and photography programs. The program also involves teachers in home visits and emphasises and rewards high standards of behaviour. Some small-scale interventions have also been very successful. They include the HighScope Perry Preschool Program, the Abecedarian Project, a program led by researchers Aronson, Fried and Good, and another program run by Oyserman, Bybee and Terry.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
United States of America (USA)
Student capabilities and attitudes towards ICT in the early years
Volume 25 Number 1, July 2010; Pages 18–24
A recent study has examined young students' involvement with ICT at home and at school. The study focused on 187 children aged 5 to 8, in Reception to Year 3, at two South Australian primary schools. It examined the students' use of and attitudes toward ICT, and their technological capabilities. At both schools just over half the students came from a non–English-speaking background. One school mainly served disadvantaged students, the other served a relatively prosperous community. The higher SES school had a higher percentage of students that own and use ICT at home, and the students at this school had more access to online games that require purchase or subscription. These students possessed more technological knowledge and skill, used ICT more at home for schoolwork, and had a more positive attitude toward using it in the school environment than students at the low-SES school. The teachers at the higher SES school possessed a higher level of technological skill than teachers at the other primary, and they had a broader grasp of how ICT can be used to help students learn. They encouraged more creative use of computers for learning purposes, involving their students in the design, production and critique of multimodal texts. At this school 90 per cent of students reported that they found it fun to learn with computers. By contrast, the teachers at the lower SES school assigned less challenging tasks, in which ICT was used for software drills or to access the internet. At this school 48 per cent of students reported that computers make learning fun. These results therefore highlight the connection between the level of teacher skills, knowledge and confidence in using ICT, and student attitudes toward technology. Generational labels such as 'millennials' conceal the impact of these issues.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Subject HeadingsSouth Australia
Early childhood education
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Some initial thoughts on using a SMART Board in the media classroom
Number 57, December 2010; Pages 78–81
A research group made up of primary and secondary teachers has been exploring how to use interactive whiteboards more effectively to further students' learning. The results of the early stages of research have shown numerous benefits to using a SMART Board in the media classroom. The SMART Board has a screen size of 77 cm and attached speakers, which improve the viewing and sound quality of films. It has an added software feature – a 'Screen Capture toolbar' – that enables media teachers to grab stills from a film and present them to the class for the students to annotate on the board. The images and notes can then be exported and put on the school intranet for students to access when required. The SMART Board allows the class to search the internet as a group, for example, in response to any student questions about the film. All the class notes are recorded, which allows the teacher instant access to previous lessons and is useful for exam revision. The SMART Board also features a blind that can cover information that a teacher wants revealed at a later time. A great advantage of the SMART Board is that it encourages students to participate. It provides interactive exercises, such as 'drag-and-drop'. The research group was organised and funded by the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning (PEEL).
Maths, infotech and 21st century learning
Volume 2010 Number 216; Pages 6–11
Discussions on how to teach maths are often unhelpfully polarised into 'teacher centred' and 'student centred' positions, unduly counterposing conceptual and alogrithmic thinking. Supporters of current student-centred maths teaching sometimes also caricature traditional teaching methods as a regimented 'cookie-cutter' approach inherited from the 'industrial age'. This exaggerated dichotomy is not supported by two important studies, one by David Clarke the Director of the International Centre for Classroom Research at the University of Melbourne, and the other by Lipang Ma, titled Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics. Together with other research, these studies indicate that success in maths classrooms can be attributed to a diverse range of teaching methods, and suggest the need to integrate traditional and reform-oriented approaches. One integrated teaching model is proposed in Alfred Whitehead’s Aims of Education. It identifies three stages of learning. In the first, 'romance' stage the student is drawn to the appeal of the idea of the subject. Following this is a stage of 'precision' where the student will learn technical competence and accuracy. Lastly, the 'generalisation phase' provides a deeper understanding that is enhanced by the acquired technical skills. The article also refers to other issues in maths education, arguing, for example, that the claims sometimes made for applying neuroscience to education are overdrawn. The article also argues that ICT is not simply a tool for streamlining mathematical processes, but also offers an opportunity to examine algorithmic thinking. The author is a curriculum developer for the Mathletics program, which is also described in the article.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
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