Earlier this year I was invited by Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria (DLTV) to consider a role as Associate Editor for their online journal. I was quite flattered by this offer, as I have worked closely with DLTV and one of its founding organisations, ICT in Education Victoria (ICTEV), for many years. Of course I accepted! In accepting this position, I decided to write an article for their upcoming journal about my KidzTek program, to share my thinking behind how it was formed. Please find my full article below.
KidzTek: Full STEAM Ahead in the Early Years Classroom
“Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein
Last year, after a number of years teaching older students, I made the move to a grade 2 class. Towards the end of 2013, I requested this change due to my observations when working with the junior levels as a Digital Learning coach. I saw a need for more support and guidance in using technology in creative and innovative ways. Having led the 1:1 iPad program in grade 6 for three years, where students used their iPads as a way to enhance and showcase their learning, I felt it was time to provide the younger students with this same opportunity.
Walker Learning Approach
One of the biggest differences I noticed in my move to an Early Years level, since the last time I taught grade 2, was the implementation of the Walker Learning Approach. This is an Australian developed pedagogy, designed by Kathy Walker, that engages students in personalised learning experiences. For more information about this learning and teaching approach, please explore the following links:
- The Walker Learning Approach
- Early Life Foundations
- The Walker Learning Approach Philosophy and Pedagogy Compatibility with National Early Years Framework and Australian Curriculum
- Personalised & Play-Based Learning: The Walker Learning Approach – Kathy Walker
During the Walker Learning Approach, or Investigations, as we refer to it at my school, students are tuned into their learning experiences for the day, move to and between a number of centres (with intentional provocations) where they investigate a range of skills, then reflect on their learning at the end of the session. The centres the students explore include reading, writing, mathematics, science, collage, construction, block construction, dramatic play, sensory and tinkering.
Throughout the year, I noticed how much my students loved working at the mathematics, science, collage and tinkering centres. My students often asked if they could draw pictures at the writing centre too, which led me to setting up an art centre. Having an art background myself, I would often talk to my students about their personal interests, then share artists and art works they may be interested in. For example, my students interested in ballerinas explored the works of Degas.
These experiences and conversations helped me see that my students were keen to explore STEAM concepts, aka Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. I thought long and hard for quite a while, trying to develop a way to build on my students’ interests in these areas so they moved between centres similar to the Walker Learning Approach, yet had more freedom in selecting what they wanted to do and explore. This is how KidzTek was formed.
KidzTek was created primarily to expose my students to elements of STEAM. Unlike the Walker Learning Approach, the centres, or rather activities, don’t necessarily include skills the students are learning or consolidating throughout the day or week; the activities actually reflect the students’ interests on that particular day.
When I first introduced KidzTek to my class last year, I asked my students if they knew what STEAM stood for. They didn’t know, which is what I expected. I wrote the letters down my whiteboard, with the corresponding learning area represented by each letter. I asked the same question again. After many guesses and prompting, my students were eventually able to identify most of the words. Engineering was the one they stumbled on. We listed the types of activities they could undertake in each area, and, not surprisingly, many of the activities reflected those already at centres for Investigations. As a result of this, and as a means of providing my students with new opportunities, I listed a few additional activities. These included coding, stop motion, K’Nex, marble runs and Rube Goldberg machines, which were actually part of my initial brainstorm, as documented in my KidzTek blog.
My students were really interested in knowing more about these activities, as they had heard about some of them, but hadn’t seen or explored them. I thought about talking through each activity, so my students had a clearer picture of what each was about, but decided not to. I felt that this would have impacted on my students constructing their own learning and collaborating with their peers to work through any challenges. I did, however, share a short clip with them, Audri’s Rube Goldberg Monster Trap, as way to reinforce design, construction, prediction, evaluation, perseverance, resilience, failure, success and reflection. The clip was a big hit and, you guessed it, my class was buzzing with excitement and enthusiasm to explore, create, learn and share.
During term four, when I introduced KidzTek to my class, I ran the session weekly – each Friday afternoon. My students were always excited to participate, often coming back inside from their lunch break with a clear intent regarding what they were going to do.
Earlier in the year, I set up a class blog, after being contacted by an app developer. The app, Easy Blog Jr, allows you and your students to post text, photos and videos directly to your blog with only a few taps. Please refer to my posts for more information. I wanted to capture my students’ learning and thinking during KidzTek, so I decided to link the app to my KidzTek blog too. Each week, my students would ask for my iPad, take a photo, voice record a recount or reflection, show me for approval, then press submit. I loved the way my students were becoming global authors. They would often play back their recording and record themselves again if they felt their message wasn’t clear, prior to sharing their post with me. I embraced this independence and reflection, and encouraged my students’ ability to take control of their learning.
Last year, one young boy, who transitioned to my class during term four from my school’s onsite support (specialist) centre, was the first student to create a closed circuit that lit a globe and played music. Through perseverance, he also made the ‘helicopter blade’ fly. You can’t even begin to imagine how proud he felt when the class cheered on his effort and achievement.
Two students decided to explore some coding apps on my iPad. During the following session, one of these students connected my iPad to the Apple tv and began teaching a larger group of students who wanted to learn how to code. She demonstrated what to do, then passed my iPad around, watching the tv screen and providing support. Coding became quite popular after that session, with around 10 students gathering each week to learn to code together. The amazing thing about this is that I did not show any of my students how to code. I only showed them where the coding apps were located on my iPad.
This experience, or rather program, has shown me “what is possible”. I have seen my students welcome STEAM concepts and thrive on exploring them further, on their terms, at their pace.
This year I have introduced KidzTek to my new class. They, too, have welcomed the experience. Surprisingly, though, they have different areas of interests. Maker spaces and tinkering is more their style. My classroom is bursting with boxes and old circuit boards. My students’ parents are amazing in topping up our supplies. Active imaginations also run high. One student pulled apart a circuit board and used the parts to create a remote, similar to the one in the movie ‘Click’. It was great when his peers and family played along with his ‘invention’ and commands, e.g. pause, rewind, fast forward. Another student made night vision goggles, whilst another made a Transformer.
I’ve shared with my class my interest in robotics. I have ordered ‘Dash and Dot’ and cannot wait for them to arrive so my students can have a play. In the meantime, I am setting up some ‘simple robots’ kits. These include materials similar to those I used during a workshop I attended at the FutureSchools Expo in March. Shortly after working with Daniel Green and Dr Sarah Boyd from the Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre, I came across a kit posted by Tinkerlab on Facebook – Make Your Own Tinker Box & Build Robots. This has been my inspiration. It contains many items you can purchase from stores like Jaycar, e.g. springs, wires, globes, magnets, plastic ties, etc. Mine also includes battery holders, hobby motors and insulation tape. I’m looking to add copper wire too. I cannot wait to see what my students create when I introduce them!
I haven’t been able to run KidzTek sessions as frequently with my class this year, due to timetable constraints. This, however, hasn’t affected my students’ enthusiasm. If anything, it is feeding it. Interestingly, my students from last year have asked if I plan to run KidzTek as a lunch time club. I am definitely considering this, as clearly there is a need to provide students, particularly primary aged students, with opportunities to explore STEAM concepts. Imagine the possibilities these experiences will create!