Education Food for thought

Tech talent crisis – impacts for regional Australia

There’s a crisis coming for parts of regional Australia with declining interest in IT careers set to have significant impact on economic growth for the regions. 

The need for people with IT and coding skills was evident at last weeks Jobs for NSW Regional Pitchfest event held in Wagga Wagga NSW, where pitch after pitch the ask was for people to come on board with web or app development skills. Unfortunately the reality is without the IT skill set embedded into these businesses there is little ability to turn great ideas into revenue and then revenue into local employment. 

The situation in the Wagga region is dire.  We attended the 2018 TAFE graduation ceremony and noted the smallest number of IT graduates for many years. It would be an absolute shame for this course to be shut down due to lack of numbers. Certainly from a student perspective wanting to get into a technology career the integrated TAFE/CSU program is one of the best in the country in terms of graduating with industry ready skills and a minimal student loan!!!

It’s often forgotten that people with the technology skills in our community are the enablers. They are the conduit between idea and reality. Certainly EduKits could not have grown to become the business it is today without the significant technology skills that it has available in-house. 

Attending events like the Jobs for NSW Regional Pitchfest certainly validates our mission to get kids, especially in regional areas, excited about technology and to inspire them to pursue careers in STEM.

3D Printing Coding Education STEAM

Youth Week Workshops

Our Youth Week workshops in Leeton have just wrapped up, and what a success!

This year Youth Week was held April 10 – 18 with events held across every state and territory around Australia. The EduKits team were only too happy to be involved, providing a technology learning opportunity to kids living in in a rural and regional area.

Coding Kickstart

Our coding workshops using The Amazing Annoyatron were popular with kids and teens. Participants built all sorts of gadgets, gizmos and pranks during the workshop and were able to take the kit home for further learning and tinkering.

During the workshop we had a special visit from Leeton Shire Council’s general manager Jackie Kruger who called in to check out what an Amazing Annoyatron workshop was all about, and also to let the kids know how proud the community was of them taking steps to learn about technology as ultimately they are the future of the town.

3D-Printed Bag Tags

In our 3D printing workshops, held at the Leeton library, we had kids aged 4 – 17 years call in to see what 3D printing was all about. Participants were able to design and 3D print their own bag tags which they could take home after the workshops. It was exciting to see the creativity and imagination that was brought through into some of the designs.

We’ve shared above images of just one of the bag tags that was designed during the workshop.

Education News Schools

EduKits workshops give regional kids their first experiences with VR.

Over the recent school holidays, we ran a Virtual Reality experience and education session for kids from our community in conjunction with the Museum of the Riverina’s STEAM program.

For the benefit of other educators, we thought to share some of the activities and equipment we used to run a session of 2.5 hours in duration.

Starting with the equipment. For the session, we chose to use the VR Go foldable headset from Austec VR. There were a number of reasons we went for this headset over others that were available on the market. Big on our list was because the kids were going to get to keep their headset from the day we wanted something that was good quality, not just some cheap throw-away. The VR Go foldable fitted our needs perfectly, and Austec VR was very easy to deal with. If you are looking at different headsets some considerations to definitely think about include what is the phone holding mechanism like (ie the likelihood of the phone coming out, or kids accidentally dropping their phone while loading it in) and also make sure that the VR headset has a little button on the top, otherwise the headset will be pretty useless for anything where you need to touch the screen. A word of warning there. Many VR headset options do not have the capacitive button.

Austech VR Go Foldables. Note the capacitive button on its top left.

In terms of introducing kids to what VR is all about, there’s no better way than to let them experience it first hand. There is a range of Google Cardboard experiences on Youtube. Just make sure you try them first! Before you let the kids loose, decide whether the kids will be sitting or standing to experience the VR world. If they are standing make sure it’s a clear and safe area with no obstacles as the kids will be turning around as well as looking up and down. In a previous VR session we had access to an egg/pod chair and with it being on a swivel it worked a treat.

Once kids had experienced first hand what VR is about we gave them a demonstration and then let them loose in CoSpaces Edu. Our session had a range of kids on both BYOD and our loaner equipment. We like to bring a box of USB mouse with scrolling wheel functionality to lend out as navigating around applications where you need to pan or zoom can be difficult where you only have a laptop trackpad to use.

Kids of the Minecraft generation find navigation a breeze and were quickly familiar with the CoSpaces environment. From a teaching perspective within CoSpaces setting up a class is straightforward, and once in your class kids can share with you their various worlds or experiences they create. This makes it easy to then share what someone has created with the rest of the class from your teachers’ computer hooked up to a smartboard or similar.

Our session had kids attending in ages ranging from 9-14 years with a number of creative challenges. Below are some examples of the work produced on the day.

CoSpaces virtual scene challenge

CoSpaces maze challenge complete with moving walls.

CoSpaces Game Challenge


Education News

The Amazing Annoyatron – EduKits Workshop Style

Today as part of our ‘Tech It Out’ summer holiday workshop series EduKits ran a session on electronics and coding using ‘The Amazing Annoyatron‘. Kids were super excited to be using the kit, especially when they found out the Annoyatron they’d be using in the workshop was now theirs to keep.

Of all the workshops we do, kids seem to love the tactile ones most. Coding a physical object or making an item with 3D printer, for the majority of kids is more satisfying doing something where the output is limited to being on screen. The reason for this perhaps has something to with how much experience kids already have with computers and the process of input with mouse or keyboard, output goes to screen.

For a session of 2.5 hours we run 3 Amazing Annoyatron projects with the kids. The first is always our introductory project, the ticking clock which has a very easy build and gets them used to working with code in a new interface. We finish off that project with a race to create the most Annoying Noise in the Universe (handy hint – a couple of layers of sticky tape over the kids buzzers dampens the noise created). The second project we do is one that makes them giggle. Our third project for the session we run with a more complicated build accompanied with a lesson in how to use (an awesome little block code editor).

Post session update.

Within the week following the session we received feedback from a number of parents about how much their kids loved the session on the Amazing Annoyatron. Their kids continued exploring with the Annoyatron for the week following the session getting their new gadgets to make all sorts of crazy noises.

Of all the tech sessions, The Amazing Annoyatron was my favourite. (Tech It Out 2018 participant, aged 11).

Coding Education News

Regional kids “Tech It Out” during school holidays

For three consecutive years, EduKits has been running school holiday workshops for kids in the Riverina to learn about new technologies. Our first ever workshops were held in the 2016/17 summer break and covered 3D printing technology. For 2017/18 workshops were held at Working Spaces HQ where kids were treated to workshops covering Electronics, Coding and 3D printing.

This year EduKits in conjunction with the Museum of the Riverina is running a workshop series called “Tech It Out”. What’s great about working with the Museum is the access we get to a larger training space meaning even more kids can come along and learn about tech.

Our workshop series this year is jam-packed with activities and is suitable for kids aged 9-14. Kids can come along to all four days of activities or just pick and choose the sessions of most interest (or which fit in with your other holiday plans).

Day 1 – Electronics and coding with the Amazing Annoyatron

On our first day of workshops, we’ll introduce kids to coding using the award-winning Amazing Annoyatron. We’ll put our coding skills to use and make some of the most harrowing and hilarious projects you can make with less than 5 volts and some coding skills. Oh, and did we mention the fun won’t stop there as you’ll get to take home your very own Amazing Annoyatron.

Day 2 – Virtual reality

The second day of workshops is going to be an exploration and creation of virtual worlds. You’ll get the opportunity to partake in some 3D experiences, perhaps a roller coaster may take your fancy (light breakfast recommended). We’ll then show you how you can build your own 3D world and animate your characters using code. We’ll finish off the session by checking out each other’s creativity. You’ll leave this session with some pretty cool skills and a pair of VR goggles to continue the fun at home.

Day 3 – Augmented reality

In the not-too-distant future, we could all be wearing special glasses that overlay media onto the world as we see it. This is augmented reality. On day 3, we’ll be experimenting with this technology. First, you’ll experience how it works, and see in action some pretty cool object recognition tools developed by Google. From there it’s time for you to build a scavenger hunt using augmented reality. We’ll help you to storyboard the experience, but the rules and clues will be up to you.

Day 4 – Game design and coding

Our final day of the workshop series we’ll introduce you to coding in Scratch. We are going to use this software to see what thinking like a coder looks like and to create a number of games. If you’ve used Scratch before that’s awesome, we’ll have some game challenge activities ready for you and help available to keep you moving if you get stuck. The great part about Scratch is that you can keep using this software at home for free.

How to book

Tech It Out is happening the week of Monday 21 January 2019. Bookings are being handled on the Museums Eventbrite page here.

Coding Education

Why do we even teach coding?

For a while now, we’ve all been told that coding is the one crucial skill that the kids of today are going to need for the jobs of tomorrow. Governments are scrambling to integrate it into their digital technologies curriculums, and it’s almost safe to say that this will be a mandatory part of schooling everywhere around the globe by 2020.

However, Australian teen entrepreneur Taj Pabari made headlines earlier this year by questioning whether coding really is “a skill of the future”, claiming that in the near future, computers will do all the coding themselves thanks to technologies such as Microsoft’s Deep Coder research program. Furthermore, he also pointed out that it doesn’t make much economic sense to teach every child to code, anyway – this would just drive down the salary for computer programming occupations.

For some quick background, Pabari is the founder of Fiftysix Creations, Australia’s largest provider of entrepreneurship workshops for schools. His outstanding work in educating over 40,000 children around the country in business and soft skills have seen him featured on the likes of Sunrise, 60 Minutes, the Today Show, and more.

His arguments are, of course, somewhat true: Microsoft’s AI can certainly write its own code, but this is limited to just a few lines at present. It’s going to be a few decades, at least, until it’s likely for this technology to become mainstream and a real threat to coders. Oh, and unfortunately, this machine didn’t actually code itself either. That part did, and always will, require humans.

It’s also true that if every person graduating from high school after 2030 becomes a software engineer or computer programmer, then we’ll have a massive economic issue on our hands. Not only will there be an over-supply of programmers, significantly driving down their salaries, but there will be no-one left to run the rest of our complex economy. The App Store doesn’t yet have an app to replace our farmers, nor does Facebook have a button that can manage our whole businesses for us.

So if computers are going to eventually be able to do all the coding themselves, even if this is quite a while off, and it makes no sense for every student to become a software developer when they leave school, then why exactly are we all racing to force coding down the throats of this generation?

I think that it’s almost unreasonable to suggest that just because we’re teaching every student to code, every student will leave school to become a software developer. And nor will that ever change. We teach maths to every student in the country all the way up to year 10 – when students leave school, do they all become actuaries, accountants, and maths teachers? Science is another subject that runs throughout school – do all of our students leave to become marine biologists?

Coding is becoming a part of our curriculum, and the real reason why we should teach our children to code isn’t that we want to force them into a profession within the realms of computer science, but for the same reason that we continue to teach them subjects like English, maths, science, and history. All of these subjects help them to investigate and understand the world around them, regardless of the career paths that they eventually choose to pursue.

Although these subjects are very different in terms of their content, the way that they are taught, and their usefulness – this is the big point Pabari questions with coding – they are all incredibly relevant to the lives we lead in the 21st century. English, of course, outlines the way in which we interact and express ourselves with others. Is every student going to need to know what an oxymoron is? No. But complex language techniques aren’t what the subject is really about, the one thing people always seem to forget when they start attacking English; it’s all about predicting, interpreting, questioning and comprehending. And not every student is going to pursue a career as a language scientist or an author, yet this subject is considered to be one of the most critical taught in schools.

Coding is very much the same. Like with any other subject, only a very small amount of students will make use of the higher-level and more difficult aspects of a mandatory computer coding course. And that’s okay. What is important is the skills that this subject will engage. We already know that coding is great for the development of critical thinking skills, problem-solving, computation (that’s maths, not running apps in your brain), and creativity.

Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly relevant to teach coding to our children as we are living in an increasingly technological society. The apps, devices, and machines that we interact with each day are all powered by coding and were all developed by someone who knew how to code. It should be comforting to think that we are preparing a future generation against the mindless consumption of technology and apps, as we give them the skills to at least understand on a basic level how these things work.

We have already seen how technology and social media have empowered thousands already to express themselves, explore the world and become a voice for change throughout the global communities. Coding becoming a part of the curriculum means that we are giving the leaders, thinkers, dreamers, and creators of tomorrow the tools that they will need to change the world.

So Microsoft’s Deep Coder may eventually do most of the coding for us. But there will certainly always be teams operating this technology, designing the apps that it will create and furthering the capability of this technology. All of these people will have to make use of coding at some level in order to do their jobs. And for the rest of us left doing other jobs, most of which probably haven’t been invented yet, we’ll be able to look at the apps and games on our phones and know a little about how they were made. Coding isn’t dead. It’s something that can only be brought to life with the creativity and ingenuity of the generations to come.

3D Printing Education Schools

3D printing in the classroom: Here’s what you should consider

3D printers can be fantastic tools when learning about STEM in the classroom. They allow students to create tangible versions of their designs and encourage creative, yet practical thinking. Not to mention that they’re also really fun to work with!

However, as an educator, there’s probably a lot you don’t know about 3D printing. It can seem especially daunting and complicated, seeing as the technology is only just gaining in popularity and public familiarity. In this article, we’ll look at some of the most important things you should know before you buy a 3D printer for your classroom.

How 3D printing actually works

Most people know what 3D printing is, but they can’t actually tell you how it works. Understanding this is important in being able to decide whether both it and its quirks are the right fit for your classroom. It’s actually quite a complicated process, so here’s the quick and easy rundown:

  • Most 3D printers work by melting plastics through a super-hot nozzle which moves around to create shapes in three dimensions. Warning: hot!
  • The printing process isn’t instant. Prints can take anywhere from 30 minutes for a small keychain to 8 hours for excessively large or detailed objects. This makes it extremely difficult to print the work of multiple students.
  • Cheaper 3D printers (< $600) will often work inconsistently or not work at all for you. You may think that you’re getting a good deal, but cheaper printer = cheaper parts and this will create massive problems for you (get ready for repairs).

3D Printers emit fumes that can be toxic

As we mentioned briefly before, almost all common 3D printers work by melting plastic through a nozzle to create a shape in three dimensions. Unfortunately, the process of melting plastic leads to the release of potent fumes and ultra-fine particles (UFPs).

These emissions aren’t any good for you or your students to be breathing in. In fact, the fumes created by the use of certain plastics in 3D printing can be toxic, and the associated UFPs are suspected to have adverse health effects as well.

This is probably the number one thing schools don’t know about 3D printing, but it could also prove to be one of the most dangerous down the track. However, there are things you can do to significantly reduce the impact of these issues if you do choose to invest in a printer.

Firstly, make sure that you look at 3D printers with fully enclosed build chambers. This means that there are no sections of the printer open during printing, leaving the fumes inside until you open the door. Sorry, Ultimaker. Once the print is finished, you can take the printer outside to let out the fumes, or at least control their release.

Additionally, some 3D printers like the UP Mini 2 and the UP Box+ include HEPA filtration systems. Essentially, these devices ‘clean’ the air inside the printer to remove a large amount of the fumes and ultra-fine particles – a cool feature, especially for classrooms. Filters are quite inexpensive and need to be changed only every six months or so.

Cost of equipment VS educational outcome

There’s no denying that keeping up with technology is quite expensive. Reliable 3D printers with good safety features can often cost over $1000 for smaller printers and up to $8000 for larger machines that can create the work of multiple students at once.

As the printing process is extremely slow, unless you are working with a smaller class or have significant time or monetary resources available, a 3D printer just may not be viable. As a teacher, you may end up spending hours watching the printer in order to start the next student’s print job if you can’t afford four printers.

And, of course, this investment of time and money must be compared against the educational return. For engineering classes in high schools things may be a little bit different, but generally, 3D printers are more of a novelty than a learning tool at such a high price point. The concepts that they convey can be taught or investigated using other tools or methods – and for a much less significant cost!

Wrapping it all up

So, while everyone’s telling you that you need a 3D printer for your classroom, you should probably ask yourself if you really do. They’re a lot of work involved in the maintenance of the printer, making sure that fumes are dealt with, and that’s before you even start printing out students’ work.

However, there are some situations where a printer might actually be a great purchase. For example, if your school runs an out-of-school STEM club, then this could be a great way to involve students. Meetings would be irregular, giving teachers lots of time to print students’ work. This could also work in classes where the printers are used for long-term projects, reducing the strain on time (students would finish at different times).

Is a 3D printer right for your school or classroom? It all comes down to your budget and how you plan to use and manage it.

Coding Education Schools

A Teacher’s guide to the Amazing Annoyatron

We’ve personally used the Annoyatron in a holiday workshop format so are happy to provide some recommendations on how best to use it as a teaching tool.

One of the first questions teachers are keen to ask is whether they can use the Annoyatron without sound. While kids love the idea of making a burglar alarm, the reality of 25 children all running an alarm project at the same time would be frightful for most – unless everyone has a set of earmuffs (and for the teacher possibly earplugs under the earmuffs).

The good news is that with the Annoyatron there’s a range of projects that use LED lights or can simply output results to a monitor. In addition many of the projects that do involve sound, for example, the burglar alarm, mostly can be replicated to work with sensors triggering a light rather than emitting an alarm noise.

Where you do want to run projects with the buzzers, to take the edge off the noise involved with multiple being operated in the one room you can dampen the noise by putting tape over the top of the buzzer, or taping on a small amount of dense dampening material like a strip cut off a pencil eraser.

The second most frequently asked question is how does the Annoyatron align to the curriculum. Below lists a number of Content Descriptions out of the Australian Digitial Technologies Curriculum where the Annoyatron may be used by teachers.

Foundation – Year 2
ACTDIK001 – Recognise and explore digital systems (hardware and software components) for a purpose.
ACTDIP004 – Follow, describe and represent a sequence of steps and decisions (algorithms) needed to solve simple problems.

Years 3 & 4
ACTDIK007 – Identify and explore a range of digital systems with peripheral devices for different purposes, and transmit different types of data.
ACTDIK008 – Recognise different types of data and explore how the same data can be represented in different ways.
ACTDIP009 – Collect, access and present different types of data using simple software to create information and solve problems.
ACTDIP010 – Define simple problems, and describe and follow a sequence of steps and decisions (algorithms) needed to solve them.
ACTDIP011 – Implement simple digital solutions as visual programs with algorithms involving branching (decisions) and user input.

Years 5 & 6
ACTDIK014 – Examine the main components of common digital systems and how they may connect together to form networks to transmit data.
ACTDIP016 – Acquire, store and validate different types of data, and use software to interpret and visualise data to create information.
ACTDIP019 – Design, modify and follow simple algorithms involving sequences of steps, branching and iteration (repetition).
ACTDIP020 – Implement digital solutions as simple visual programs involving branching, iteration (repetition) and user input.

Years 7 & 8
ACTDIK024 – Investigate how digital systems represent text, image and audio data in binary.
ACTDIP028 – Design the user experience of a digital system, generating, evaluating and communicating alternative designs.
ACTDIP029 – Design algorithms represented diagrammatically and in English, and trace algorithms to predict the output for a given input and to identify errors.
ACTDIP030 – Implement and modify programs with user interfaces involving branching, iteration and functions in a general-purpose programming language.

Years 9 & 10
ACTDIP039 – Design the user experience of a digital system by evaluating alternative designs against criteria including functionality, accessibility, usability, and aesthetics.
ACTDIP040 – Design algorithms represented diagrammatically and in structured English and validate algorithms and programs through tracing and test cases.
ACTDIP044 – Plan and manage projects using an iterative and collaborative approach, identifying risks and considering safety and sustainability.

Coding Education Schools

Atlassian founder Cannon-Brookes: “Why coding is critical for kids”

Atlassian is certainly one of Australia’s greatest startup success stories. Founded by Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar, the mammoth software development company was founded in 2002 and funded by $10,000 in credit card debt. Fast-track to 2018 and the company, now valued at around $4.5 billion (AUD), pulls in over $600 million (USD) each year.

Today’s edition of The Daily Telegraph featured Atlassian co-founder Cannon-Brookes as he stressed the need for Australian kids and teens to learn about computer coding. Titled Cannon-Brookes on why coding is critical for kids, the article reinforced the need for Australian children to have the opportunity to learn about and understand modern technology.

He talked about the tech-savvy workforce of the future that we should be preparing our children for. In Australia alone, there are over four million school-aged children that educators, parents and businesses must ensure are excited about coding and computational thinking. Ultimately, by having these skills, students will be able to apply their knowledge into whatever field they end up pursuing in life beyond school.

However, the Australian school system is often cited as being a few steps behind many other developed nations in terms of its integration of digital technologies within the national curriculum. Until this changes, it’s up to parents and carers to encourage their children to explore computational thinking and coding outside of school through innovative products such as The Amazing Annoyatron.

Digital technologies have been behind almost all of the most significant innovations of the twenty-first century. Technological skills, including computer coding, give future generations the power to continue this culture of innovation well beyond the present.

For children in rural and regional areas, it could take even longer for computer coding and technology to be properly accessible in schools. Yet regional Australia is a hub for digital innovation that goes largely unnoticed behind the scenes. Technology-based startups such as Agtribe, which allows farmers to rent and swap their machinery, is a fantastic example of this. Agrinet and FarmPay are further testaments to the waves of innovation that are occurring around Australia’s regional areas.

Not every child is going to end up employed in a computer science career, but that doesn’t really matter. Smartphones, apps and computers run our lives, and the ability of future generations to leverage these technologies will allow them to innovate and thrive within the profession which they choose to pursue. There is no escaping the technologically-driven nature of the world in which we live, so it is, therefore, logical to prepare our children for life within it.

Coding Education Schools

Founder presents at technology careers event

On March 7, Michael Nixon from EduKits presented at The BiG Day In, an annual Australia-wide IT careers conference for high school students interested in technology.

The conference is hosted at venues throughout Australia and nationally inspires over 7,000 students each year explore careers in the IT industry. This year, Michael presented his EduKits start-up story to the 590 students in attendance at the Charles Sturt University function centre.

Students were given the opportunity to hear from speakers from The Regional Entrepreneur, Adobe, Westpac, WeisTech Global, Agrinet, and, of course, EduKits.

One of Michael’s key messages from his presentation was the importance of failure, and how we can use it to create success. He told the crowd, “it’s very rare to succeed on your first attempt at something, and often if you do, that success will be unreplicable as you won’t have an understanding of what you got right”.

He also talked about the five-year journey that took him from reading coding textbooks borrowed from Wagga’s TAFE library to developing his award-winning coding kit, The Amazing Annoyatron. Michael then encouraged students to think about how they can use their own skills and talents to drive positive change.

Another highlight speaker from the event was Dan Winston, creator of Agrinet. He talked about his innovative solution that provides farm-wide wifi connectivity for Farmers, as well as his experience with ethical hacking.