Yvette Adams

Computational thinking with Bebras is back!

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As first featured on http://www.geekinsydney.com/. 

Australia’s largest student computational thinking / computer science challenge returns September 7-18, 2015.

Bebras is a challenge to promote Computational Thinking and computer science among primary and secondary students (years 3-12). The purpose is to expose students to computer science and logic concepts without the need for prior digital technology/coding knowledge. Over 20,000 Australian students have participated in Bebras since 2014.

To solve the tasks, students are required to think about logic, digital technologies, discrete structures, computation, data processing, and algorithmic concepts. Students can work in teams and find solving the problems very rewarding. In case all that leaves you uncertain, the Bebras website has some very clear examples of what’s involved – it’s not nearly as threatening as it might sound.

Bebras is free for schools and is delivered online and in class within one school hour (45-60 min). Teachers choose when their students participate in the challenge (between 7-18 Sept). Students from Year 3-12, participate in age categories. No prior computing/ICT knowledge is required.

Bebras is a  great idea coordinated by Digital Careers. Getting students to understand how to break computer science problems up and solve them is the pivotal element in moving them on to coding – as well as just being all-round good for their thinking.

For all the computationally-thought-through details point your browser at: www.bebras.edu.au.

EMBRACING THE NEW TECHNOLOGIES CURRICULUM

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AS FEATURED ON http://educationtechnologysolutions.com.au

Australia’s first digital technology / computing / computer curriculum is on its doorstep, and anyone who has been paying attention in educational circles for the last two years knows the words computational thinking and coding are all the rage right now. So what are the implications for educators, who are likely to have had little exposure in their training as to how to teach computer science to children, and are therefore somewhere between frightened or excited by what lies ahead?

The Dawn of a New Curriculum Approach to Technology

The official stance from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) of the Technologies Curriculum at the time of writing is that the curriculum is “available for use; awaiting final endorsement”, even though it has been in this state for well over a year now.

The current education minister, Christopher Pyne, has done little to ensure the endorsement, particularly after a review of the entire national curriculum was released in October 2014. Political agendas and duress aside, it is ACARA’s intention that schools commence partial adoption of the curriculum, with full adoption expected by 2017.

The Technologies Curriculum encompasses two interconnected areas: Design and Technologies, where students use critical thinking to create innovative solutions for authentic problems; and Digital Technologies, where students use computational thinking and information systems to implement digital solutions.

According to ACARA, the aims of the syllabus are to ensure that students can:

  • create, manage and evaluate sustainable and innovative digital solutions
  • use computational thinking and the key concepts of abstraction to create digital solutions
  • use digital systems to automate and communicate the transformation of data
  • apply protocols and legal practises that support safe, ethical and respectful communications
  • apply systems thinking to information systems and predict the impact of these systems on individuals, societies, economies and environments.

What is most promising about the way this curriculum is written is the way it has embraced technology as a holistic approach to thinking and exercising creativity. The traditional teaching of ICT in schools has usually been around the idea of integrating tools to assist in other subject areas, which is the intention of ICT as a general capability in the Australian Curriculum. Instead, the Technologies Curriculum paves the way for teachers to work with children as young as Foundation on pattern recognition and classifying data in contexts that they can understand, which gradually builds up to the development of students with a strong understanding of computer science by the time they reach Year 10.

The content structure of the Technologies Curriculum can be viewed at australiancurriculum.edu.au/technologies/rationale

Demystifying Coding

Noticeable in the Digital Technologies component of the new curriculum are the ideas of computational thinking and coding, which are introduced to students in early primary school.

The idea of coding is not to have students simply churn out computer programs. Rather, it is about assisting them to identify and analyse problems, and develop innovative and creative solutions, which will ultimately help contribute to a global society improved by technology.

Computational, system and design thinking all require the ability to examine problems clearly and to break them down into manageable parts in order to systematically analyse a process to best solve them. It encourages the design of several solutions that can be applied in broad contexts. This type of problem solving – or thinking – is highly valued in the outside world. The ability to analyse problems and come up with clever solutions is the kind of thinking that continues to push the world forward, yet oddly enough, it has not been taught in a deliberate and defined way – until now!

Through the Code.org initiative, more and more advocates are championing the idea of coding in schools, from celebrities like will.i.am to the Silicon Valley elite. The worrying trend is that the number of computer science graduates is currently not meeting demand, yet alone in the future, where the demand is expected to further increase as the world starts to crave employees who are skilled in using technology to design products and solutions. Mark Zuckerberg is quoted as saying, “Our policy (at Facebook) is literally to hire as many talented engineers as we can find… the whole limit in the system is that there are not enough people who are trained and have these skills today”.

Coding can have the stigma of an unexciting operation that takes place in a dark room with nerds sipping on soft drinks, huddled around glowing screens and punching in lots of ones and zeros. Once upon a time, it was necessary to have a tertiary degree to operate punch-card machinery and to develop lines of code for programs that ran on mainframe computers. Through the advancements of technology, and particularly in the way in which users can interact with it, anybody of any age can now code.

Put simply, coding is about writing and following instructions. When a set of instructions are written for the computer, it follows them. Any time a person has explained to someone how to bake a cake, or typed a sum on a calculator, or organised a filing cabinet in alphabetical order, he or she has essentially been designing an algorithm to execute a desired action. Coding is teaching a computer how to run a sequence of events; for the reason that a computer can execute steps a lot faster than a human can.

Technology is starting to automate a lot of tasks that can easily be replicated by traditional, human-driven processes. For this reason, a shift in the modernised and globalised world has started. For example, take Japan’s Toyota production line which, through the use of machines and robots, can assemble a car in 18 hours to specific client orders; or the ambitious Google Self-Driving Car Project, which promises to safely transport passengers from A to B without requiring the commuter to lift a finger; or the use of computer-assisted self-checkouts at the supermarket.

The overly critical may say that technology is taking over jobs, which to some extent is true. However, more accurately, it is disrupting jobs and changing the supply and demand for workers. Jobs for production factories will still exist, as will people who drive cars, as will people who work in supermarkets.

What will probably be true is that these jobs are far more likely to require the skill sets of engineers and coders, who are skilled with technology and in programming, to be able to deliver solutions. Those who can build robotic arms to weld alloy will be more sought after than those who can assemble nuts and bolts. Those who can write programs that analyse traffic patterns for automated cars will eventually be in more demand than taxi drivers or chauffeurs. Those who can design computer-assisted checkout systems will replace those who manually scan items for consumers.

It is for this reason that everyone needs to embrace the new Technologies Curriculum for the good of their children and the future of Australia as a technologically relevant country.

How to Support Computational Thinking, Coding and the new Technologies Curriculum

Code.org: launched in 2013, Code.org is a non-profit organisation that is dedicated to expanding participation in computer science, particularly by increasing participation amongst women.

Hour of Code: an initiative of Code.org, Hour of Code is an annual event that promotes coding in primary and secondary schools across the globe. The coding tutorials can be completed online and have modules suitable for all ages (see studio.code.org).

Code Club Australia: a nationwide network of free, volunteer-led, after-school coding clubs for children aged nine to eleven (see codeclubau.org).

Code the Future: aims to forge crucial links between the technology industry and education (see codefuture.org).

Bebras Australia Computational Thinking Challenge: Bebras is an international initiative whose goal is to promote computational thinking for teachers and students in Years 3 to 12, and is aligned with the new Digital Technologies Curriculum.

Computer Science Unplugged: is a collection of free learning activities that teach computer science without having to learn programming first (see csunplugged.org).

Careers with Code: is a publication by Refraction Media and Google that promotes computer science careers in design, education, science, health, arts, media, law and business (see refractionmedia.com.au/careerswithcode/ or search for Careers with Code on Google Play or iTunes App Store).

CSER MOOC: the Computer Science Education Research Group at the University of Adelaide have developed a number of open, online courses designed to assist teachers in addressing the new digital technologies learning area (see csdigitaltech.appspot.com/course).

This article was written by Anthony Speranza is the ICT Learning and Teaching Leader at St. Mark’s Primary School in Dingley, Victoria. In his time at St. Mark’s, he has established several digital literacy initiatives, developed cyber-safety and global citizenship programs, and introduced multimedia software and hardware into P-6 classrooms. Currently, he is implementing a 1:1 Chromebook program and is supporting teachers and students from Years Prep to 6 to utilise Google Apps for Education. He is an authorised Google Education Trainer, Google Certified Teacher, and the recipient of the 2014 DLTV Educator of the Year as awarded by Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria. Anthony is passionate about contemporary spaces, pedagogies and collaborative practices amongst educators. He is an avid speaker and facilitator at local, national and international level. Anthony can be contacted via his blog anthsperanza.global2.vic.edu.au or follow him on Twitter @anthsperanza

Learn about Coding at SF World Tour: Melbourne

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Author: John Westgarth, State Manager, Digital Careers program (NSW/ACT)

‘Learning to code’ initiatives are gaining traction all over the world – and Australia is no different. Around the country, governments, industry, educators and schools are turning their attention to the benefits of promoting technology and associated science and mathematics courses in schools. For those in the tech industry, these initiatives could not come sooner.

In 2014 Seek.com, the Australian online jobs platform, announced that tech companies became the largest advertisers for skilled workers. However with only 5% of high school leavers graduating from computer subjects and university enrolments sitting at just 50% of the numbers recorded in 2001, roles are becoming difficult to fill.

The benefits of learning to code are many and varied. At its most basic, learning to code supports students move from passive consumers of technology to actual creators – people capable of using technology to deliver their ideas. Learning to code also gives students lifelong confidence with technology – whether it’s the basic editing of a website, building an app, working with hardware or having the skills to work in teams to solve customer problems.

Digital Careers is an Australian based not-for-profit focused on encouraging young people into further technology studies and careers. We work with students to promote technology careers, support teacher professional development and run engaging activities that expose students to the benefits of coding and technology. The program is actively supported by a number of stakeholders including Commonwealth and State governments, major universities, educators, technology companies and technology associations.

In 2014 Digital Careers supported Code.org with Australia’s Hour of Code efforts (including a great session at Salesforce’s Sydney office), ran Bebras – Australia’s first online computational thinking challenge (involving 10,000 students), and worked with SAP to deliver the Young ICT Explorerstechnology challenge.

Salesforce World Tour Melbourne

In 2015, we are excited to attend The Salesforce World Tour in Melbourne – representing the learning to code movement along with a couple of other organisations:

CoderDojo: an open source, volunteer led, global movement of free coding clubs for young people. CoderDojo has recently opened its first Dojo in Melbourne and is already giving young people the confidence to build and deliver tech projects.

Code Club Australia: a nationwide network of free volunteer-led after-school coding clubs for children aged 9-11. Code Club Australia runs a well-coordinated curriculum teaching students basic coding (through Scratch), HTML, CSS and Python.

If you are at the World Tour we would love to talk to you about how you can be involved in this nationwide drive to support students learning to code. We strongly believe that coding, and technological competence, is a lifelong skill that will benefit all students. We also believe that more can be done to improve the diversity of people working in the sector. This means encouraging and supporting increased female participation as well as working with students from underserved communities.

Find out more about the Bebras Challenge!

NOTE – This article also features at http://www.salesforce.org/learn-coding-sf-world-tour-melbourne/.

World Leaders Check Out Computer Technology Made By Australian Students

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THIS STORY WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended the Sydney installations of the National ICT Australia (NICTA) at the Technology Park on Monday amid tight security. NICTA is home to Australia’s leading digital technology scientists and entrepreneurs.

It has a close association with Germany’s Fraunhofer technology research organisation and Dr Merkel is a well-known advocate for technology and innovation as economic drivers.

During the brief visit, the Chancellor, a scientist, saw a demonstration of several computer technologies made by Australian students including a hi-tech mood light, by 11-year-old Esther Schulz, one of the Australian national champions at the March 2014 round of the Bebras Australia Computational Thinking Challenge (or Informatik Biber in Germany). It measures a person’s mood on the basis of their body temperature. The light turned orange in the Chancellor’s hands which NICTA says indicated a “warm body”.

The invention won the Australian Young ICT Explorers competition in 2014, itself inspired by Jugend Forscht, a German youth science competition.

Dr Merkel also saw a demonstration of 13-year-old Michael Schulz’s Star Trek- inspired scientific tricorder. According to science fiction authors, this device would only be invented in the 23rd century, but Michael’s device is ready now. It combines integrated sensors and a computer into a mobile handheld device that explores the natural world.

The Labor opposition jumped on the visit, co-hosted by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, releasing a statement describing it as a “disgrace” that the government had turned its back on the organisation.

“Ministers Turnbull and [Ian] Macfarlane were happy to pose for photos with German Chancellor Angela Merkel when she toured NICTA’s Future Logistics Living Lab this morning but haven’t been as forthcoming when it comes to funding its future,” shadow industry spokesperson Kim Carr said.

The federal government has cut NICTA’s annual funding of around $45 million from June 2016, forcing the organisation to seek to operate self-sufficiently. Dr Merkel wasn’t the only world leader to pop into an Australian technology centre, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Queensland’s University of Technology’s Science and Engineering Centre while in Brisbane.

QUT roboticists showed him the new AgBot II, part of the university’s farm program. It will autonomously seed, weed and fertilise crops in trials starting early next year. Asked to write a message on the robot, Mr Modi wrote (translated from Gujarati):

“Research is the mother of invention. The development journey of mankind is a continuous stream of research. Science and technology is very important for agriculture.”

While in Sydney, the Dr Merkel also addressed a German-Australian Chamber of Commerce event where German software giant SAP announced it would invest $150 million into an Institute for Digital Government in Canberra. It will aim to support Australian Government agencies in “innovating citizen-centric services” and will open by mid 2015.

See the original article at: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/sci-tech/angela-merkel-narendra-modi-take-time-to-check-out-australian-innovation-20141117-11o9gv.html#ixzz3zwgJxBtn
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Coordinators Webcast – 3rd March 2014

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The next Coordinators webcast will be held on March 3, 7pm Brisbane time. The purpose of the webcast is to run the coordinators through the Bebras challegene preparation, including the steps required to register students. If you would like to participate in the webcast, please contact Karsten Schulz for access details.

Register as a coordinator Register