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Building capacity in digital technology - Carrington Primary School

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Engaged in and applied professional learning
Mikaila Colla – teacher and STREAM leader
Carrington Primary School

Schools and early childhood services across Victoria continue to provide quality learning experiences across all levels. The VIT’s Professional Practice team is privileged to see this work first hand on visits to workplaces around the State. Here is just one example spotlighting the great work happening in a Victorian school.

Mikaila Colla is currently leading the new STREAM (science, technology, robotics, engineering, arts and mathematics) initiative at Carrington Primary School. We spoke to Mikaila about the benefits of capacity building in the digital space for both teaching practice and student outcomes. 

Q: Can you give some background to the development of your approach to the initiative, including any research or established models / strategies that your approach is based upon?

Last year, Carrington Primary School received a grant to access professional learning in digital technology and upon consultation with the school principal, we identified the need to develop a permanent robotics program.

The primary objective of the program was to build staff capacity around digital technology and provide opportunities for students to engage with new digital technologies on a 1:1 basis. We set two goals to ensure the program’s success; for every student to access the technology in an inclusive way and to maintain school-wide sustainability practices.

Robokids, a nationally accredited robotics learning centre, were employed to deliver tailored workshops for both staff and students. After extensive research, we discovered that codable, hands-on robotics with specific directional location would best suit the school demographic.

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For the program, we selected three types of robotics

  • Blue bots feature a clear shell allowing the user to see the internal operational components, while it increases the development of directional language. These robots are usually targeted towards junior school levels, however were a good entry level point for the school to commence programming.
  • The Sphero has diverse functionality that is almost boundless. It’s a durable and interactive sphere that allows the user to engage with multiple areas of the curriculum including coding, maths and art. The Sphero can be programmed for directional purposes, use the lighting to follow patterns, traverse obstacles and provide open-ended problem solving opportunities for students.
  • Edison bots are known for their durability, compactness, range of sensors and compatibility with Lego. This allowed for further exploration and open-ended problem solving with engineering, coding and application development.

Q: What structural things are in place to ensure that the initiative has its best chance at success?

The STREAM program was allocated financial support to build teacher capacity prior to the commencement of the program. This included staff accessing professional learning with Robokids, whilst undertaking modules for each robot and engaging in their own interactive play. Sessions were timetabled weekly and provided opportunities for experimentation and exploration. Frequent conversations are being held with staff to gain constructive feedback around the sessions

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We allocated time to create a scope and sequence document and develop planning materials before the program commenced. While this was beneficial, the need for further planning was identified and applied each week for staff to feel confident in delivering the program.

The school designated a large double room allowing interactive and exploratory sessions for students to engage in problem solving and collaborative group work. The space was designed with tables surrounding the external walls to maximise the floor space, whilst providing opportunities to access structured learning environments. Displays were updated with anchor charts to ensure information was updated, whilst also encouraging students to refer to prior learning (3rd teacher).

The school leased a series of iPads that created a 1:1 scenario school-wide. This resource was utilised in conjunction with the robotics to extend upon the coding practices. The technology was stored in a secure and centralised location along with other resources including engineering capabilities, problem solving and critical thinking boxes and mapping equipment.

Q: What are the greatest benefits to staff development of this approach?

The realignment of the STREAM based curriculum allowed for staff to easily integrate units of work into classroom practice, as well as through an individualised specialist session each week.

Staff capacity and the opportunity to engage with new digital technologies on a 1:1 basis was the primary objective, which enabled them to build professional knowledge around digital technologies whilst exploring coding, engineering and problem-solving tasks.

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With 21st century learning at the forefront, staff were able to strengthen both their own personal skills and those of their students. Hands on learning allowed staff to incorporate robotics into classroom practice in an environment that was supportive, inclusive, collaborative and respectful.

Q: What have been the benefits to learner outcomes of this approach?

Students have benefited from increased awareness of digital technologies, with strengthened problem solving and critical thinking capabilities. Learners have become more engaged and more likely to attend school on the designated robotics program day, with the ability to engage in an interactive and collaborative peer group session.

Since incorporating robotics, learners have delved into the digital technology curriculum further through the exploration of STREAM based tasks. This has allowed for increased complexity within coding, problem solving, critical thinking and engineering practices as the term unfolded.

Q: What plans does your workplace have to take this approach forward?

Moving forward, the robotics program will continue to remain a standalone specialist program. Workforce planning is currently being completed by our principal to ensure STREAM is explicitly taught in specialised settings, whilst being integrated in weekly classroom planners through timetabled allocation.

The school will continue to pursue professional learning opportunities through Robokids modules next year and identify further capacity building for staff using online components.

APST Professional Engagement

Do you have an example of outstanding work in your school or early childhood service? We’d like to consider showcasing it the Excellence in Teaching section of our website. Send your example and contact details to vitcomms@vit.vic.edu.au.