School libraries supporting Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko learning

From 2020, all New Zealand schools will be teaching the new Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko curriculum content to students. School libraries can play an integral role in the success and ease of this transition. This blog is full of ideas for using picture books (such as The Wonky Donkey) and other library activities to develop your students' computational thinking skills.

Open book with yellow lights in background

Photo by ivanolambertucci. Pixabay. Pixabay license.

Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko

Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko content will be integrated into the New Zealand school curriculum by 2020. Chris Hipkins, the Minister of Education, has stated the new curriculum content is about 'teaching children how to design their own digital solutions and become creators of, not just users of, digital technologies, to prepare them for the modern workforce'. The desired outcome of this curriculum content is to for students to become confident users of technology, which is achieved through the development of digital fluency, particularly:

  • knowing how to select the appropriate technology that is fit for purpose
  • being able to troubleshoot and evaluate the technology used
  • being able to communicate or share their learning with others.

By doing this, students will also engage in computational thinking and develop transferable skills in the following areas:

  • task management/decomposition — breaking down a task into smaller, more manageable chunks
  • analysis/pattern recognition
  • creating algorithms (instructions), testing and debugging (identifying and correcting) mistakes
  • collaboration/teamwork — if students are working in groups.

What role can school libraries play?

The notion of students being ‘digital natives’ is a misnomer — although many are adept at navigating the technology, they need to develop their skills, through the use of computational thinking, to use the technology meaningfully.

But students do not need to always have a device to develop computational thinking; school libraries have great resources to teach these skills to students.

Developing computational thinking through picture books

Storytimes are an effective way to engage students. Picture books also assist with the development of computational thinking and language, particularly:

  • those about journeys or problem solving — task management, creating algorithms, testing, debugging, or
  • books that have repetition — analysis/pattern recognition.

Titles include The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, or We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen.

How does this work?

Decide what technical vocabulary will be used. In this example, the vocabulary will be:

  • 'input' — adding data into a programme or computer system
  • 'output '— information provided by a programme, such as text on a screen or a sound through a speaker.

The last page of the story is the desired end result.

  • Read the entire story to the class, so students can familiarise themselves with the content.
  • Then go back to the beginning and read the story again.
  • At the end of each page, ask your students to identify the line of input from the story.
  • Keep going until the output from the story matches its desired end result.


In the case of The Wonky Donkey, the desired end result is:

He was a spunky hanky-panky cranky stinky-dinky lanky honky-tonky winky wonky donkey.

The first few pages of the book read:

I was walking down the road and I saw … a donkey, Hee Haw! And he only had three legs! He was a wonky donkey.
  • Input: He only had three legs.
  • Output: He was a wonky donkey.

The next few pages read:

I was walking down the road and I saw a donkey, Hee Haw! He only had three legs … and one eye! He was a winky wonky donkey.
  • Input: He only had three legs and one eye.
  • Output: He was a winky wonky donkey

Keep going until you reach the desired end result.

Adapt the language to suit your audience

If you are working with younger children or students who are not familiar with the technical vocabulary, it is still possible to run activities that facilitate computational thinking.

Read the story and ask prompting questions like:

  • What sound does a donkey make?
  • What makes a donkey wonky?
  • What can a donkey do to show it is cranky?
  • What words in this sentence makes a wonky donkey?
  • Is this everything or do we need to keep reading?

Using the picture book as a guide, get your students to turn you into a wonky donkey by getting them to decide what props to use and instructions to give you.

For example:

  • Stand on one leg = wonky.
  • Close one eye or wear an eye patch = winky.
  • Wear a straw hat, pick up a guitar, or play country music = honky-tonky.
  • Stretch = lanky.
  • Hold your nose = stinky-dinky.
  • Grumpy face = cranky.
  • Do naughty things (e.g. making funny faces or hiding things) = hanky-panky.
  • Wear sunglasses = spunky.

Other school library activities

Obstacle courses

  • Set up an obstacle course in the library.
  • Get students to write a list of navigation words (e.g. up, down, left, right) and a list of rules (e.g. no running).
  • Get the students to work in pairs. One team member gives instructions, using the navigation words from the agreed list to help the other team member successfully complete the obstacle course.
  • The team with the fastest time wins.

'Dance party — unplugged'

Create your own 'dance party — unplugged'. If a staff member at your school is involved in dance, try to recruit them to help you. Plan all the dance moves with students in advance and watch the fun unfold.

All you need is some great music to dance to and these instructions from If you have younger students, try the second exemplar —teaching robots to dance from TKI.

Amazing race: Library edition

This activity is suited to older students, but can easily be adapted for primary aged students.

  • Assign students into small groups of 2–3 people.
  • Each group is given a piece of paper that contains the title of a non-fiction book in the library’s collection and a word from the book’s index. So, if you have a non-fiction book on Paris, the word could be 'Eiffel Tower'.
  • Each group must locate the book with the help of the library catalogue.
  • Once they have the book, they need to use the book’s index to find one fact related to the word on the paper.
  • Finally, get the students to write clear instructions so other groups can find the book and locate the same fact.

This activity not only gives students the opportunity to engage in computational thinking, but your students will be increasing their library literacy too!

Online resources

An hour of code — over 100 computer science activities including dance parties, Minecraft, and apps. To get an idea about what you can do, check out my dance party (I am particularly proud of those pineapples).

Explore computational thinking — a curated collection of lesson plans, videos, and resources.

5 activities to boost computational thinking in the library — this blog from Lerner Publishing Group includes example activities and photos of computational thinking activities developed by middle-school librarians in the United States.

Want to know more?

Digital technologies and the national curriculum — information about the new curriculum, understanding computational thinking,  and resources.

Introduction to computational thinking — information about the concept of computational thinking and the way it can be applied to real-life scenarios.

By Phillippa McKenzie

Phillippa is an Auckland-based Facilitator in the National Capability Services team with Services to Schools.

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