Masters of Coding

Saturday May 27th, 2017

It has been predicted that the average young person will have 17 different jobs across five different industries throughout their lifetime. This is an astonishing statistic considering most of us have grown up with the expectation of only working 1 – 2 occupations throughout our entire career.

It has been predicted that the average young person will have 17 different jobs across five different industries throughout their lifetime. This is an astonishing statistic considering most of us have grown up with the expectation of only working 1 – 2 occupations throughout our entire career. 

So, how do we equip our students with the skills and knowledge in technology and software, and most importantly, build an entreprising mindset to prepare for this ever-changing world of work?

There is no denying that some of our girls will be working in occupations that don’t actually exist yet, and some jobs they’ll be trained in during their university years might even become obsolete in a few years. If our girls are wanting to be successful in the future, they need to be adaptable and need to have a positive and open mindset. When it comes to learning new technology and software, we want our girls to say: “I can learn how to do that”.

Unfortunately, IT is one of the realms where women are totally under-represented and it’s an ongoing issue. The industry knows that it needs more women but like most things, it’ll take a long time to see some positive difference. Good education programs, like the one we are developing at Mentone Girls’ Grammar School, must be part of Australia’s strategy in combating this issue.

In 2016 we introduced compulsory Digital Technologies for Years 8 & 9.  We want all of our students to develop a problem-solving capabilities that you need when dealing with technology by asking questions like “…how can I build on this or how can I tweak it?”. It’s not just requiring every student to code (because that’s almost a superficial thing); we want our students to understand technology and its opportunities, and coding is part of that. In simpler terms, a coder is a logical thinker and someone who can effectively break a big problem into smaller ones.

In Year 9, students learn to use Unity – the same software used by professional game developers who created Pokémon Go, Assassin’s Creed and Temple Run. This allows them to pick up real-life industry skills. Our students develop a video game idea, pitch it to the class and then collectively vote for the ones they want to build. They work in small businesses to put the games together which can then be played in Oculus 3D as a virtual reality game, as well as on their PC, PlayStation or Xbox.

The second unit in Year 9 is focusing on developing ‘wearable technology’, which admittedly, is one of my favourite subjects to teach. Our students learn to sew with conductive thread so they can connect pieces of technology together, i.e. sensors, lights and motors. They have the opportunity to create and invent something truly remarkable; for example, gloves that light up when you clap or a backpack that lights up when you open it.

And what’s more exciting is that our students are using technology that is current – some components have only been produced this year. Everything they’re learning is scalable, so they can take this knowledge, put together a business idea, and then confidently build it now and in the future. Digital Technologies is as much about channelling your creativity and imagination as it is about understanding about how technology works.

We teach IT in hands-on, challenge-based classes. Girls respond better to this because they can instantly see how they can use what they’re creating. And that’s the real joy of it.

By linking our Years 7 – 9 Digital Technologies to the Enterprise Academy program, we make learning more relevant as well as highlighting all the job opportunities they can do after school. Enterprise makes our IT lessons so much more engaging, collaborative and fun, and builds entrepreneurial skills. It’s about us collectively working together on big problems and trying to create things that are unique and special. With a lot of these projects, every student is going to come up with a completely different business idea and that’s really exciting.  

A new initiative we are also introducing is Computing as a VCE subject in 2018 which will allow girls in Year 10 to take up where they left off in Digital Technologies and further develop their IT skills. There are hardly any girls’ schools that offer VCE Computing as an optional subject, as opposed to boys’ or co-ed schools.

With this new offering, we will be one of the very few girls’ schools in Australia that successfully taps into IT and prepares our students for the 21st century working world.

We have designed our classes to be creative and collaborative to bust that stereotype of an isolated and sterile IT working environment. I truly believe the skills they’re currently learning will be an excellent toolkit for them in the future. When the inevitable happens and their job suddenly changes, they can confidently say to their company, “oh well, I already know a little about that, so I can learn more”.

It’s about embracing the mentality of ‘adapt and turn into an opportunity’, and that my fellow tech friends, is the key to success. 

By Michelle Dennis, Head of Digital Technologies