As the review of the Australian Curriculum is underway, with Digital Technologies and Mathematics being the first subjects in this process, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the opportunities that this review brings.
As an Engineer and Computer Scientist, I never had a particularly deep love for Biology, and this is probably not a surprise. When I did Biology at school, cell biology was superficial at best and focussed mainly on the parts that make the cell, and chemical reactions.
But this changed in recent times and it is now clear that our cells are not just chemical factories, but sophisticated information processing agents. I have outlined this in the blog 'We are walking supercomputers'.
The curriculum review is an opportunity to connect the different subjects better, specifically Digital Technologies and Biology. Information not just drives our computers, but every single biological cell. This is profound for students' understanding of life. Whilst the detailed functions surrounding the DNA are currently beyond the full grasp at the levels of primary and secondary education, the concepts underlying Digital Technologies can act as bridges. For example, code needs to be stored, read and processed in the cells. Computers do this. The different cell parts working together need to agree on data formats and protocols to reliably and securely exchange information. Computers do this too. When I designed my first CPU, the B4, I couldn't help but see the analogies with the inner workings of biological cells. And just like a 3D printer makes cool things, so do proteins in our cells build other proteins that are the building blocks of us.
And then there is artificial intelligence, specifically artificial neural networks, that are based on the research of their biological counterparts, which started over 30 years ago. I developed my AI to show my children what happens in their brains when they learn, and what the impact of learning strategies on their learning is. Imagine looking at a model of a brain and watch it learn. It is a profound experience!
I think that students can gain a deeper understanding of biological life and learning if we build them the bridge between the technologies and biology. Let's connect the learning area silos. After all, life itself exhibits aspects of what we teach in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, digital technologies (informatics), the arts, languages, and <insert your favourite subject here>.
To be clear, I do not argue for students to write more code. I think that current levels are fine. But I would like the curriculum review to consider the cross-curriculum links, specifically between Digital Technologies and Biology and connect the big ideas, such as 'What is life?' and 'How do we learn?'.
Just my $0.02.
Dr. Karsten Schulz