Digital fluency comes with context and meaning

Can a dog’s undirected ‘skills’ teach us about STEM learning among children? Is an activity that we don’t understand the same as learning a new skill? In an amusing blog, Daniel Groenewald recently looked at coding, how we might teach skills and what we hope to achieve. 

Posted on 1 August by Clare McHugh with excerpts from original post by Daniel Groenewald on 29 July 2016.

‘Coding skills are not that useful in isolation’ writes Daniel Groenewald. ‘Being able to code without solving problems is much like reading words out loud but not understanding what they signify.’ His recent blog is a reminder to place meaning and context at the heart of digital literacy.

Groenewald, coordinator of Digital Learning at Catholic Education Western Australia, was reflecting on the push to include coding in school curricula and the teaching of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) and related disciplines.

‘Literacy teaching of the last two decades’, he says, ‘has solved this problem by stressing the functional aspects of literacy. We learn to read, write, speak and listen to achieve specific purposes.’

We should be doing the same for STEM teaching. Young children’s learning about STEM concepts and acquiring STEM-related skills, including coding, should enrich their understanding. Solving a real world problem, using narrative, ‘hands-on’ opportunities for enquiry-based learning  and providing contexts that are meaningful to the child, are all important parts of teaching STEM in the early years.

In a blog that manages to include his part-time dog, Shadow, to explore meaningful digital literacy, Groenewald wonders how coding will fare in an education system not exactly awash with coding expertise. (And yes, that’s right, Groenewald has a part-time dog whose undirected ‘skillset’ he says reveals much about coding and STEM. You can read the full blog and learn more about Shadow here.)
The federal government is doing something to address coding and STEM expertise among early childhood educators and to promote the concepts in the early years. It has funded a national program that supports early childhood educators to integrate science and mathematics concepts into their programs and engage families in their young child’s STEM learning. The federal preschool program launched last month in partnerships with The Smith Family’s Let’s Count and the Little Scientists programs for children aged three to five years. To find out more click here.

Educators and families don’t necessarily need a part-time dog to spark young children’s interest in scientific learning and methods. Being curious, creating, constructing and connecting comes naturally to young children. They are naturally curious says Sibylle Seidler, project manager of the Little Scientists preschool program. ‘We work with the children and keep on nurturing their natural curiosity.’ In fact the challenge is to reignite adult interest by reconnecting educators and families with the curiosity they had as children.

‘We need to think very carefully about how we integrate the key thinking skills that buttress STEM in the real world,’ Groenewald writes. After all, coding ultimately is about controlling computers to ‘do things that enrich human life by solving problems that people will pay’ to have solved.

You can read Daniel Groenewald’s full blog, What STEM can learn from our part-time dog’ on LinkedIn, 29 July 2016. Click here to read.

Clare McHugh

Clare McHugh is Early Childhood Australia's (ECA) Strategic Communications Executive, working on projects that support ECA’s reputation as a trusted voice for young children, their families, educators and carers. Clare has been part of ECA's Learning Hub Team, managed ECA's Start Early. Respectful relationships for life project and ECA digital initiatives including the federally funded Digital Business Kit and Live Wires. Clare has been thinking and writing about children, family and social policy for a number of years, including for the Commonwealth Child Care Advisory Council and the Australian government.

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