The secret is coding – not colour coding

Cutting straight through No Gender December, The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, Minister for Communications, was delighted by the number of young girls using technology creatively at Wee Care Kindergarten where he launched Early Childhood Australia’s Digital Business Kit before Christmas.

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‘It is great to see so many girls engaged here’, he said speaking at the Bondi Junction early learning centre. ‘Creativity is critically important. Machine languages and familiarity with machine languages are enormously important.’

‘Learning how to code is a vital skill. It’s going to be as vital for these kids growing up as reading and writing is. It’s not a substitute for that of course but it is another vital language.’

Ruth Weinstein, Director of Wee Care, agrees. ‘We’re very influenced by Reggio Emilia. It’s about children’s voices and allowing children to use a hundred languages to express themselves. Technology is just another form of language that they can use to express the things they’ve done’.

The Reggio inspired kindergarten offered many angles on integrating technology into children’s daily explorations. Touch screen challenges, collaborations on tangible play puzzles, an animated movie made by the pre-schoolers about saving turtles were a few examples on display.

In another corner the Architectural Planning team were hard at work on ideas for repurposing a neglected outdoor passage. The team worked with projections, digital and hand drawn images and intend to translate their ideas to a professional design via computer.

‘We need to embed innovation in every part of our culture’, Mr Turnbull said. But there is a catch.

‘It’s a conundrum,’ Mr Turnbull said. ‘In fact the percentage of women studying computing science at university is actually falling. Now, why is this so?’ According to the president of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, ‘the problems are essentially cultural ones’ he said.

Australia’s predominantly female early childhood sector has a role to play in changing the current low female participation in the sciences and technology.

In the month where gendered toys were a hot topic, the Minister urged greater engagement in digital technologies from the earliest ages by all children.

‘If you can ensure at the earliest stage that technology and computers and screen-based devices like these are not seen as being boys things—as opposed to boys and girls things—that will make a very big difference.’

The Minister commended Ruth and her educators on the integration of technology into the rich program offered at Wee Care and the children’s creativity in using it.

‘What you’re doing is showing that the smallest children can use technology in very creative ways, from simple shapes and little movies to architectural work.’

Click below to view a video of the Wee Care children and Minister Turnbull at the launch.

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Clare McHugh

Clare McHugh is a Project Manager in ECA’s Learning Hub. She is responsible for the Digital Business Kit, exploring possibilities for technology in the early childhood sector, and for Start Early, an initiative to develop long term strategies that prevent domestic and family violence. Clare has been thinking and writing about children, family and social policy for many years, including previously for the Commonwealth Child Care Advisory Council and the Australian government. Her background is in psychology and professional writing. She has worked in adult development and group facilitation, employer sponsored child care, family relationships and in the publishing industry. Outside of ECA Clare continues several writing and publishing projects through her freelance business.

7 thoughts on “The secret is coding – not colour coding”

    Darren Clark says:

    As a professional development provider in Qld Primary schools, I have found huge student engagement showing students the ‘Hour of Code’ video clip featuring high profile celebrities in America …as an intro for coding their own computer game using ‘Scratch’. Why not have an Australian version of this to promote code as a language??

    Clare McHugh says:

    What an interesting idea. Thanks Darren. What ages do you work with? Upper primary?

    Gary Bass says:

    Congratulations on the article, may many more follow with increasing detail and deeper analysis of expanding curriculum options for learning in Australian schools.

    Part of the undercurrents on numbers is the maths requirements. Algorithmic thinking is high level mathematics…with all the savant associations. In popular culture, the discovery of Alan Turing and fictional Sherlock Holmes are the latest heroes.
    The culture alluded to by reference to declining enrolments overlooks total enrolments are also declining.
    Many tertiary courses are vocational in nature, learning one code rather than ‘ algorithmic thinking’ which is left to second or third year after a ‘year of code’ in first year which “weeds out” those who are not quick adopters of strict rules….
    Creative free thinkers can be rewarded in earlier years which do not focus on code as such but the workflow/pseudo ode solution Ito the problem.

    Similar to the OSMO device used to illustrate your article, certain rules are applied however, new games with different rules can also be invented(using SDK) and alternative methods applied

    It is the alternative methods that ‘should be’ introduced into schools…this requires mathematical understanding and problem solving..which is currently in very short supply and even shorter demand as it is very difficult to test or reward effort as the “right answer” is often not apparent.
    This is completely unappreciated by ACARA and NAPLAN..and by the states education departments..
    In Victoria, however a new year 12 subject Algorithmics begins in 2015 in 14 trial schools(13 government schools)..this is an attempt to introduce mathematically thinking BEFOREHAND code. The project is supported by VCAA, Melbourne and Monash Uni and Google..

    Clare McHugh says:

    “Creative free thinkers can be rewarded in earlier years which do not focus on code as such but the workflow/pseudo ode solution Ito the problem.”

    Thanks for the feedback Gary and I agree that the deeper level attitudes, skills and thinking that underpin coding are what matters most in children’s early years. These include curiosity and inventiveness, self-directed learning, problem solving, analytical and mathematical thinking, rather than coding and learning rules. Many rich, play-based early learning programs already incorporate these into young children’s daily experiences. Simple sorting tasks, identification and categorising games are examples. It does not have to be all high tech and screen-based to develop digital literacy and tech mastery.

    Vrena Koch says:

    I’m in agreement with Clare McHugh – it does not have to be all high tech and screen based to develop digital literacy and tech mastery. At my school we engage in many hands on activities, many are play based but they still achieve the same results. I believe that there is no need for very young chn to be spending lots of time using technology to learn when engaging in play that is rich in imagination and engrossing for the chn can be just as educational.

    Helen Knaggs says:

    In our Kindergarten I think we do a lot of coding and STEM but we do not use IPads very often. While I think they are an essential tool, I see the pre-school classroom as being the setting that does the foundation work, just like we do with floundation building in literacy and numeracy. So our classroom loves lots of discovery learning understanding how to sequence and understand patterns and repeat patterns, making simple circuits and using them to make interesting machines and inventions, exploring forces like gravity and and inertia, discovering the joy of hypothesis and then experimentation as the children conduct play with interactive materials, coding through games and board games. The screen device can supplement all these activities by allowing the children to document their work and present it meaningfully, and with supplementary apps. But I think the relationships and dialogue that are the precursor to the use of the device is far more important than the device itself.

    Clare McHugh says:

    You seem to be doing wonderful work in the kindergarten. I love the idea of tinkering and making simple circuits to make machines and explore physics (gravity and inertia). Thanks for your thoughtful comment Helen. We couldn’t agree more that it’s about the relationships, the dialogue and the activities not simply the devices and what buttons to press. STEM in particular works well moving between devices and physical experiences rather than trying to teach it only via a device.

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