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October 2019

Welcome to the October 2019 edition of the Digital Technologies in focus (DTiF) newsletter. Project schools have been planning teaching, learning and assessment of Digital Technologies in collaboration with their curriculum officers. Assessment tasks, with a focus on data, have been developed in collaboration with the Australian Computing Academy for each band. The tasks are currently being trialled in project and partner schools.

Students from Leonora District High School participated in the inaugural Indigihack and came away with awards for their efforts. It was quite an excursion from the goldfields of Western Australia to Sydney. Students drew on their cultural knowledge to develop plans for an app. Curriculum officers were in Sydney for ‘team week’, so they were able to work with students throughout the challenge.

Simon Collier, Steve Grant and Martin Levins joined forces to support schools in the Northern Territory and Simon has worked there intensively in September to support implementation.

The newsletter features a tutorial developed by Shane Byrne to support integration of Digital Technologies with Design and Technologies, with a focus on engineering. Schools are appreciating the many opportunities to integrate Digital Technologies to provide authentic contexts for learning.

Regards, Julie

Julie King
Project Lead, Digital Technologies in focus

Do you have some feedback on the newsletter and/or topic suggestions? Provide your ideas through your local curriculum officer, or via email [email protected]


What’s new?

DTiF webpage update

The DTiF webpage, located on the Australian Curriculum website in the ‘Resources’ section, has been updated with some new content. There is one additional school story, as well as new episodes for two schools. Ten new classroom ideas and planning resources address a variety of Digital Technologies topics, including digital systems, data collection, data representation and an unplugged approach to exploring networks. You will also find new digital systems cards and the A–Z Digital Technologies vocabulary resource. Links to the National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progression and Digital Technologies – Year 8 have also been added.


It's a goldrush!

One of the new resources is a tutorial to assist teachers to meaningfully integrate learning in Science with Digital Technologies by having students create a metal detector with micro:bits. The activity, based on discovering gold in the Australian goldfields, focuses on students designing and creating the metal detector from simple materials and then coding it in Scratch (visual programming).   Visit the DTiF webpage.

Students from Tea Gardens Public School, NSW, discovering ‘gold’

Dash and Dot in action 

by Danielle Hodgson

At St Peter Chanel Catholic School in Smithton, Tasmania, our Grade 1 students have been exploring Dash and Dot. They enjoyed programming the robots to talk, move and follow students’ instructions through a range of different apps. 

These robots allow students to use computational thinking and various programming tools. Students are able to interact with each other and the robots as they work in team environments.

Students programming Dash and Dot robotic devices

Years 7–8 Engineering: authentic integration of Digital Technologies

by Shane Byrne
In Technologies, one of the challenges that many teachers face is how best to address the technologies contexts. Many secondary schools may opt to address each technologies context in Design and Technologies separately, but it is also possible to address them by integrating the contexts and/or integrating with Digital Technologies. For example, food and fibre production and engineering principles and systems together with Digital Technologies. It may help to improve manageability of the curriculum and in turn make more sense to students, as well as satisfying the learning requirements.
This article looks at integrating Digital Technologies with Design and Technologies, specifically, engineering principles and systems. Why there? Because in the real world, engineering and digital technologies are so intertwined that successful outcomes usually rely on a good understanding and clear consideration of both disciplines. 

The NSW sample units ‘Rubber band racers’ and ‘Electric vehicles – the dragster’ may provide a starting point for authentic use of digital technologies to enhance the Design and Technologies context of engineering. This connects well with the following content description: Analyse how motion, force and energy are used to manipulate and control electromechanical systems when designing simple engineered solutions (ACTDEK031). 

An obvious thing to do with these vehicles is for students to race them. They could use a stopwatch and a few formulas to work out the speed in km/h and the velocity at the finish line, again nice things for the students to work out. The activity discussed here will add a digital technologies perspective by creating a timing system to measure time taken from the start to the finish line, at which point the other formulas can be applied. 

An example of this is provided below as a professional learning tutorial on making a digital start/finish line that could be used to time and collect data when racing vehicles designed and produced by students are tested. Teachers could lead students through this unit or ask them to come up with the answers more independently. The approach depends on confidence and the time available to teach the unit. The tutorial shows how the coding needed for the digital start/finish line can be created using both visual programming and general-purpose programming language.

Tutorial: Creating a digital start line and finish line with micro:bits 

Integration context: student-engineered vehicles (Design and Technologies) 
The challenge: Create a digital start/finish line that captures the movement of a vehicle.
Materials list:     DTiF4
  •  micro:bit                                            x 2 
  •  micro:bit power supply   
  •  micro:bit USB connector                   x 2   
  •  laser transmitter (KY-008)  
  •  laser receiver sensor (ICstation 5v)  x 1
  •  AA battery holders                            x 4
  • alligator leads                                    x 10   
  • Blu Tack                                             x 2
  • a computer to code the micro:bits 

The coding involved to create the digital start/finish line could become a unit in its own right; however, in this project students will simply think about the instructions needed, learn how to code those instructions (both visual programming and general-purpose programming language are shown) and then refocus on the engineering part of the unit. Guide the students through or encourage them to work independently, taking into account ability and school context. 

The tutorial is presented in four parts:

Part A: Algorithms

Suggested introductory activity

Using the computational thinking poster as a stimulus to identify the aspects of computational thinking in the steps below. 


Algorithms: Expressed as a simple sequence of steps

What is the sequence of steps required to achieve the digital solution?

  • The start line micro:bit must sense a laser beam.
  • When a change in the laser beam signal is detected (a vehicle passes through it), the micro:bit must know that too.
  • When change is detected, the micro:bit must start a timer. 
  • When change is again detected at the finish line (a vehicle passes through it) by a second micro:bit and laser, the timer must stop. 
  • The user must be able to see the time taken/ displayed. Optionally, we can get the micro:bit to apply a formula to work out the average speed and finishing speed. These additional data, average speed and finishing speed, also need to be displayed to the user. 

Algorithms: Expressed in English/pseudocode

How could these steps be expressed in pseudocode?

Start line micro:bit


Finish line micro:bit 


Algorithm for both start line and finish line micro:bits 


Part B: Implementing the solution

Step 1: Setting up the timers 

Set up the equipment and then follow the instructions to check that everything is in place. First set up two laser detection systems – one at the start and one at the finish.


Each detection system requires the lasers to be aligned fairly accurately. When the racer breaks the beam, it will start (begin the timer) and finish (end the timer). 


 Note: The timing code will only be on the finish line micro:bit.

Step 2: Wiring the laser transmitter 

  1. Connect the negative to the pin closest to –.
  2. Connect the positive to the pin closest to S.
  3. The middle pin is not needed. 
  4. Connect the other end to the four battery pack holders.


Step 3: Wiring up the micro:bit to the laser receiver sensor

DTiF8Pictured on the right is the sensor as it looks taken out of the packaging. Facing you, at the top of this image, is the back of the sensor (the square shape on the three upright metal legs) – it doesn’t sense anything on this side, so we will need to carefully bend it over so that the other side of the sensor is facing the finish line (this way all the connecting wires will be out of the way of the road) like this:


Next connect the wires using what is written on the sensor board to guide you.

  1. GND to the GND on the micro:bit.
  2. VCC to the 3V pin.
  3. OUT to the pin I choose to use, either 0, 1 or 2 on the micro:bit.
When you connect the alligator clips/wires to the micro:bits, it should look like this:

  DTiF10      DTifF11

Alternatively, if you prefer, you could remove the sensor from its housing and turn it around the other way so the sensor itself is facing outward. (Note: it will now be facing the opposite direction, so the wiring will need to be opposite of what is written on the sensor board). 

Part C: Coding using visual programming (MakeCode)

Coding the start line micro:bit 

So now that we know how to connect the micro:bits to the laser receiver sensor, it is time to write the code and load it onto the start line and finish line micro:bits (using the makecode website). You could do this one step at a time, but it will be shown here all at once, and then explained. The first code we are going to load will be the start line micro:bit. 


To understand this fully, compare it with the sequence of steps and pseudocode in Part A: Algorithms. Note: Make sure to load this code into the start line micro:bit, then connect the micro:bit as shown previously.

Coding the finish line micro:bit 

The code for the finish line micro:bit looks like this: 

Again, if you want to fully understand it, compare it to the algorithm supplied above. Load the code onto the finish micro:bit and power it up.

Aligning the lasers 

Now that both codes are written and the micro:bits are programmed, it is time to connect them as in the diagrams above and then align each laser and receiver sensor (it can be a bit tricky, so be patient). If the analog value is above around 40, with the laser on and pointing directly at the sensor, then that will be enough... 200 is better though! Bumping the table can move it fractionally and that will mean it needs to be realigned, so be careful. Remember to press button A on the micro:bit to get the analog sensor reading. When readings are above the threshold (30) and students are ready to go, let them test their cars and see how fast they are. You could get them to do all the maths to work out the speed each time. Certainly, just looking at the time will tell the fastest cars.  

You could also program the micro:bit to work out the speed for you. The Engineered systems – the dragster teaching guide gives you a couple of formulas. I’ll supply one here. The code below will work out the average speed in km/hour.


It is the on button A+B pressed code that gives us km/h. Students could try applying the end velocity algorithm to work out the final speed as an extension. This code is added to the finish line micro:bit. Your algorithm will vary compared to mine as you will probably be measuring over a distance greater than one metre. Check the coder comments in the image above. 

This video explains the whole process


Part D: Python code

The wiring and set-up for the Python/MicroPython version is exactly the same as the block code version. The computational thinking and algorithms are also the same. There would be many solutions to this timing problem. Just one is presented here, which is quite similar to the block code. The code for the Python/MicroPython version is shown below (start and finish, respectively). Students can code in Python inside the MakeCode website or in MicroPython using an offline editor called Mu. The code is the same. The following code was created in MicroPython.

Thoughts on coder comments

There are an unusually large number of coder comments in the code below. It is to help you understand what is going on. Students don’t need to write all the comments in – as they become more proficient, the coder comments can be reduced substantially. Note: Comments always start with a #.

Coding the start line micro:bit using Python/MicroPython 



Coding the finish line micro:bit using Python/MicroPython 


Coming soon: 

The classroom guide for this activity will be available in the next collection of DTIF resources, due to be published in December 2019.

DTiF18Do you know about… 

the Australian Data Science Education Institute (ADSEI)? 

ADSEI was initiated by Dr Linda McIver, ex-Science teacher at the John Monash Science School. Find out more at the ADSEI website and read the ADSEI blog


Keep in touch! 

There are many ways to connect and keep in touch... the newsletter, DTiF Community, DTiF Wiki and the Digital Technologies Hub – here's how they all interrelate.  


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