Delivering a challenging and engaging curriculum

In the final instalment of our three-part series, Victorian educator Fiona Matthews reflects on the lessons learned throughout the process of planning and implementing the new Digital Technologies Curriculum in her school. She also offers some advice to those looking to implement a new program in their own school setting.

Three quarters of the way through the 2017 school year, staff and students at Victoria's Whitefriars College are well underway with the implementation of the new Digital Technologies Curriculum.

Lead Coach of Learning, Teaching and Technology, Fiona Matthews says it's clear that the students are enjoying the experience, particularly the hands-on elements and the opportunities they have to collaborate and work in pairs or small groups. ‘We've done a lot of reflective practices as well where students keep a journal, so they're actually documenting their learning as they're going … and they've enjoyed that,' she tells Teacher.

Reflecting on the challenges they've experienced throughout the implementation process, Matthews says there is very little that they would have done differently. ‘I actually think we've arrived at a good model. I think initially we thought we'd have three lessons a [cycle] but I think you have to have four lessons a cycle. If you're talking about challenges to implementation, it's not probably our challenge, but it's the challenge of other subjects [that] have lost out as a result of us implementing this curriculum.

‘So, in other learning areas, there have been some units that have moved down to three 75 minute lessons a cycle, and I know that's been very difficult for those teachers teaching those subjects. … I think we've got the duration of the units right and I think we've got the time allowance right.'

Implementing a new program can be both an exciting and demanding experience. Having just gone through the process herself, when asked about advice for others Matthews says the first thing is to start with the curriculum documentation. ‘You've got to go back to that Victorian Curriculum and unpack it and have a clear understanding of the rationale and aims … you've got to stay true to that.'

The next step in the process is appointing ‘champions' to bolster up engagement levels. ‘I think also you need to have champions – champions in the area of Digital Technologies who want to deliver really engaging curriculum and really want to challenge themselves and challenge students in this area.'

Matthews adds it's important to remember that when you're writing a program for the Digital Technologies area of the curriculum, you need to ensure that you're able to respond and adapt the activities, depending on the skill levels of the students. ‘We need to make sure that we are ready for that as well, and we can adjust our curriculum so they continue to be challenged.'

When it comes to gathering resources for this subject, Matthews says there is plenty on offer. ‘I think just have a look, there are so many resources out there, there are so many online resources to assist you so you don't need to reinvent the wheel – so much has already been done.'

Around 50 per cent of the Digital Technologies Curriculum can be taught without the use of a computer, according to the Victorian Department of Education and Training, so Matthews says there's plenty of room for unplugged activities as well. ‘You need to move away from that mindset that it's about computers or technology or about coding, there's a lot more to it than that. To be able to ensure that the students get those skills and that you achieve the aims of the curriculum, you need to have a really good knowledge and know where in particular you're addressing that.

‘Another point is, with writing curriculum documentation, we use an Understanding by Design methodology, or “backwards design”, and I think that's a really good methodology to use too, particularly when you're not familiar with curriculum because it really forces you to unpack it and engage in it and get to know it.'

Fiona Matthews says adapting classroom activities depending on the skill levels of the students is an important part of the planning and implementation process. How often do you reflect on where you students are achieving and not achieving, and adapt your activities accordingly?

Think about a time when you’ve implemented a new curriculum, program or activity. What did you learn from the process? What advice would you have for others? If you were to do this process again, what would you do differently?