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Coding matters for primary students

Coding matters: Core concepts for digital learning

Coding is just one part of the new Australian Digital Technologies curriculum that allows students to develop an understanding of being able to use, and create with, digital technologies. Bec Spink reports.

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School Shades

School Shades: One teacher's initiative for student eye health

Education Matters in a recent interview. “My son had an eye disease that was treated by a paediatric ophthalmologist who advised by that under Australia’s harsh UV rays, my son (and all children) should wear a pair of sunglasses to protect their eyesight. “As a primary teacher of 10 years, I wondered why we sent our students out to play only with a hat but as teachers, we wore a hat and sunglasses when supervising playground duty. If adults saw the need to wear sunglasses, why not provide them for children was their eye is more susceptible to damage from UV rays during its development?” Recent research shows that children require a minimum exposure to natural light of around two hours per day to reduce the risk of developing myopia. But if children aren’t protected from harmful UV radiation during those times, severe damage can take place, leading to problems with eye health that may not become prevalent until years later. It was this problem Mr Whetton hoped to solve, yet after dozens of meetings and emails with existing sunglasses suppliers, he realised that if he was to provide affordable eye wear to students around the country, he would have to start his own line of products. “I created the School Shades brand and product, found a manufacturer, and eventually found the pathway to addressing Principals at their area meetings. I have met with state politicians and I have leaned on my Masters research skills and been featured at University.” Now, Mr Whetton has addressed 25 Principals’ conferences across Australia, speaking to thousands of primary school leaders regarding their responsibilities to promote sun safety and, more specifically, eye health. As a result, 100 schools from around the country have partnered with School Shades to provide approximately 20,000 students with sunglasses. And while the sunglasses do cost money to produce and distribute, Mr Whetton said the project has been “funded and energised by [his] zeal to make this change for the health of Australian kids”, and was never intended to be an exercise in generating profits. “The sponsorship of Principals’ meetings and the running of the business is expensive,” he said. “I do not draw a salary from this initiative.” Instead, either the school or the school’s P&C Association funds the purchases of the products for their students, with that money being used to produce and market more pairs of sunglasses. Each student is then assigned a pair to keep and label, which they are expected to wear during breaks, particularly during peak UV times in the middle of the day between 10am and 2pm. “Our shades are branded and colour-matched to the school, so it becomes part of their school uniform. Students clip the included carry case onto their bag and wear them every day,” Mr Whetton said. You can learn more about this initiative via the School Shades website.  ]]>

Brain neuroscience EduTECH

UK neuroscientist to discuss digital disruption in the classroom at EduTECH 2016

As a scientists, writer, broadcaster and member of the House of Lords, Baroness Susan Greenfield (CBE) has an extensive and varied education, but her favourite topics include how emerging technologies influence the brain – a subject that is of particular interest to educators.

Due to speak later this year at EduTECH, Baroness Greenfield will present on the topic ‘How the digital world will change the way we think and learn’. Seizing the opportunity, Education Matters put in a call to discuss the future of technology in the classroom with Baroness Greenfield.

One of the topics high on our interview list relates to the push towards promoting STEM subjects in Australian classrooms, and in particular with a number of experts predicting that coding will soon become synonymous to literacy skills. Baroness Greenfield, however, is skeptical about these ideas.

“The word ‘literacy’ is very emotive, I think,” she said. “You can become skilled in coding and many other similar tasks, but literacy implies an understanding and application to a wide variety of life’s aspects. To say someone would be literate in computing and robotics means something much narrower than the way we apply it to reading.”

“Coding doesn’t open up an understanding of the world in the way books do.”

Nevertheless, it’s undeniable that technology is changing rapidly, and often ends up having unintended consequences for the classroom paradigm, but Baroness Greenfield doesn’t think educators need to feel like their losing touch or struggling to keep up.

“The crucial issue that’s often forgotten is asking yourself, ‘What do I want to achieve?’. Until you know that, it’s hard to identify if you’re achieving anything. Most educators would agree that the focus is still very much on teaching kids to give the right answers to specific questions, but I don’t personally believe that’s ever been the real objective of education. Rather, it’s about facilitating students’ abilities to join up the dots in new ways, to foster confidence in new ideas – and that can only be achieved through inspirational teaching.”

Rather than replacing the work of a good teacher in any way, Baroness Greenfield believes that technology fills the role of an “adjunct” rather than an alternative, and that inspirational teachers will therefore find inspirational ways to engage with children via technology. But, she stresses, we’re yet to see the full impact of the digital generation.

“People talk about millenials, but we have to remember that Facebook only arrived around 2006,” she said. “That means the generation that are truly immersed in the digital world are still at school. Once they graduate and start taking part in the workforce, then we’ll begin to see the real impacts of digital disruption, in my opinion.”

While change is inevitable in some respects, Baroness Greenfield is quick to point out that the changes we see are nevertheless mediated by the current generation and how we shape education decisions and policy as a guide for future generations. As such, there are a few key issues she’s particularly keen to address before they become larger problems.

“Teachers continue to be overworked and underpaid in most places in the world, with many leaving the professions as a result. There’s too much regulation and so the career is no longer an attractive scenario. People need to feel relaxed and happy if they’re to do a job well over a long period of time.

“Ultimately, the notional of the teacher/pupil classroom will never change,” she said. “The best way to learn is for someone to teach you. For example, I taught medical students for many years within a traditional Oxford/Cambridge teaching system of question and answer. Just like the Ancient Greek dialogues – that’s how you develop ideas, that’s how you develop teaching that should never change. You could use screens or other technologies to facilitate that relationship, but you can’t move away from what is a very exciting human interaction.”

EduTECH will take place from 30 May – 31 May, 2016 at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre this year. See the website for further details.

Little girl reading

Study: Preschool quality and attendance need urgent attention

A new report indicates that a significant number of early childhood education services do not meet minimum standards and that over 60,000 children start school with poor social skills and emotional wellbeing.

The document, entitled ‘Quality Early Education for All: Fostering creative, entrepreneurial, resilient and capable learners’, was published this month by the Mitchell Institute.

Drawing on a broad variety of research, including the latest ABS statistics on preschool education, the authors highlight the ‘unacceptable divide in both opportunity and outcome between the poorest and wealthiest communities, between cities and very remote towns, and between children from different cultural backgrounds’.

Perhaps most interesting is the statistic that one in three Australian children aren’t attending early education for the hours required to make a difference.

According to the authors of the report:

There are substantial differences between the way education experts and Australian families understand child development and early learning.

In particular, while experts see early education as a critical site of development and learning, families often see child care primarily as a place where children are looked after safely while they work or study.

A national campaign is needed to highlight just how important quality early education is for kids, not only for helping parents to work.

The full report can be found on the Mitchell Institute’s website, while a summary of the findings has been released via The Conversation.

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