Student Technology Leaders Project – One Term On


Earlier this term, I rebooted our Student Digital Leaders program as part of my involvement in the Education Changemakers Aspiring Leaders program. The idea was to develop a partnership-wide program that involved students mentoring teachers on how to use technology and how to use it authentically to support student learning. Students would collaborate across sites to develop resources and to learn from one another. Through this approach, I was aiming to build students’ leadership capacity in terms of technology and to build teacher capacity in using technologies across the curriculum. Why focus on this? Digital Technologies is a relatively new curriculum area and teachers report that they lack confidence in this area, as well as in integrating technologies in other learning areas. Furthermore, in my experience, kids are more engaged when technologies are incorporated. I focused on using students to provide support to teachers as I am passionate about teachers learning with and from students and students are arguably the most knowledgeable users of technology.

The Context

At my current site, we have a lot of technology available to us and whilst there are pockets of staff using it, it’s not being used to its full potential. There was already a Digital Leaders program in place, which involved approximately 40-60 Years 5-7 students who completed projects of their choice (e.g. building an amusement park in Minecraft).They participated in 1 x 90 minute session per week. With the exception of a few Digital Leaders (who supported our Primary Special Class with Minecraft), there was no transference of their skills across the school.

The Process

After the last EC workshop, I researched various models of Student Technology Leaders and I came across Generation YES. It was a course that students could work through and was linked to the curriculum (albeit a US curriculum). I pitched my vision and framework to our Leadership team and invited feedback from them on how to sell the program to teachers. Their recommendation was to link the program to the Australian Curriculum (AC), assess students’ work and report back to their teachers.

I incorporated this into my pitch to the Digital Leaders’ teachers based on my knowledge of how they influence each other. This pitch was to get buy in, as in the previous term, I had overheard comments from teachers, such as “I don’t see the value in this program across the school” and “It interrupts Maths time”. I had reflected on their concerns and addressed these by re-positioning the program as part of core learning – students’ projects were cross-curricula, incorporating Maths, and all of their work would be assessed in line with the AC – and this enabled me to overcome initial resistance.

I had already pitched by idea to students in Term 2; however, there was little interest in the changes that I wanted to make. I gave up and continued with the previous Digital Leaders program.I re-promoted the concept at the beginning of Term 3 and re-invited students to participate. This time, there were clear expectations about how the program would be run and students’ responsibilities if they chose to participate. They all continued to attend our Digital Leader sessions.

Digital Leader sessions changed from two large groups to four smaller groups. This enabled me to provide more support and feedback to students. The sessions were comprised of 45 minutes to focus on their own project and 45 minutes to complete the leadership component. Their projects were linked to the AC and the GenYES program was modified to the reflect the AC.

One way in which student voice was incorporated was through the development of a staff survey. Students posed questions in order to capture baseline data (which helped me to collect data from teachers in a non-threatening way). This survey collected process data and provided a needs analysis. The results enabled us to target professional learning to meet the individual needs of staff.

Students have now started completed TAPs (Teacher Assistance Projects), which provides them with real life applications of their technologies skills. These TAPs have included simple tasks, like closing all of the open apps on iPads and deleting old photos (which has addressed some technical needs of staff), to more advanced tasks, such as creating a video tutorial for how to use and program MaKey MaKeys with Scratch. Knowing that they are teaching teachers has empowered students.

What’s the Impact?

My aim was to:

  • increase teachers’ digital technologies skills and confidence in planning units of work incorporating digital technologies
  • increase student achievement in the ICT General Capability and Digital Technologies curriculum areas
  • increase students’ leadership skills in digital technologies

Looking back now, I feel that these are big aims for a short period of time. However, the impact that this program has had does begin to address my original aims:

  • teachers have expressed interest in learning from Digital Leaders and using them in their classes to support them and their students
  • teachers identified individual professional learning needs
  • a revitalised Digital Leaders program, which has more rigour and is aligned to the AC, has been introduced and students have started completing modules of learning
  • increased number of students enjoying the leadership component
  • our first video tutorial for teachers – How to Use and Program MaKey MaKeys and Scratch
  • three completed TAPs and more in progress

The Challenges

My biggest challenge was, and still is, changing the perception of what Digital Leaders is to students. For the majority, Digital Leaders has been a time for them to play Minecraft. Even last week, one ex-Digital Leader reminded me that we used to have Minecraft lessons and asked when they would be back. I feel as though I could have made more progress had there not been the expectation that students were able to ‘play’ when they came to Digital Leaders. When I first set the projects this term, mapped with curriculum links, and shared them with students, they looked at me like I was crazy. One group in particular, whose project was to recreate the school in Minecraft by measuring buildings (length, area, angles), were not interested at all in stepping away from the computer to go outside and measure the perimeter. I’m unsure whether this is due to me starting this part way through the year when student perceptions were already set or whether it’s because I haven’t communicated to students clearly enough.

My other main challenge is the size of the group. We have approximately 40 Digital Leaders altogether, who meet with me on different days – one group is small, the others are still too large. In order to ‘get stuff done’, I would look to make the team smaller. Working with a core team of 10 students would enable us to make more progress in the long run as I would be able to provide more intensive support and feedback. Students require significant scaffolding in the initial phase; once this first group are confident, I would re-promote to students.

The Next Steps

I believe there is significant value in this program, and as such, it is something that I’ll continue working on. There are still a lot of refinements that need to be made, so there will be ongoing reviews and tweaks to get it to a point where it’s making the most impact. Next year, I will be starting at a new site in a Coordinator role, and I’ll start the program there with modifications to address the challenges that I have faced this year.

Student Digital Leaders Rebooted


Today was the first day of trialling a new approach to Student Digital Leaders (SDLs). During Term 2, I spoke with our SDLs about developing resources for teachers to use in their classrooms, but no one really seemed interested. All they wanted to do was ‘play’ with the technology. Those that did have a go needed a lot more scaffolding than I originally thought. So, I gave up on the idea and let them focus on developing their building and programming skills in order to get ready for FIRST LEGO League later in the year.

This term, however, I am determined to develop their leaderships skills as well as their technology skills. We have so many resources across our site that aren’t being used and then I hear teachers from other schools wishing for just a fraction of what we have. I believe that the SDLs can contribute to solving this problem over time.

Today was Day 1 with the first group of SDLs – there were six Year 6/7s and one Year 4. I thought it would be fairly easy working with this small group, particularly seeing as another teacher was supporting us. But again, the scaffolding was more than I imagined. We started by discussing all of the technology that we have available in our school and students were able to mention the obvious – laptops, iPads and interactive whiteboards. And then, they were stumped! With a few prompting questions, they were on their way and listed a lot of what we have available: Minecraft, Spheros, LEGO Mindstorms, Pivot, Scratch, Littlebits, Hyperpad, Ozobots, Beebots, Drones, MaKey MaKey and 3D Printers. From there, we talked about how we could find out about what’s being used and how we could get more being used to support learning. The first idea was to installing cameras and surveil staff! After some more prompting questions, they decided that they wanted to survey staff and students. We agreed that five questions would be plenty whilst not asking too much time from staff. After splitting into two groups, the SDLs developed their questions and included possible responses.


Originally, I had planned that even weeks would be when students focused on the leadership aspect and odd weeks would be when they completed their own projects to develop their tech skills. However, we were 45 minutes into the session today when we had finished developing the survey questions and I could see their interest was waning. As a result, the structure will change to each session having a 45 minute leadership component and a 45 minute project session.

Leading Change: It Doesn’t Have To Be From The Top


At the beginning of the year, my Principal asked me if I wanted to join the ‘Future Leaders’ Program in our partnership. In the previous year, I had backfilled a leadership position for a couple of weeks and then applied for a Coordinator position that had been advertised at another site. I wasn’t quite sure how I ended up in this direction, but it felt like this was the next step. I was pretty excited that I had been considered, plus it gave me the chance to work with Education Changemakers, so I was in.

On the first day of the program back in April, I looked around the room at the ‘collective genius’ and I felt like a fraud. The people around me looked confident and sounded so sure of what they were saying. What was I doing here? I didn’t belong. I wasn’t in a leadership position, so how could I possibly lead?

We were asked what we wanted to get out of this program. I wanted to know how to strategically lead and implement change / programs, how to get staff ‘on board’ with changes and how to effectively use my leadership style. A lot of this was due to previous years where I had been trialling some new practices in personalised learning and digital technologies, but despite sharing this with others, no one was really keen to take it on themselves. Upon reflection now, I think what I lacked was the proof that it was working (at least it was with my class) and the means to be able to provide support to others. I kind of just said, “This is what I have been doing.” I didn’t encourage them to trial it, I didn’t provide them with support and I didn’t explain the rationale behind it. These were the skills that I wanted to develop throughout this program.

After spending four days with Louka and Mike from Education Changemakers, my view of leadership has changed and I am developing my skills so that I can lead more effectively, even if I’m not in a leadership position:

  1. Leading change has to be consultative and collaborative. We can’t do it all by ourselves.
  2. Leaders are like entrepreneurs. They identify problems, develop solutions and implement them.
  3. Leadership shouldn’t just be a top-down approach. Leadership should be at the grassroots level. The best changes come from those who are living and breathing the problem.
  4. Leaders are doers, not just talkers.
  5. Leaders need to convince others that there is an issue to change and that the issue is important to those involved in the change.
  6. Leaders should build capacity within others, so that change can continue without them.

My project for this program is the development of a Student Technology Leaders Network across our partnership. This came about by working through the EC change process, in which we identified our beliefs about education and what our schools should look like and what the reality is at the present time. We considered the problems that we could solve in order to shift our reality towards our beliefs. For me, I believe that children must have access to and an ability to use digital technologies, as well as create digital solutions. Why? In my experience, students tend to engage more with their learning when digital technologies are used and they help to develop a wide range of skills required for students’ futures.

At my current site, we are very fortunate to have access to a wide range of digital technologies, such as laptops, iPads, Beebots, Spheros, Ozobots, LEGO Mindstorms, MakeyMakeys, 3D Printers and so on. However, for the most part, they remain stored in our STEM space (except for the laptops and iPads). I believe that the main root cause of this is due to teacher capacity (and I’m sure that this is common across many sites). How do we get started with technology? How do we incorporate it authentically into cross-curricula units of work? How do we assess student use?

I feel very passionately about teachers learning with and from students. I believe that our students are the people in our school who have, arguably, the most knowledge and passion about technology and that we should harness this in order to incorporate technology more purposefully into lessons. At our site, we have a Digital Leaders program that was established by Graham Wegner, our previous Assistant Principal, ICT, Data and Admin. These students complete digital projects, run lunchtime sessions for students and offer support to some classes. My vision is to expand upon this, so that we have groups of students across our partnership who provide professional development and ICT support to staff and students. This will include teaching teachers and students about new technologies, integrating technologies into lesson plans, creating resources and tutorials for staff and students and helping to maintain technologies. During Term 2, I found that numerous students were interested, but they also valued their time completing their own projects. It now becomes a balancing act between giving students that time to develop their own skills, whilst also finding the time to develop their leadership skills. They have some great ideas about how to use technology in the classroom (e.g. “You can just add a mod to Minecraft to learn about natural disasters”), but they need more scaffolding on how to break this information down to those of us have no idea what a ‘mod’ is!

The concept of Digital Leaders is not a new one (see Digital Leader Network and Generation YES as a start), but as I have learned through the EC process, it’s okay to steal good ideas. During Term 3, I’ll be looking more into what is already established in order to see how we can use and build upon these programs across our site (and hopefully partnership).