Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Culturally Situated Design Tools: Dotted Circles Exemplar version 2

aka Tribal Modernism
aka ethnocomputing

It begins like this:

and develops into this:
This began as an exploration of a good way to teach maths to the indigenous. It has turned into an integrated curriculum approach with maths as one of the important elements. The elements of integration include art, aboriginal culture, technologies including digital technology, maths and story telling

A powerful idea from indigenous culture is the circle. This was highlighted by Chris Matthews at the final session of ATSIMA 2018 (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mathematics Alliance).

The numbers (1), (2), (3) and (4) on the diagram refer to particular interfaces within the overall picture. I’ll use those interfaces to describe the approach in more detail.

(1) The interface between Indigenous Dotted Circle Art and Ascend to the Concrete.

The dotted circles are prominent in western desert aboriginal art (Papunya Tula) dating back to the early 1970s. I was surprised to discover the assertion in a couple of books by Ian McLean that aborigines invented the idea contemporary art. It makes for interesting history and I’ll have to summarise that story at another time. Dotted circle art in indigenous culture is a powerful theme, not tokenistic. Ian McLean coins the term "tribal modernism" to describe the growth of the Papunya Art movement:
The Western Desert painters remain committed to their tribal traditions. They did not abandon them for the promises of Westernism but instead insisted on the contemporaneity of their tribalism. This is perhaps the greatest shock of the art movement from an artworld perspective: it is tribal modernism. Thus it challenges the self-defining paradigms of both Western modernity and the artworld.
- Rattling Spears, p. 121
The following example comes from a public poster about NAIDOC week:

(2) The interface between Maths of the Circle and Ascend to the Concrete.

Mathematical abstraction is often cited as a pinnacle of Westerm culture.

However, some authors have presented original interpretations. Ascend to the concrete comes from the philosophy of Marx. Andrew Pickering’s mangle analysis of Science speaks of the dynamic interaction between the material (machines) and humans. Epistemological pluralism, where the bricoleur approach is recognised as both valid and powerful, comes from Papert and Turkle.

By mathematical abstraction I mean, pi = circumference / diameter and the other formulae that flow from that. Mathematical abstraction is powerful, I agree with that. However, it is also a double headed beast. To abstract a circle, as in a textbook maths representation, is to oversimplify the richness of real circles found in art and nature.

Rather than dry as dust textbook maths I strive here for material based, hands on, models that will engage, motivate and educate. The long term goal is to teach maths and the computer coding of maths. But dry abstractions, learn C = 2piR, then plug in the values and get the correct answer, often does not engage or promote meaningful understanding.

How do we make the derivation of pi more concrete? One good way is the rope activity. Walk out 7 steps along a rope being held by a partner. Then walk around your partner in a circle counting your steps. If you get 44 steps then you have an approximation for pi (44/14 = 22/7). Repeat this process for different radii. Notice that the value of C/2R or C/D is always roughly the same. Why is that?

Moreover, a sprite on the computer sits at the boundary between the abstract and the concrete, a visible thing, almost tangible. Program it to move in a circle. That is abstract. Then see the sprite move in a circle. That is concrete. Add some colour and other effects, such as lumpy dots. That is enriched concrete or artistic concrete with an underlying abstraction. We have ascended to the concrete.

Snap! program estimating pi by measuring circumference and diameter

(3) The interface between Maths of the Circle and Indigenous Dotted Circle Art

How do we make the maths artistic and the dotted circle art mathematical? This can be done with computer programs such as Turtle Art, Scratch or Snap! There are various ways to draw circles on the computer. A good way to do a dotted circle was to start in the centre, lift the pen, move radius, put the pen down, draw the dot, lift the pen and return to the centre. Then turn a little and keep repeating the process. Computers are fast, one of their great strengths, so it doesn’t take long.

I spent a fair bit of time experimenting with colours of both dots and background and how to do lumpy dots, more in keeping with the art form. I am doing this for the user but the how to can be read in the code. The art and maths intermingle in a transparent process.

I got this far trying to imitate the above NAIDOC poster using Turtle Art:

(4) In the middle of the three rings above is a sweet spot, I hope. As I develop my understanding of the 3 teething rings the sweet spot becomes sweeter

My interpretation of ascend to the concrete in this context goes like this: It refers to a journey from the first exposure to a concept (eg. the circle) to an exploration of its properties (eg. pi) and then returning to the concrete circle in the world armed with a theory to put into practice (eg. understanding and using computer code to draw interesting and artistic circles)

Although it's not in the teething rings above digital technology is a wonderful device to present the abstract concretely. As well as that digital has become / is becoming the new dominant medium since you can arguably develop more powerful, more flexible and more evocative representations than in previous mediums. I have to qualify that though. Papunya Tula art is far more evocative than the puny representations I have developed so far digitally. Rather than trying to duplicate Papunya Tula art I have moved to the position of using aspects of it as inspiration to develop a new form of digital art. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Here is a summary of the approach. Take a powerful idea from indigenous culture and represent it using a variety of technologies! Start with the cultural theme so that the technology serves and enables different forms of expression of the culture. ie employ and mobilise the motivational aspect that comes with tapping into personal culture. Then use technology (both digital and non digital) to make the abstract ideas within the powerful idea more concrete.

We end with an enriched circle, a rich art form. Not traditional art. Nor an abstract disembodied circle. Rather a form which has elements of both abstract maths and traditional aboriginal art. Call it indigi_maths_art. Call it tribal modernism, a mongrel of the traditional and the modern. It’s part of the work of cultural extension.


In an earlier version of this essay I talked about representing the circle in various ways. Since then, I’ve been persuaded by Pickering that real knowledge arises through performance and representation is an after the event disembodied abstraction.

Performance is real time interaction between humans and machines to achieve a goal specified by the humans. This is a difficult path marked by resistance and accommodation to that resistance. Teachers understand this and are continually modifying their lesson plans to better fit the needs of their students. For Pickering, this is the true nature of scientific knowledge. It is part objective, part relative (or subjective) and part historical. Science is material, not just knowledge. Historically, this is true. Galileo used the telescope to help start a scientific revolution. Machines were at the heart of the Industrial revolution. Galileo’s work was dramatic performance. I am taking Pickering’s insight to help map out a performance based educational pathway. The modern machine that can assist us the most is the computer.

One goal is to master the user interface, to use the computer effectively. In developing this app I want it to be easy enough for the naive user to create interesting art quickly. And I want it to be open and transparent so the user can readily look under the hood to see how it was made.

Another goal is to teach computer coding. Computer coding has become more popular, largely through the lead provided by  Scratch. Nevertheless, not all students find this easy or are led to more complex coding. Even though block coding is easier than text coding still not all students become engaged with it. This is partly a cultural issue.

To learn to code is an arduous, sometimes difficult process and the cultural image of the highly skilled computer geek is a barrier to overcome here. Why would an indigenous student want to learn to code? The answer or pathway offered here is that it provides an opportunity to create some interesting and culturally relevant art forms. Hopefully, that might enhance engagement and learning further.

Tinkering or tuning is an important part of the learning process for both teacher and student. Humans tune the machines. The machines tune the humans. This process operates on me as the developer of this software app. Does it engage the student and help achieve the long term goal of teaching maths? A curriculum is an instrument too. Try the activities, see if they succeed. They will succeed for some but not for others. Then tweak them, think of new activities. This is a never ending developmental process. One goal was to teach the maths of the circle. Pi stuff. Are we succeeding?

Some of the many possible performances (previously I said representations) with which I have made some progress so far include:
  • The art itself (dotted circle theme). I have looked at the art and bought some books about it. I've yet to actually do the art myself but am looking for that opportunity
  • Language English: Tell the story of the Papunya Tula art movement and find out what the circles represent
  • Humans with rope, make a dotted circle or just a circle. This can be used to estmate pi concretely.
  • Snap! program estimating pi by measuring circumference and diameter.
  • Turtle art: For artistic effects and special fast primitives, such as arc, with the 2 inputs of angle and radius, arc: angle radius, see first iteration of a NAIDOC week poster using Turtle Art
  • Scratch application, see dotted_circles_version_1
  • Scratch: Cloning circles. I've done this in other contexts and it could be adapted to this context.
  • Snap! and Scratch compared: Hal Abelson's objective ("programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute") can be achieved more readily with Snap! than with Scratch. See a comparison between Scratch and Snap!
  • Snap! application, see dotted_circles_4
This artwork was made with the Scratch application, dotted_circles_version_1 Click on the link and do your own performance.

This artwork was made with the Snap! application, dotted_circles_5 Click on the link and do your own performance.

Another Snap! application work of art:
Here are some more possibilities which I have thought of but haven't attempted to implement yet:
  • Language Pintupi / Luritja: introduce some
  • App Inventor: dotted circle with one phone or many phones
  • Photography: Show some pics of dotted circle art, perhaps from overhead using a drone
  • Robot (which robot?) draws the dotted circle
  • Microbit: Use radio to send a message around a circle (what message, can it be interactive? A message about the Papunya art movement)
  • E-Textiles: dotted circles on a beanie
  • Circuit Playground Express: it’s already a circle
  • Chibitronics: circuits on paper
There are a lot of ideas here. I'm sure that more could be added by others with knowledge of the three themes: dotted circle art, the maths of the circle and theories which make the abstract more concrete.


Rattling Spears: A History of Indigenous Australian Art (2016) by Ian McLean
Ch 5 The Invention of Indigenous Contemporary Art outlines the history of the Papunya Art movement through the lens of “tribal modernism” (p. 121)

How Aborigines Invented the Idea of Contemporary Art: Writings on Aboriginal Contemporary Art (2011). Edited by Ian McLean.

For more background on Marx’s theory of ascending to the concrete to see:
Dialectics of the Abstract and the Concrete in Marx’s Capital by Evald Ilyenkov

Epistemological Pluralism and the Revaluation of the Concrete (1992) by Sherry Turkle and Seymour Papert

Culturally Situated Design Tools (CSDT) by Ron Eglash and co
Many cultural designs show how math and computing ideas are embedded in indigenous traditions, graffiti art, and other surprising sources. These “heritage algorithms” can help students learn STEM principles as they simulate the original artifacts, and develop their own creations.
NB. The recommendation to study Andrew Pickering comes from a Ron Eglash article, so I am indebted to him for that as well.

The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency and Science (1995) by Andrew Pickering (download the whole book)
Andrew Pickering offers a new approach to the unpredictable nature of change in science, taking into account the extraordinary number of factors: social, technological, conceptual, and natural that interact to affect the creation of scientific knowledge. In his vie w, machines, instruments, facts, theories, conceptual and mathematical structures, disciplined practices, and human beings are in constantly shifting relationships with one another "mangled" together in unforeseeable ways that are shaped by the contingencies of culture, time, and place

Monday, December 23, 2019

Comparing Scratch with Snap!

Hal Abelson:
First, we want to establish the idea that a computer language is not just a way of getting a computer to perform operations but rather that it is a novel, formal medium for expressing ideas about methodology. Thus, programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute.
- "Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs"
Scratch version (follow the link to see the finished product):

Snap version (follow the link to see the finished product):

From the experience of building these, some of the advantages of Snap which emerged are:
1) Hal Abelson's objective ("programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute") can be achieved with Snap. Because you can Build Your Own Blocks (BYOB) the overall structure of the code can be laid out far more clearly. It's tidy and you can immediately see the big picture of the overall program. This is because the extra blocks you build are tucked away into the Palette section.

Here is my main Snap procedure. The inner repeat stamps a fuzzy circle of dots. Then the radius and number of dots is increased and the process repeated until the specified number of circles are done. The structure of the code is relatively easy to understand, compared with Scratch.

I have written no less than 9 of my own blocks and by naming them meaningfully you have a good idea of what they do. Their names are:

LOOKS TYPE (purple)


These DIY blocks are not black boxes. The user can open them up in the Block Editor, look inside to see how they are implemented.
Here is set_dot_colour:

Here is move_fuzzy_radius:

2) Because of point one above it is possible, with Snap, for the user to easily see and tweak variables in the Scripting Area. You can see the values in the code of 4 variables: radius, radius_increment, dot_spacing and number_of_rings:

On the other hand with Scratch the whole code takes up lots of space, so it is not practical to tweak the variables in the scripting area. This means, in Scratch, it has to be done with prompts but with so many variable that becomes too arduous / time consuming and the user will become impatient. In the Scratch version I "solved" this problem by restricting the number of variables that could be tweaked to three: background colour, dot colour and number of circles.

3) Snap has extra features such as lists within lists which enable me to display colour selection more clearly and elegantly. See the pen_colour table. The user chooses the colour by typing in the matching number, eg. 10 for orange.

Previously, I reviewed an article about the design of construction kits by Mitch Resnick and Brian Silverman where they promoted the virtues of the KISS principle. Their point 2 was that wide walls took precedence over high ceilings. Their point 5 was "make it as simple as possible – and maybe even simpler". Those points are embodied in Turtle Art and Scratch.

I'm arguing here that Snap!, a program with more powerful features is better suited to designing more advanced tools / applications. And surprisingly, with respect to, presenting tidy code it does adhere to the KISS principle. Returning to the Hal Abelson quote I was struck by how I could reduce clutter in the Scripting Area by Building my own Blocks and design code that expressed its intention more clearly than in Scratch or Turtle Art.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

dotted circles version one

My idea was to build an application that indigenous students would find interesting which in turn would interest them to learn coding in Scratch. I'll write a more detailed educational rationale later, although I have written some before too.

You can find the application, written in Scratch3.0 here

Some more screenshots of what it can do:
There were a number of design challenges.

An earlier version had far too many variables to be set by the user before they could make anything. I felt the users would lose patience with it. This version has only three variables: background effect, dot colour and number of circles.

I was tempted to introduce a second dot colour, to have one colour for the inner and outer rings and a different colour for the inbetween rings. But for the sake of simplicity I rejected that. The end product would be richer but the user interface would be more complicated.

Other rejected variables include dot size, dot spacing, inner radius, radius increment.

I like the lumpy dots effect, which goes in all directions.

With the backgrounds I had to find a way to do them quickly so I opted for randomly large to small dots of a particular colour with shade variations stamped onto the page.

Earlier rationale: Proposal for an Australian indigenous version of Culturally Situated Design Tools

Monday, December 16, 2019

how to create a great background in Turtle Art

The backgrounds I was creating in Scratch for my dotted circle project were too slow (here for now). So I went back to Turtle Art to see how it was done there.

What features do you want for a great background. I would say:
  • speed of creation
  • no gaps
  • distinct brush strokes
  • artistic curve and wave
  • subtle colour variation
Here is how:

A circle moves rapidly across the screen from left to right while curving, waving and changing colour.

The speed is created by long and wide brush strokes,
pensize 7
arc angle = 360 (full circle), radius =500

With a diameter of 1000, this takes us outside the edges of the screen (680 x 550), which also means there are no gaps (nearly always)

The right amount of curve in the strokes is caused by the radius setting. If the radius is too large then there is not enought curve. If the radius is too small (eg. 250) then there are gaps at the top and bottom

The brushstroke effect is caused by the subtle colour changes, not the pensize (as I first thought)

The wave effect is achieved with right random(1 to -1). This outputs a value of 1, 0 or -1 creating an unpredictable wave.

The subtle colour change is caused by random ((-100 to 100) / 100). This outputs a decimal between -1 and +1 causing slight changes in the colour at each iteration.

In Turtle Art the number 0 represents red and as this changes through to 100 the colours vary according to the colour spectrum ROYGBIV.

I experimented with altering the start colour and achieved these effects:

Start colour = 0 (red)

Start colour = 15 (yellow)

Start colour = 50 (cyan)

I then thought I might want browns for background. To achieve that I set the colour to orange (10) and introduced shade, making it 30 (0 gives black and 100 gives white). I also tweaked the random colour variation to random ((-25 to 25) / 100) so it didn't alter so much. Here is one result:

Then I thought a vertical wave rather than left to right would be interesting so I further tweaked the code for that. Here is how that one looked and the new code is underneath:

Thursday, December 12, 2019

measuring the cooking and cooling of your microbits

This represents the educational equivalent of sensor analytics, which commercially is a killer app. Not advocating commercialism here but learning from it.

The micro:bit can be part of a data rich educational pathway. I didn’t realise this until I googled microbit data and discovered the microbit app (Windows 10 only) as well as some great tutorials at Data Collection and Data Analysis

This app has a few extra features over the online editor at makecode.microbit.org. The important extra feature here is you can directly read serial data from your micro:bit for data logging.

For this experiment I need 3 microbits, two for transmitting temperature data at different locations and one to receive it. I placed one sender near a hot plate and the other was taped to an air conditioner.

The receiver microbit transmits the data, through a USB cable, to the microbit app running on my computer. In turn, the microbit app displays the data and graphs on a data console.

I’ll show both the block code and the corresponding JavaScript. I’ve added the explanatory comments to the JavaScript. You can add comments to the block code but it quickly becomes cluttered.

This code was flashed to the two separate micro:bits, one near the hot plate and the other near the air conditioner.

This microbit was connected to my computer and the data is displayed in the microbit app console as both scrolling results and graphs.

Once again I’ve added the explanatory comments to the JavaScript file

The data can also be downloaded as a csv file and processed in Excel. I made a graph as follows:
Other ideas for remote data collection with the microbit:
  • measure the acceleration of a dropped microbit or one attached to a rocket
  • check soil moisture of a pot plant
(checkout the links in the first paragraph for more detail about other projects)

Note that the temperature experiment was done without any extra data collectors, just the microbit app. I think that this app extends the range of what can be done with the microbit tremendously.

Related: Making sense of the microbit

Footnote: explaining the "killer app" statement in the first paragraph
Persistent identity is the "killer" feature and sensor analytics and mobile payments are two "killer" apps, while more immersive first-person videogames and live event experiences could become another “killer” app for some wearables
Wearable Devices The ‘Internet of Things’ Becomes Personal by Morgan Stanley Research 2014

Sunday, November 24, 2019

donate to the Kumanjayi Walker fundraiser

How to donate to the Kumanjayi Walker fund: Justice for Yuendumu: Inquiry on Police Shooting

The police appear to be commenting on this case (here) although others have stopped or have been told to stop since murder charges have been laid

More information about who might represent the Walker family

It's time to brush up on your history if you are not aware of it:
(1) Coniston Massacre 1928
(2) Cameron Doomadgee killed on Palm Island while in police custody, 2004 (wikipedia account). Read The Tall Man, a magnificent book.

UPDATE (27/11/2019):
Read Rolfe bail application under exclusion of the public by ERWIN CHLANDA.

This article points out how this police charged with murder obtained bail without public scrutiny, whereas an aboriginal person, Julian Williams, charged with murder in 2009 (and later found to be innocent) was locked up for 2 years awaiting trial.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Kumanjayi Walker rally

I've posted it below but best to watch on YouTube: Walker Rally 14th November. For commentary by the producer, Erwin Chlanda, see Mass rally shows fury, distrust for police, government

More: Scott McConnell is the Independent Member for Stuart (formerly was Labour Party but quit following disagreements with the Chief Minister)

Government fails bush on health, police: McConnell
The under-resourcing or closing of bush police stations and the shutting down of clinics over the summer period in several communities of the NT, including Haasts Bluff, west of Alice Springs, need to be examined.

The two failures are clearly inextricably linked: If people don’t feel secure they will not take jobs in remote health services, a problem Health Minister Natasha Fyles has failed to cope with “from the get go” of this Parliamentary term, says Mr McConnell

The killing of 19-year-old Kumunjayi Walker by a police officer last week was immediately preceded by the evacuation of the entire NT Government health service from the 800-strong community. And this in turn had been caused by the alleged attempted break-in into the home of a health staff member earlier last week.....

A long-time Yuendumu resident, speaking to the News on the condition of not being named, says the break-ins, car thefts and stealing from the stores, mostly by young people, some operating as gangs, have been out of control in Yuendumu for months.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

The Three Game Changers and Disadvantaged Youth

This is my response to the Mparntwe / Alice Springs Youth Action Plan 2019-2021, see some extracts from this plan below.

The computer revolution powers ahead and conventional institutions, such as the education system, struggle to keep up.

The goal here is to identify the 3 game changers in modern computer technology and outline how they can be used to engage disadvantaged youth. The 3 game changers are coding, physical computing and maker spaces / fabrication. All of them have become far more accessible to users.

Coding: Block coding languages such as Scratch or MakeCode are far easier to use than text based languages. The ready access to multimedia (simple animations and sounds) in the design of Scratch allows a lot to be achieved quickly and engages new users.

This writer has developed outlines for a variety of projects with indigenous themes (1)

Physical computing: New microcontrollers such as the micro:bit (2) or Circuit Playground Express are inexpensive and combine programmable sensory input and output in an appealing, portable / wearable package.

Maker spaces and fab (fabrication) labs: Maker spaces can be constructed relatively cheaply. Buy a few craft items from Mad Harry’s and a few tools from Bunnings, do a little coding, connect with the Hummingbird Bit robotics kit and you can make a variety of projects that are both educational and entertaining (3, 4)

Fab Labs are more expensive. The underlying idea here is to provide the tools, such as laser cutters, for users to be able to make (almost) anything. Fab Labs are growing exponentially around the world. Some of them have been developed to operate in Disadvantaged communities. A Fab Lab can be used for training, making things useful to the user or for making things commercially.

Some extracts ...

The youth survey and summary data …. show that 30 percent of participating youth surveyed in Mparntwe / Alice Springs are disengaged from school

  • Provide learning opportunities for disengaged young people through the evenings and night. Investigate funding options to support community based education responses in both the urban and remote context
  • Build collaboration between the youth sector, NT Government, Department of Education and schools to support professional development of staff and case management support for young people
  • Consider gender issues when developing strategies for re-engaging young men and women in schools and education pathways
  • Improve access to education and training for young people in detention
  • Strengthen pathways to real local employment opportunities such as … Aboriginal and Islander Education Workers ...
Other goals of the plan which could be impacted by these ideas are:
Goal 2: Improve outcomes for young people in the youth justice system
Goal 3: Better support for remote communities
Goal 4: Support the development and implementation of mentoring programs for aboriginal young people
Goal 6: Develop integrated programs for young people who are out late at night

Mparntwe / Alice Spring Youth Action Plan 2019-2021

Bill Kerr articles
(1) Integrating the digital technology curriculum with indigenous knowledge systems
(2) making sense of the microbit
(3) bee waggle project with the Hummingbird Bit
(4) would you like to see a toilet roll dance?

Dougherty, Dale with Conrad, Ariane. Free to Make: How the Maker Movement is changing our schools, our jobs and our minds (2016)

Gershenfeld, Neil; Gershenfeld, Alan; Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld. Designing Reality: How to Survive and Thrive in the Third Digital Revolution (2017)

Graves, Colleen and Aaron. The Big Book of Maker Space Projects (2017)

Graves, Colleen and Aaron. 20 Makey Makey Projects for the Evil Genius (2017)

Martinez, Sylvia and Stager, Gary. Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom (2nd Edition, 2019)

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

integrating the digital technology curriculum with indigenous knowledge systems

This is a draft overview of exemplars some of which are being developed and others being project ideas in embryo. Please get in touch if you want to help develop these ideas further, or, alternatively, just do it!

It assists teachers in implementing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures cross-curriculum priority from the Australian Curriculum, further integrating ideas from Science, Maths, Art etc. into the Digital Technologies curriculum.

The method employed here is to identify powerful ideas, usually from indigenous culture and express them using Digital Technologies. Initially this is done using Scratch coding to develop algorithmic thinking. I anticipate that this can be further extended into physical computing utilising such devices as the micro:bit, drones, Hummingbird:bit or programs that run on android phones (QR codes, app inventor). I have identified a substantial number of project ideas here but far more could be done.

Some ideas have been adapted from the Melbourne University Indigenous Knowledge site, whilst other ideas have been culled from various media reports or developed by this author.
A note about indigenous icons, animations and sounds: Scratch 3.0 comes with its own prepackaged icons, animations and sounds / music, which makes it easy for new users to quickly develop multimedia applications. What I have done / am doing is compiling a set of indigenous icons, gif animations and sounds / music more suited to indigenous cultural expression. Indigenous icons have been obtained from the web and tidied up (transparent backgrounds) using GIMP. Animated gifs can be imported into Scratch and utilised frame by frame. In this way a library of animations suitable for indigenous themes can be developed. Free sounds is a great source for sounds.

The words identifying the functions of Scratch tiles (move, turn etc.) have been translated into many different languages. I’m making inquiries as to what process would be involved in developing an indigenous language version of Scratch. It would be a tremendous boost to encourage indigenous multimedia coding if this could be achieved.

The Project themes include Navigating Through Country, Fire, Dotted Circle Art Work, Kinship Systems, Indigenous Languages, Drones, Phases Of The Moon, Seven Sisters, Rainbow Serpent and Photography.


The rainbow serpent creates springs, creeks, wetlands. It can also be associated with extreme weather, lightning, thunder and destruction. Either of these themes could be developed in Scratch.

Book reading story link: ‘Warnayarra: the rainbow snake’ by Pamela Lofts

For the images / gifs I’ve been looking for scary serpents or fascinating rainbow effects rather than cute and friendly snake images. Some scary serpent sounds have been downloaded.


A schematic map is available from the Indigenous Knowledge site. A good starting task would be to duplicate this map in Scratch using the indigenous icons.

I’d encourage students here to then incorporate bilingual features into the project, their preferred native language plus English, using the Scratch pop up messages and text to voice features.

The picture shows some of the indigenous icons (not the map).


Smoking out a kangaroo or emu is one of the many uses of fire used by aboriginal people.

Other uses of fire (as well as smoking out animals) include promotion of plant growth, reduction of fuel loads, social (campfire), cooking, communication, funerals, warding off evil spirits, insect repellant and burning spinifex to make glue

A story from the Martu, a central West Australian tribe is how, initially, the blue tongue lizard kept fire to himself. The chicken hawk stole fire from the lizard and gave it to the Martu. The Martu carried a fire stick from camp to camp.

A burn area makes it easier for hunting. New food grows after fire and rain (desert raisins, bush potatoes). Different burns are used for different foods. A small burn for skink, a long burn for a hill kangaroo and a round burn for a mala.

Some Martu art works show patches of fire

Reference to this section: Burning, bushfoods and biodiversity (film, 41 min)


There are dreamtime stories connecting the spotted quoll with the phases of the moon. The moon spirit loses its breath, dies and is reborn.

Mityan’s earthly counterpart is the Quoll or native cat which used to inhabit parts of Victoria and New South Wales. Its white-spotted brown coat is clearly reminiscent of the various phases of the moon, from the slim crescent through to the full moon.

The Scratch cloning feature could be used effectively here, for dramatic effects of the moon.


The Seven Sisters song series stretches across Australia. The videos at the National Museum page Tracking the Seven Sisters are incredibly good

Some features of the 7 sisters video could be emulated in Scratch: metamorphosis of sisters to different forms; art work (circles); background music etc.


Culturally Situated Design Tools is an approach pioneered by Ron Eglash et al and adapted for aboriginal central desert art motifs (dotted circles with textured backgrounds) by this author. The picture below shows one variation of a myriad of possibilities (developed with Scratch):

Using Scratch or Snap! we can code the circle in various ways. The code enhances our understanding of the circle and how it can be represented in this medium. This can be done with dots or an unbroken line. To build tools that will do justice to the indigenous art work does take a lot of thought, research, collaboration and design effort. The tools also have to be usable initially by a novice to computer coding. To design all of this becomes complex, so the designer needs to be a good coder with a good understanding of the cultural form too.


Taking Arrernte people as an example. All Arrernte have skin names. There are 8 skin names: Kemarre, Perrurle, Penangke, Pengarte, Ampetyane, Angale, Kngwarraye, Peltharre. They get their skin name at birth based on the skin name of their parents. But they get a different skin name from both of their parents. For example, if a woman is Peltharre then, according to culture, she should marry a Kemarre man and their children will be Perrurle.

Using Scratch or SNAP this can be coded using lists, conditionals, input and outputs. It’s a good way to introduce data structures and conditionals to anyone interested interested in this feature of indigenous culture.


An ABC report, Aboriginal Gathang language brought to life for Taree school students, from May 2018 describes how a NSW indigeneous teacher, Jaycent Davis, has installed Gathang language signs throughout the Taree High school and primary school

He has embraced digital technology, using QR codes on the signs, so students can scan them with their smart phones and hear the Aboriginal word spoken aloud.

This great idea could be adapted to any indigeneous language.


I have used Scratch to make a tiny multimedia dictionary (voice, pictures / animation, words) for the Australian indigenous Alyawarre language. See the Scratch project here.

Peter Ruwolt had the idea of making template programs using Scratch to support teachers in teaching reading and writing of Pitjantjatjara.

For example: Unmarked object on screen which when you click on it plays a sound of a Pitjantjatjara word, eg. Punu (tree). Another object on screen which contains the word spelt out, punu. The user drags the spelt out word icon onto the sound playing icon and the program generates a reward of some type. Students could then proceed to making their own sound and word objects, creating their own word – sound dictionary


With App Inventor students can develop phone apps for android phones. For example, I have developed an Arrernte Language app, with the help of a friend in Adelaide, to help those learning the language to pronounce the words. With this app someone learning the language can sit with a fluent speaker and if they mispronounce the words the fluent speaker can record a better version.

IDX Manager Grant Cameron was invited to present at the World of Drones Congress to talk about IDX's work in regional and remote communities across Australia ...

Grant spoke about the importance of skilling up mob across the country in using technology, and how communities are benefiting from using drones to map and monitor their own country and keep sacred sites, cultural and intellectual property safe.
- from IDX Facebook site, September 27

Overhead time lapse photography as indigenous artists make a painting (Kim Mahood, Mapping and minding shared lands, The Monthly, July 2017 )
“Wallworth used overhead time-lapse photography to film the making of the painting, and the immersive multi-screen result shows the painters materialising, disappearing and reappearing as they create the landscape, dot by dot, on the canvas”

Monday, September 23, 2019

digital innovation in secondary education

The Education and Health Standing Committee (a committee of the Western Australian Legislative Assembly) is conducting an inquiry into Digital Innovation in Secondary Education. (link)

The inquiry will consider:
  1. How digital innovation can assist secondary students to learn anything, anywhere, anytime
  2. The role of digital technology in addressing secondary student engagement and retention
  3. How digital innovation can increase equity of opportunity in secondary education
  4. The potential for digital technology to cater to the needs of high performers and at-risk learners in secondary education
  5. Challenges to implementation, including provision of digital infrastructure, resources and technical support
In July this year I roughed out some notes addressing these criteria.

Overarching statement:
Computers can be both instrumental and epistemological vehicles for certain powerful ideas / dispositions and hands on practices which can be delivered to those who have missed out (aka the digital divide)

1) Rapid but twisted evolution of the computer revolution

Although computers are everywhere, the hardware, software, applications, programming languages and the practices and theories of educational computing continue to evolve rapidly which makes it hard to keep up to date.

Experts and movements (the new Coding Movement, the Maker Movement) do exist and are very helpful but they don’t always agree. The existence of the vigorous Coding and Maker Movements outside of schools indicates that often schools are not doing the job and also that these movement are highly engaging for many students.

2) The powerful ideas and dispositions

Seymour Papert’s original concept (1) was about using computers to transform the way knowledge developed in the learner’s mind. The subject domain of geometry could be restructured to make it more accessible, meaningful and fun for the learner (aka “hard fun”).

Some powerful ideas can be clearly identified:
eg. debugging of code or working to improve a prototype through repeated iterations requires persistence and is a form of looking at mistakes. There is general agreement of the educational importance of that.

Other powerful ideas arising from computer science can be identified and ways found for them to be taught. However, what history has shown is that the most important thing here is setting up learning environments where an invitation to develop powerful ideas will emerge naturally, rather than being forced. See next section.

Although there has been exaggeration, historically by some, of what can be achieved with computer based learning environments, nevertheless, the practices in most schools falls well short of what could be achieved.

ACARA’s Digital Technology curriculum (2) does outline some of the powerful ideas (as outcomes) but doesn’t explain how to achieve them. Effective teacher training exists through the CSER MOOCs site (3).

The history since computers entered schools shows there are widely different claims and approaches about the best way for them to be used. Some authors have done a good job of sorting through this. To do a thorough review of this literature is an arduous but possible task.

Three game changers have been identified by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager: coding, physical computing and fabrication. (4)

Collaboration has been identified as part of the desirable culture (Yasmin Kafai/ Quinn Burke (5)) and some software and learning sites have built that into their workings (eg. Collabrify software (6), Scratch3.0 website with their Remix feature(7))

Various names have been assigned to summarise the powerful ideas. These include computational thinking, computer science, computational literacy, computational participation. This theorising is an ongoing process in a relatively new curriculum area. Consensus has not yet been achieved. It is an important discussion which does need to be further analysed and understood.

3) Learning environments

Experience shows that for most students powerful ideas are not learned by force. A more effective approach is to make them conspicuous in the learning environment (by good choice of hardware, software and learning environment) so that their development is encouraged.

For most students, the powerful ideas will only arise from thoughtfully constructed learning environments, a powerful curriculum delivered by teachers who understand the issues.

Such environments have been developed and trialled in the past (eg. Turtle geomety, “Instructional Software Design Project” (8)) and this is ongoing.

Some excellent modern curricula have been developed, eg. Scratch 3.0 curriculum by the Harvard School of Education (9). Some general principles of what works and what should be encouraged can be stated, eg. collaborative work, project work which is personally and socially meaningful with long time slots.

Whole school change / integrated curriculum (STEM / STEAM) is difficult for a variety of reasons:
(a) School leadership may not understand the issues deeply
(b) Teacher training has not kept up with the computer revolution.

Nevertheless, focused change based on teacher enthusiasts is possible. The structural reform which works well involves personally and socially meaningful projects (preferably an integrated STEAM curriculum), sufficient time to develop them with teachers trained who understand the issues (learning environment, hardware, software, child psychology and cultural issues for indigenous students)

4) Cultural focus

Learning environment can be enhanced meaningfully for indigenous learners using Culturally Situated Design Tools. Some exemplary work has been done by the group led by Ron Eglash in the USA over a long time frame (10)

I have developed a few exemplars along similar lines (11)

Much more could be done along these lines. The conditions for success have been outlined in the publications of Eglash et al.(12)

5) Hardware and software

The growing list of hardware to choose from highlights the need for informed evaluation: includes Makey Makey, Arduino, Little Bits, Ozobot, Micro:bit, Chibi Chip, Circuit Playground Express, Lilypad, Bee-Bot, Dash and Dot, Sphero, Edison, Drones, etc.

Some of the important principles have been articulated by those who have developed the best construction kits (13). They include:
  • Design for designers – use kits that encourage building and tinkering (iterate, iterate and iterate again)
  • Low floor (easy to begin use), wide walls (diversity of possible projects including multimedia) and open windows (collaboration)
  • Make powerful ideas obvious but not forced
  • Minimalism often works better than feature creep
  • You can do quite a lot with a little bit of programming
  • Eat your own dogfood (don’t ask students to use software and hardware you don’t like using yourself)
With these principles in mind some of the hardware and software I recommend are Scratch3.0, Turtle Art, Makey Makey, the micro:bit, MakeCode, the Hummingbird:bit and App Inventor (not a prescriptive list)

6) Nuts and bolts

Computers in schools and related hardware is a significant budget item. Many schools have difficulty acquiring sufficient network managers / maintenance staff. Teacher training lags behind the potential of what can be achieved.

(1) Papert, Seymour. Mindstorms
(2) ACARA Digital Technologies
(4) Martinez, Sylvia and Stager, Gary. Invent to Learn
(5) Kafai, Yasmin and Burke, Quinn. Connected Code
(6) Collabrify apps
(7) Scratch 3.0
(8) ISDP
(9) Scratch 3.0 curriculum
(10) Eglash, Ron et al site
(11) Kerr, Bill
a) Turtle Art design
b) Indigenous icons
c) Arrernte language app
(12) Eglash, Ron et al publications
(13) Construction kits article

Sunday, September 22, 2019

indigi digi 2020

- Brief outline of a Digital Technology course with indigenous themes

Indigenous themes
indigenous art, languages, stories, kinship systems, astronomy, fire and water

Software and a few Exemplars
Initially Scratch leading into Culturally Situated Design Tools, SNAP and App Inventor (others as appropriate). These are relatively easy to learn block coding languages.

Scratch is a popular block code language which enables the user to manipulate rich media (sounds, music, animation) with simple combinations of commands. Indigenous icons can readily be imported into Scratch and stories built around them.

The metaphor that has developed around Scratch has been low floor (easy to get started), wide walls (diversity in projects) and open windows (collaboration). This metaphor translates readily to indigenous cultural themes of grounded, experiential learning, the diversity of the Land and using your own language for communication and collaboration.

SNAP is a more powerful version of Scratch, better suited to Culturally Situated Design Tools in the longer term

Culturally Situated Design Tools is an approach pioneered by Ron Eglash et al and adapted for aboriginal central desert art motifs (dotted circles with textured backgrounds) by Bill Kerr. The picture below shows one variation of a myriad of possibilities (developed with Scratch):

With App Inventor students can develop phone apps for android phones. For example, I have developed an Arrernte Language app to help those learning the language to pronounce the words. With this app someone learning the language can sit with a fluent speaker and if they mispronounce the words the fluent speaker can record a better version.

Other resources Computers, micro:bit, indigenous icons, QR codes, Android phones, indigenous dictionaries. This is a low cost list which can be further developed depending on interest and needs.

ACARA The focus is on coding, algorithms, decomposition, design (the core issues of ACARA’s Design Technology Curriculum)

Cross curricula themes will include art, indigenous language, science and maths depending on the time available.

Educational Philosophy: Meaningful collaboration
  • Coding to make something that is meaningful to the user
  • Students join an online coding collaborative community. Encourage remixing of projects, learning and building on the work of others
  • The learning process becomes imagine, realise, critique, reflect and iterate
WHO? Variations of this course can be developed for the indigenous cohort from Years 3-12, depending on what the school sees as most valuable / useful.

Time: Time intensive will work better, ie. 4 periods a week is better than 2 periods a week

Rationale: For various reasons most indigenous students have missed out on a Computer Science pathway up until now.

Issues relevant to schools and other educational institutions:
  • Many schools are not compliant with the ACARA Digital Technologies Curriculum
  • The computing revolution, Schumpeter's creative destruction, is ongoing and continues to transform society. The nature of this transformation needs to be elaborated but clearly there is a need for many schools to improve their computer science or computational thinking delivery.
  • Driving down the high tech highway looking in the rear view mirror is a real problem. Many schools use computers in useful but mundane ways (think Power Point, roll marking and report writing) rather than creative ways
  • Teachers who understand educational computing deeply can and do use computers in creative ways that engage nearly all students. In the hands of such teachers computers can be used to integrate and transform the curriculum
  • Think STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) rather than STEM. Think STEAM for the 99%, computing education needs to include all social groups
Proposal for an Australian Indigenous Version of Culturally Situated Design Tools

Arrernte Language App

ACARA Digital Technologies

Index of recent articles about computers and education by Bill Kerr