Some Ideas on Integrating Digital Literacy Into Your Subjects

Some Ideas on Integrating Digital Literacy Into Your Subjects

In 2015 the Australian Federal Government announced the establishment of a new digital curriculum that would bring coding to school kids. It's a program that recognises that many of the best and brightest current Computer Science students, headed to Google, Facebook, CSIRO and the like, started learning super young…like five or six years old young, fifteen years old at the oldest for a mind-boggling sixty percent of them, at least according to my experiences when i was at UNSW Computer Science. The introduction of computer science to kids five and six years old is a long awaited update to the ICT program, which taught and tested incredibly simplistic questions like “What is a mouse?” and “What is a computer?.” While of course not everyone want to be a software developer, it teaches increasingly useful skills used in more and more industries. Whether the focus on computer science in the future roles of the kids you teach is as more of a Business Analyst or Coder, many will no doubt be using these skills on the job, and in their everyday lives. If nothing else, it's a super fun way to teach what can seem like boring concepts to kids.

The Software Design & Development course is a tad more advanced, but it is known to usually be incredibly badly structured and taught, with the teachers themselves not knowing enough about code to be able to teach it. As well, the curriculum focuses on the management and sociological side of software development, but students are still expected to develop a fully fledged program as their major project by the end of it. The new Digital Curriculum gives more of a hint to teachers in what's involves in teaching how to be a coder, a significant improvement, and just in time too. 

Most people have laptops…or at least smartphones now. In fact more people have smartphones than laptops (or computers). Integrating digital into the curriculum has therefore become far more of a matter than teaching simple computer skills like how to use email and identify a mouse. Especially because everyone can already do that!

And so it follows that most children, as you would well know by looking at your own students, are competent computer users. So the question now is how to use computers more effectively, i.e.. how to transform a laptop from a mere Word processing and communications tool into a valuable machine that will accelerate their own capabilities.   

The aim of the new digital curriculum is therefore all about introducing students to the concepts of computing, making sure they have a deep understanding of computer science fundamentals and some complementary business and design skills by the end of Year 10, to more than prep them for the future of work.

By the end of Year 10, the government expects students to have picked up how to design, develop, and manage software development projects. They’ll know how to evaluate current information systems in terms of their capability to spur enterprise, their potential risks, and whether they’ll be worth using years into the future.

They’ll write neat, modular code, know how to design and assess user experience and algorithms for use, and be able to create an object-oriented program. They’ll understand the social implications of software and know how to secure a software program. In the future, anyone will be able to assess the usefulness of a program in 15 minutes. Or at least that’s the idea.

Now, wondering exactly what digital literacy actually encompasses? Here you go. Digital literacy includes:

Skills such as coding, data synthesis and manipulation, as well as the design, use and management of computerised, digital and automated systems. — Stewart Riddle, Senior Lecturer (Curriculum and Pedagogy), University of Southern Queensland

Additional anticipated outcomes are that students will learn to think like an entrepreneur, and have enhanced problem solving and collaboration skills. You’re probably thinking, ‘All of this sounds really complicated.’ As a teacher without a computer science background, how can you possibly get started teaching these topics?

Let us explain.

Digital literacy is best attained by both combining the aforementioned concepts with the teachings of conventional subjects like English, Maths, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Legal Studies, History, Visual Design, Geography, Commerce, Economics, and Home Economics.

How do you combine attaining digital literacy with the rest of the curriculum?

Here’s the key: Show how they interrelate.

To help you better conceive of these relationships, here are some sample project ideas (segmented by school year set) that combine conventional subjects with the technologically progressive digital curriculum concepts. Why are the segmentations so large? It's organised from the youngest age some may be able to do it from, to the oldest age a student usually is capable of completing the task.


Year 2 to 6

  • For Maths, drawing shapes with ASCII characters will teach abstraction. Something slightly more difficult? Solve a group of maths problems with the same code: just input numbers. 

  • Younger students could use infographics and data visualisations and photos to create awareness campaign through a blog about a topic.


Year 6 to 10

  • Maths, Visual Design, and nature have a connection. It’s not just the Fibonacci sequence or the Golden Ratio. Much of the world’s greatest digital art is created not only by Photoshop but by equations in JavaScript. Get students to try and draw shapes in JS. 

  • For Maths itself, how about creating an auto-solver? You can't help but learn maths along the way.

  • A Visual Design task may be to redesign the user interface for a famous application. This can also imbue students with competitiveness.


Year 6 to 12

  • For Science, students could create modelling software for scientific processes & mechanical objects and then either use trial & error or maths to work out how to reach an optimal outcome.

  • Maths enthusiasts might like to attempt Project Euler.

  • What better way to explain what happens on a macro scale than with data visualisation? It has great possible applications in History, Geography, Economics, Commerce, and Science.

Year 8 to 12

  • For Home Economics, students might write the requirements for a budgeting tool

  • An English project could be to write a text analyser, or a spell checker. You could create bots themed around historical periods and writing styles…

  • For Legal Studies, students could represent a parliament in a relational database schema — a parliament has one Prime Minister, one party can have a certain number of cabinet ministers, it is either true or false that an MP is in the ruling party. Ask students to think about how their favourite online marketplace arranges itself.

  • Science and Geography. Students could modify an Arduino or Raspberry Pi to create monitoring software, then make visualisation and a report from the results.

  • Older students could code & promote a blog for Legal Studies that explains a legal concept or a pivotal case.

  • An Economics or History assignment idea could be to explore historical trends and work out the best way to represent them.

  • In Legal Studies and Commerce there are great opportunities to teach about privacy and security. There are many case studies. You can talk about the maths of privacy and security with authorisation algorithms like bcrypt & SHA-256, the reasons why OAuth is preferred over having a different password for every website, and the privacy implications of re-targeting software and providing information to social networking applications.

Assessing the success of any of these projects will not require any coding skills, but to be able to understand just how well the students did, it’s recommended.

For more on how you can incorporate these concepts into your classroom, we’re glad to announce we now host workshops on Demystifying the Digital Curriculum.


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