Pulls and pushes: Political pressure to implement STEM education and digital technologies.

Year: 2017

Author: Blackley, Susan, Howell, Jennifer

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The implementation of the new Australian Curriculum (AC): Digital Technologies for students in Foundation to Year 10 (essentially 5 to 15 year olds) is one of a raft of curricula that have been developed globally to reignite engagement with what was called "Computer Science" in the 1960s. Whilst a resurgence in Computer Science has been occurring this decade in the United States, New Zealand, England, Wales, Scotland, Greece, Germany, and India (Jones, 2011), the depth and breadth of study as outlined in Computer Science Education does not seem to be addressed other than in specialist senior secondary school subjects. The continued preoccupation with nationwide, international, and high-stakes testing across a limited selection of curriculum (mathematics, science and literacy) has not only narrowed the taught curriculum in schools, but has also consolidated and elevated the status of didactic and implicit pedagogies in schools, and in so doing, has effectively eliminated the computer programming of the 70s and 80s (Pinkston, 2015). So why is there now a push to re-engage with computer programming and coding from the early years of schooling onwards? The benefits of the cognitive demands of programming and coding have been researched (e.g. Eisenberg & Johnson, 1996) and it is evident that students who have experience with programming and coding have superior problem-solving and higher order thinking skills. The new Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies (Foundation-Year 10) has two subjects: Design and Technologies and Digital Technologies (ACARA, 2015), and the stated rationale for its inclusion includes the view that digital systems "support new ways of collaborating and communicating, and as such require new skills such as computational and systems thinking" (ACARA, 2015). Educators and professional learning providers seem to have narrowed the focus of what is essentially a very ambitious, albeit commendable, curriculum scope to "programming and coding (PAC)".

This position presentation, explores the political drivers that underpin the resurgence of Computer Science Education or "Digital Technologies" as it is framed in the Australian Curriculum. The presenters explore how the implementation of this relatively new curriculum is an opportunity to robustly address the ongoing issues of planning for and implementing integrated STEM education. The use of LEGO WeDo as a tool and context for advancing integrated STEM education, including visual programming, is presented as a possible way forward in the primary school years, as well as a model of teacher professional learning to accompany the engagement of the school students.