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Developing digital skills in primary science

By Rachel Jackson posted 02-11-2022 13:40

  

Digital skills play an increasingly important role in all our lives, from knowing how to navigate the digital world safely to using a variety of hardware and software to help us to do our jobs, communicate with others and understand what is happening in the World. There is a huge disconnect in the wider workplace between the digital skills needed for jobs and the skills applicants have, to do those roles effectively. With this in mind, we should be equipping children of all ages with these digital skills, which will help them as they grow move through their education and embrace life, work and leisure.

So, I hear you say, what are digital skills? The answer to that is a very long list, but a few examples of basic skills would be to use a keyboard and mouse, take a digital image, create something digital like a presentation or a movie. These skills are generic and relatable to most of us from everyday life, yet they can also be more specific skills such as programming, CAD or datalogging.

In science there is a growing need to use digital skills and technology to find out about the World. Climate change is an example of this in action, where climate scientists are sensing environmental data such as temperature and tracking it over time to see any trends or patterns. Apps like the ZOE Covid tracker collected data on symptoms of the disease and found that they changed over time depending on dominant variants; keeping the public well informed on what to look out for.

Children will already be carrying out investigations where they collect, represent and analyse data within the science curriculum, yet this can overlap significantly with areas of learning in maths and computing. Whether collecting results from investigations using simple spreadsheets, or recording data electronically on devices such as iPads, sound recorders, dataloggers, then viewing and analysing the data using digital tools. This may include creating a branching database, pie-chart, or line graph. There are also lots of examples where technology can help with recording and representing data; this could be as simple as recording an investigation using a digital camera and presenting it digitally using a digital presentation application.

Software such as J2data is a great digital tool for working with data at primary. Allowing children to sort, group, and identify things based on observable characteristics, or tabulating or graphing answers to testable questions in science.

If children are using technology to meet aims within the curriculum, then we need to ensure that children have the digital skills required to do this.

Activities such as these require children to have the digital skills to use these products, so where does the learning of the digital skill come in? Is it computing or science and isn’t it also maths? In practise they draw on all these subjects, often learned in one subject area then relearned in another. This means that we can help children to recognise that a skill learnt in a computing lesson, may be relearnt in a science context, and then used to work with data in science. The more these skills are practised and applied in different situations then the more embedded they will become and will help children further on in their education and beyond. The main thing is that digital skills are very much part of how we and children engage with the world around us, so should be part of an effective primary curriculum.

One example where learning from these 3 subject areas can be developed is using a micro: bit as a data logger in science investigations. If you’re not sure what a micro: bit is, then it is a tiny computer, which is able to run one programme. It has several sensors, so can be used to record things like sound, light, temperature, movement and show this on the display. It may be used as a simple meter showing a reading, but also as a device for logging data at set intervals over time.

A programme for logging data can be quickly created and put onto the micro: bit and it will become a datalogger. The code can be tweaked depending on what you would like the device to log. In terms of primary, light, temperature and sound are common things which are logged over time. The device may be set up and left to log, afterwards the data can be uploaded to a computer and viewed, represented and analysed to find insights into what was being investigated. Using these devices in this way improves skills for pupils and helps them to see how STEM subjects link together. As well as developing digital skills they are deepening enquiry skills, problem solving, analysing and evaluating data. 

If you would like to find out more about data logging with micro:bits, and become confident in using these devices across a range of science investigations then join us on this 2- day course.

If you would like to know more about using micro: bits in computing, then Teach Computing has a short introductory course and a class loan kit scheme for the devices.

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