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Digital Technologies and the national curriculum – what’s it all about?

Learning about and with digital technologies will contribute to developing an informed digital society.

Digital Technologies in the national curriculum

In The New Zealand Curriculum, digital technologies will be recognised as a part of the Technology learning area. In Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, it will be recognised as a whenu (strand) within the Hangarau Wāhanga Ako. Learning in digital technologies will link to learning across all Learning Areas and Wāhanga Ako.

(Education Gazette, 2016 )

Implementation process

Digital Technologies will be part of The New Zealand Curriculum, beginning at Year 1 from 2018.

The "big ideas" and key conceptual ideas of digital technologies were developed and tested with a group of students, teachers, and the Digital Technologies Hangarau Matihiko Curriculum Reference Group during 2016.

In 2017 the design and development process will be informed by, and run alongside, a much more extensive trial and consultation period with schools, students, teachers and with industry stakeholders. The group will map the significant learning "signposts", which describe a student’s increasing understanding and use of digital technologies knowledge and skills; develop and test rich tasks for and with students; and engage and test their ideas with students, teachers and industry stakeholders throughout the design process. A Māori-medium hangarau matihiko working group is running parallel to the work of the English medium group.

More information »

Digital Technologies as part of the Technology learning area

Digital Technologies is learning about technology. It involves learning to be a creator in the digital world, not just learning to use systems. 

Digital Technologies for levels 1-8 will be organised around six themes:

  1. algorithms
  2. data representation
  3. digital applications
  4. digital devices and infrastructure
  5. humans and computers
  6. programming.

(Education Gazette, 2016 )

The relationship between the six themes
Structure of digital technologies

Image source: Tim Bell (University of Canterbury)

The six themes are the components of every digital system (whether it is a smartphone, weather forecasting supercomputer, laptop, or data warehouse). Understanding these themes means:

  • having an understanding of what a digital system is 
  • recognising the opportunities and limitations provided by a digital system
  • students have the basis for understanding future digital systems. 

The first digital computers developed in the 1940s, and the latest smartwatches, are all based on these ideas.

  • Digital devices run applications (also referred to as programs, software, or apps).
  • Applications work with data, which might be as simple as the number of steps taken on a fitness tracker, or as complex as every transaction in a large organisation.
  • An algorithm is a process that acts on the data. For example, a fitness tracker stores data about number of steps taken, and one algorithm used is to add one to the number of steps whenever a step is detected; another algorithm might make decisions about how you are reaching your fitness goal.
  • A program is the implementation of an algorithm to process data; there are many ways to program (code) an algorithm, but a computer needs a program to be able to carry out the intention of the algorithm.
  • The main part of the system is the human, who gets information in and out of the system using an interface (which might involve buttons, images, sound, vibration, and more).
  • Devices and infrastructure – devices are connected to each other through networks (which could be as simple as a USB connection, or as complex as the internet).

Tim Bell (University of Canterbury)

More information »
  • Digital Technologies  – Achievement objectives, indicators, and teacher guidance for Levels 6-8 on Technology Online.

Getting prepared for teaching Digital Technologies

Computational thinking is about looking at a problem in a way that a computer can help us to solve it. It is not thinking about computers or like computers (CAS Barefoot ).

The thinking undertaken before starting work on a computer is computational thinking.

CAS Barefoot

Computational thinking is a two-step process:

  1. Identify the steps needed to solve a problem.
  2. Use your technical skills to get the computer "working" on the problem.

For example, if you’re going to make a video animation, you need to:

  1. start by planning the storyboard
  2. then, use computer hardware and software to help you get the work done.

Computational thinking is a problem solving process that includes a number of characteristics and dispositions. It is essential to the development of computer applications, but it can also be used to support problem solving across the curriculum.

Operational definition of computational thinking for K-12 education

Computational thinking is a problem-solving process that includes (but is not limited to) the following characteristics:

  • formulating problems in a way that enables us to use a computer and other tools to help solve them
  • logically organising and analysing data
  • representing data through abstractions such as models and simulations
  • automating solutions through algorithmic thinking (a series of ordered steps)
  • identifying, analysing, and implementing possible solutions with the goal of achieving the most efficient and effective combination of steps and resources
  • generalising and transferring this problem solving process to a wide variety of problems.

These skills are supported and enhanced by a number of dispositions or attitudes that are essential dimensions of CT. These dispositions or attitudes include:

  • confidence in dealing with complexity
  • persistence in working with difficult problems
  • tolerance for ambiguity
  • the ability to deal with open ended problems
  • the ability to communicate and work with others to achieve a common goal or solution.


More information »
  • Computational thinking for educators  – A resource for teachers, with a free online course to help teachers integrate computational thinking into their classroom curriculum.
  • Computational thinking with Scratch  – Defining, assessing, and supporting computational thinking.
  • Exploring computational thinking  – A curated collection of lesson plans, videos, and other resources on computational thinking teachers with integrating computational thinking into their own classroom content, teaching practice, and learning.
  • Computational thinking  – A clear explanation of computational thinking which expands on the concepts and approaches. Registration for this site is free, and provides access to useful classroom resources.

This video demonstrates an approach to integrating digital technologies across the curriculum. This is a demonstration of an activity from the Computer Science Unplugged collection of games and activities. It demonstrate Computer Science without using computers. For more information, see the activity called "Treasure Hunt – Finite-State Automata" at http://csunplugged.org .

More information »

Digital Fluency and Digital Technologies – What is their relationship?

The Ministry of Education is providing for, and supporting changes to schools' infrastructure, practices, and pedagogy to improve our education system.

The range of initiatives for Digital Technologies in education will ensure:

  • all New Zealand schools are equipped with state-of-the-art infrastructure
  • teachers get the support and resources they need to be digitally fluent
  • every student benefits from the advantages of digital technologies for learning.

(Ministry of Education )

Digital Fluency is about understanding how to use digital technologies, deciding when to use specific digital technologies to achieve a desired outcome, and being able to explain why the technologies selected will provide their desired outcome.

Digital Technologies is about learning to be a creator in the digital world, not just learning to use systems. Digital Technologies is not about learning with technology (e-learning), it's learning about technology

Both are important, but if we teach students only to use digital devices, they will be consumers limited to making do with whatever the makers of digital technologies produce, and as a country we will be buying in technology rather than creating it and selling it to others.
Tim Bell (University of Canterbury)

More information »
  • Towards Digital Fluency  – The Ministry of Education outline the planned changes, including those for 21st Century Teaching and learning in Towards Digital Fluency. This includes a complete review of the position and content of digital technologies in the curriculum, and has led to the introduction of Digital Technologies as a new component of the Technology learning area.
  • Digital fluency – Information and school stories to support teachers plan for building digitally fluency.

Computer Science Field Guide

The Computer Science Field Guide (CSFG) is an online resource for teaching Computer Science to students. It is aimed directly at students. The project is open source and available on GitHub . If you are a teacher (or involved in education), you can join the CSFG teachers group to receive updates and access the teacher's version of the guide.

Computing at school

An English website, which supports primary educators with the confidence, knowledge, skills, and resources to teach computer science. It includes free lesson plans and activities, designed to help teachers gain confidence in bringing computer science to life in the classroom. Teachers from any country can register and access the resources.

CS Unplugged – Computer science without a computer

A collection of free learning activities that teach Computer Science through games and puzzles that use cards, string, crayons, and lots of running around. Suitable for all ages. The material is available free of charge, and is shared under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence .

Computational thinking for school students and teachers – what's the big idea?

A talk given by Tim Bell (University of Canterbury) as part of an international on-line conference in 2016. It includes demonstrations with students.

Computational thinking for all

ISTE's website provides and explanation of computational thinking and links to their Computational Thinking Toolkit.

Exploring computational thinking

A curated collection of lesson plans, videos, and other resources on computational thinking teachers with integrating computational thinking into their own classroom content, teaching practice, and learning.

Teacher support and discussions

The New Zealand Association for Computing, Digital and Information Technology Teachers

The aim of the association is to create a community of teachers to share resources, communicate, and speak with one voice to get Technology recognised and supported. They are now welcoming primary school teachers, and offer great support and sharing.

Digital Technologies: Ideas, implementation, inspiration for the new curriculum

A group in the Virtual Learning Network (VLN) to explore the new Digital Technologies strand in the Technologies curriculum as it unfolds. Join the group to share your thoughts, ideas, experiences, and resources.

Christchurch computer science for high schools event

Website for the annual free professional development week for high school teachers, held at the University of Canterbury in 2016. The event is a collection of workshops focused on preparing New Zealand educators for teaching the computer science and programming achievement standards for NCEA.

Christchurch computer science for primary schools workshops, at the University of Canterbury

Workshops are focused on preparing primary school teachers to integrate Computer Science into their classroom programmes.

Computational thinking for educators

A free online course for teachers to support understanding of computational thinking. It provides practical examples of how to integrate computational thinking into your classroom programme.

e-Learning community discussions

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