Stories of Practice: Jess Peterson

Jess Petersen is a Digital Technologies teacher at Papatoetoe High School. Using computers has been a part of her life for a long time and now she’s teaching young people to discover and explore the world they live in through digital technologies.

Taking an integrated and cross-curricular approach to the revised curriculum content, Jess is unlocking the possibilities for her students and colleagues in Digital Technologies, check out her story below.

Introductory video with music, children and teachers in classrooms

(Text on screen - Stories of Practice Kia Takatū ā-Matihiko Digital Readiness)

(Jess Petersen talking in te reo Māori)

Ko Aotea te waka / The waka is Aotea

Ko Taranaki te iwi / The iwi is Taranaki

Nō Papakura ahau / I am from Papakura

Ko Ngāti Haupoto te hapū / The sub-tribe is Ngāti Haupoto

Ko Jess Peterson tōkū ingoa / My name is Jess Peterson

(Text on screen - Jess Petersen Papatoetoe High School Digital Technologies Teacher)

Hi I’m Jess Peterson and I’m a Digital Technologies teacher at Papatoetoe High School in South Auckland.

Growing up I knew what dial up was but I came in that weird generation in between floppy discs, CDs and then before Youtube was a thing. I’m a huge gamer and I’ve spent a lot of time connecting with people via the internet. Both locally and internationally. So I knew that computers were going to play a huge part in both my future and the future of the people around me.

Teaching for me was never actually about the topic, it was more about teaching our youth, tomorrow's leaders, about seeing the world more critically and engaging with their community. And thinking about what they are doing. It just happened that Digital Technologies was my way of getting that across.

The best part about being a Digital Technologies teacher for me is seeing the students come up with ideas and think about things in ways that they never would have expected. When they start coding on a program and building something that they never thought they could, it’s the best feeling in the world seeing them light up when they’re super excited about it.

Learning is fun! And our kids are using devices more and more as part of their everyday lives. Just like they would have used a notebook and a pencil and a textbook years ago. Now they’re just using devices instead as that tool to help them to learn. We can do so much by connecting what we already have. All the things that we’re already teaching to that Digital Technology device that they’re already using. And in turn we can take those concepts from that device that they’re already using and use it to help them to understand other things about the world around them like Computational Thinking.

We use a lot of Unplugged activities in class to help them solidify the learning that they’ve already done through other methods. We use a lot of pen and paper and flash cards to help us to design our solutions before we even come close to putting them on the computer. We use things like flash cards to rearrange different ideas into different algorithms to make sure that we are using the most efficient and successful way of doing things.

At our school we don’t have Digital Technologies as a compulsory junior or senior subject. So it was super important that to meet those new expectations from the Ministry of Education around the Digital Technologies curriculum, that we were teaching it across the board. This is also a way better way of doing it because it means that we can connect our learners to authentic contexts rather than deriving it entirely out of the Digital Technologies class. Where it might not connect to other areas of the curriculum as well.

As part of my initial teacher education I did a research project that was focused on allowing teachers of other subject areas to bring in Digital Technologies thinking and Computational thinking into their own classrooms.

So our first cohort of teachers had a bunch of experience and also some had no experience at all in implementing Digital Technologies. My role as a leader in that situation was to help navigate them through learning what Computational Thinking was. What it was in their context and then also how we’re going to develop lessons that align with that thinking as part of their core content that they teach. It can be really scary being asked suddenly to teach something that you’ve got no idea about or that you’ve never had to teach before. A huge part of that challenge is not only learning about it yourself but also learning about how you’re supposed to teach it to others. In order to get through that intimidation as a cohort we spent all of our time focusing on experimenting and just trying things. It didn’t matter how well they went or what happened, it was about that growth process. We found that over time our teachers became more and more confident with developing, delivering and making that content for their own classes.

One of the biggest challenges of being a Digital Technologies teacher is that technology is constantly changing. We also find that sometimes our hardware just isn’t able to keep up with what we’re doing. But it's not just the hardware that’s important. Using our physical environment is just as important to make sure that our kids are getting the best opportunities to learn what they can.

We use dinosaurs and rubber ducks to talk about classes and objects in programing. We’ve even baked cookies as part of our activities to build our understanding of methods and functions and how they interact with things we already do in the real world. All they need and we need to give them as teachers is the freedom and opportunity to experiment with all the different ways that can help them to learn these things. All they need is some freedom and opportunities to work with each other and learn different ways of doing things.

The same goes for teachers. We found that the best way of giving our teachers the most useful opportunity to develop their learning was just to experiment. Teachers know their learners best. They know how they learn and they know what makes them tick. Giving them prescribed lesson plans was never going to work for these teachers.

My biggest piece of advice is to just get excited. This is stuff that you are already teaching. Stuff you are already doing with your kids. It’s just the terminology that’s a little bit different and it can enrich your learning so much. You just need the time to work it out, figure out what you are doing and make it work.

Seeing the changes in the ways that your students think and work together is so rewarding. And it's so important to remember that you are on this journey together. They’re not going to judge you if you do something wrong. You just need to be working at it as a team and you will be so excited to see the different opportunities it can give you.

(Music plays)

(Text on screen - Thank you to Jess Paterson for sharing her experiences and advice) (Text on screen - Also a big thank you to the staff and students of Papatoetoe High School) (Text on screen - Access free resources at (Text on screen - Kia Takatū ā-Matihiko Digital Readiness)

(Music plays to the end of the video)

(Text on screen - Brought to you by Ministry of Education Te Tāhuhu o Te Mātauranga 2020)

What opportunities do you see for your students in Digital Technologies? Explore your ideas with other teachers on Ngā Kiriahi / Community of Practice.