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”