Coding to be mandatory in primary and early high school
21 Aug 2018
Budding scientists wear their lab coats at Holy Cross Catholic School in Glenwood. Photo: Louise Kennerley
Coding will be compulsory for primary school children, while students in years 7 and 8 will be required to learn a coding language under new science and technology syllabuses to be introduced to NSW schools next year.
The new primary school science syllabus aims to give children a better understanding of scientific concepts and methods by the time they finish year 6 so they are ready for more sophisticated science at high school.
Coding concepts will be introduced from kindergarten to year 2, when children will learn how to follow and describe a sequence of steps (computational thinking) and about the ways data is represented as pictures, symbols and diagrams.
They will learn to use a children's coding program, such as Scratch Jr, to develop projects such as designing a dance sequence.
In years 3 and 4 they will learn about different types of data – such as text, images, and videos – and how the data can be represented in different ways using codes and symbols.
By years 5 and 6 they will look at how different digital systems work together, and be able to develop a storyboard for a computer game they would create using a visual programming language.
In early high school, a new year 7 to 10 technology syllabus makes a non-visual coding language compulsory.
"In [years 7 and 8], students have to learn to code in a general purpose language, which means characters, letters," said Mark Tyler, the inspector of technology education at the NSW Education Standards Authority, at a recent conference.
"It's not visual or block coding. That's fine in primary, but in secondary, by the end of the stage they have to learn coding in a general purpose language."
Associate Professor Matt Bower, an expert on technology in education at Macquarie University, said early coding gave children skills, confidence and important technological knowledge. But teachers need to be properly skilled.
"The key to maximising the benefits of introducing coding early is providing teachers with the capabilities to teach coding and computational thinking in a way that ignites children's curiosity and wonderment," he said.
"Many primary school teachers have no experience with coding, let alone teaching it, so extensive effort is required to ensure that they have the skills and resources they need to understand computing and bring it to life for their students."
The new primary syllabus will also encourage children to explore the world around them through a scientific lens.
Holy Cross Catholic School in Glenwood is already preparing for the new syllabus. Kindergarten kids wear lab coats and safety glasses. They have circuits, batteries and a 3D printer. "They see themselves as real scientists," principal Marina Hardy said.
"My role has really been about how I can create an engaging and challenging learning environment for the students, so there is a place for them to enquire, explore and imagine and help them be really curious and excited."
Professor Ian Chubb, Australia's former chief scientist, said it was a primary school teacher who helped him explore the kinds of trees, ants and butterflies in the playground, that laid the foundations of his science career.
"The changes that they are introducing about science in action – it's critical," he said. "Science is happening all around us all the time; it impinges on our lives hourly if not every minute."
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