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Source: Australian Education Union

26 November 2020

Peita Bates was so passionate about the role technology can play in the lives of regional and rural students, that she gained her principal’s and regional education department support to write a coding curriculum.

Bates was concerned that many school-leavers needed to leave their hometowns to find employment or training, so she retrained from business consultancy and event management to become a champion for teaching digital technology.

Now, as the digitech ambassador for Maryborough State High School, she teaches coding, digital, and multimedia technologies to students in Years 7 to 11. As part of her role, Bates runs coding classes for Years 5 and 6 students in a local feeder primary school.

She’s also running a project for Year 10 to 12 girls to identify mentors and pathways into entrepreneurialism. The project has an ESTEAM bent – entrepreneurship, science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics.

Bates says she’s drawn to teaching because “the profession is a very tangible and direct way of making the world more positive”.

Her school is three hours’ drive north of Brisbane and has 1010 students, many of whom have been faced with social and economic disadvantage. School-leavers there assume they will have to leave the region to find meaningful employment or training, she says.

“If you want to move, great, but don’t think you have to move. In the tech field, for example, there are hidden, dynamic industries where people work from home as the COVID-19 shutdown has demonstrated.”

Inspiring digital careers

Bates is helping students explore careers in digital technology and is chuffed 17 of the 28 students she taught coding for a Year 7 pilot subject five years ago continue to enrol in her coding elective.

“That first year, I didn’t have a curriculum, I had to write it from scratch. The class is now doing amazing things and designing with technology to create real-world applications,” she says.

One student is working on augmented reality glasses to translate sign language to captions; another is changing Apple’s Siri to an animated face, so students communicate with a visual presence, rather than a voice on their phones.

“It’s OK that some of my kids just want to create the next Flappy Bird or Candy Crush. We want them to look at big-world problems, and sometimes, kids just need to be kids and do what brings them joy.”

Bates says her students needed that creative outlet to help deal with COVID-19.

“It’s also proven to be a time to reflect. Educators and best practice should drive change, not the pandemic,” says Bates.

Tech should be seamless

She encourages her peers to incorporate tech into their practice.

“Teachers use digital technologies in every part of their lives. It can be seamless, even in the classroom. Don’t see it as an extra or a replacement for pen and paper, paint and brush, or running around with a soccer ball.”

Bates continues to refine the “coding as a language” curriculum. That work and her STEM-related projects saw her named as a finalist in last year’s Queensland College of Teachers TeachX Awards for Education Excellence.

She’s also working on a doctoral thesis topic to improve school community members’ perceptions about barriers to using digital technologies for learning.

Bates encourages early-career teachers to trust their instincts and try not to get overwhelmed by paperwork and differentiating lessons for students’ needs.

“The key to successful teaching is relationships. Leverage from those, and your students will value what you’re offering them.”

By Margaret Paton

This articles was originally published in The Australian Educator, Spring 2020

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