Inquiry learning teacher Sallyann Burtenshaw describes what she took away from the Embedding Coding & Computational Thinking across the Curriculum conference, held by Criterion Conferences.

“It was with some trepidation that I set off to the Criterion Embedding Coding & Computational Thinking conference. After all, while I have loads of passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), I come from an arts background and I was feeling a little nervous about being able to keep up. To cement my fears, just as the conference was about to start I received a message from my son asking what I was doing. I informed him that I was at a coding and computational thinking conference and I was sitting next to a computer programmer so I was trying hard not to look dumb! His reply didn’t improve my nerves.

‘That’s hilarious. What are YOU doing there? LOL Goodluck!’

Well, as it turns out, I didn’t need the luck. Just the world class delivery of presentations from guest speakers which, from the very outset, made everything clear. Each of them had that admirable ability to impart knowledge so that beginners and experts alike can be seen nodding their heads in understanding. Abstraction at work?

James Curran explained Abstraction in a way that made it no longer abstract. His suggestion of solving a problem by looking at it in the same way a computer would made perfect sense.

He also suggested that we need to create within children a disposition of tolerance in dealing with complexity. As he spoke he created that disposition in his audience, which is probably why I no longer felt out of my depth.

Other speakers confirmed this approach throughout the two days. We learnt that the real power of computational thinking lies in finding what our community problems are, and addressing them in a clear and concise way so that we can use code to solve them.

All speakers reinforced the concept that children should be masters of the machine and not be mastered by the machine; should be creators not consumers of solutions.

Great advice for primary school teachers who often don’t have a science background but need to think smarter to fit everything into their timetable: be discerning with content descriptors when integrating coding and computational thinking into the curriculum. Also, links need to be legitimate rather than contrived and there is a need to stagger and change the intensity at which you look at different areas of the curriculum.

Jake Plasket’s vision of project-based learning was inspiring, especially to hear him confirm that you need to start with explicit teaching and move to open-ended teaching, because if there are gaps in knowledge, students won’t make the connections. He warned us not to be fooled by the student’s dexterity with technology, but advised us to add value to what students already have access to. Plasket believes we should design classrooms that celebrate failure and grief as well as success because we have to give ourselves permission to fail, but he stressed that we need to be hard on content and soft on people. Gina Chalich called this ‘failing up’ and had amazing examples from her primary classroom as did Meridith Ebbs, Karen Binns and Kelly Bauer who all gave a snapshot of how STEM works in a real classroom.

Leanne Robertson informed us of the great resources at the Digital Technologies Hub, which I can’t wait to get a hold of, and Owen Brasier set us to work coding with Arduino.

This was by far the best conference I have ever been to. I have returned to school inspired to make the abstract concrete and to create thinkers with the passion to solve problems. I have already spent many hours of hard fun with my code club making an interactive book and map about the Eurobodalla, which was a huge hit on our learning journey walk this week.

Now I am raring to get STEM STEAMing in our school. I have made great connections at the conference who are all so giving of their expertise and share hints and tips on Twitter and Google+, so I feel empowered to go out and make a difference knowing that in my opinion is the hallmark of an excellent conference.”

– Sallyann Burtenshaw

Inquiry learning teacher, St Bernard’s Primary Bateman’s Bay


Click here to become a Primary STEM Ambassador like Sallyann, and click here to access the Digital Technologies Hub.