Bitcoin: One Solution For The M In STEM When Integrating Learning In Primary School Classrooms

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Recent research in eight NSW public schools used the High Possibility Classrooms (HPC) framework to build teacher capacity and confidence in teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Results show that a pedagogical framework like HPC is highly effective in increasing teacher agency, leadership skills and subject matter knowledge in the STEM disciplines.

The 37 teachers who participated in the studies used an overarching process of inquiry in an action learning approach. Teachers developed integrated term-long units of work in the four STEM disciplines and, when the Arts and Humanities were included, they became powerful STEAM learning sequences.

Almost 1,000 students in the teachers’ classrooms responded to what they were learning about electricity, greenhouses, sustainability, earthquakes, the solar system and Newton’s three laws of motion in rich and exciting ways. Innovative strategies and processes were common in all classrooms. They included students, for example, building farmbot-style prototypes, electric circuits and scaled garden beds to demonstrate their learning in STEM.

Bitcoin in the classroom

In one Stage 2 classroom, students (aged eight and nine) were building a model using an engineering design process and their teacher also used Bitcoin to stimulate student interest in mathematics, which is possibly a first for a NSW primary school

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However, as reported a few months ago in an article in Bitcoin News (August 2017), Keiren Nolan, a teacher at Wooranna Park Primary School in Victoria (possibly the first in Australia), is enabling his students to explore cryptocurrency from a young age and his students have developed a school currency known as Wooranacoin.

Ten things to Consider

Before teachers think more about the possibilities of Bitcoin in their primary school classroom, there are ten points they might want to consider:

1) What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer electronic cash system. It was conceptualised by Satoshi Nakamoto but no one is sure if this is a person or a group of people acting under a pseudonym, with the latter being more likely. The white paper on Bitcoin was published in October 2008 and the Bitcoin software was released on the 9th of January 2009.

2) What gives Bitcoin its value?

Bitcoin can be ‘mined’ by solving complex maths problems. Each time a Bitcoin is mined, the transaction is etched into the ‘blockchain’ (a continuously growing list of records – ‘blocks’ – that are linked and secured using cryptography) sent to the entire distributed ledger (network of participants). Subsequent maths problems become harder and harder to solve. In fact, the algorithms have become so complex to solve that it currently requires a warehouse of supercomputers working in unison day and night to solve them and mine one Bitcoin. The time and energy expelled in this mining process gives Bitcoin its inherent value.

3) Bitcoin is beside the point

Now who Satoshi is and whether his white paper is all a hoax is beside the point. The real value lies in the concept of the blockchain that people have now started to embrace and adapt into different aspects of life.

4) Bitcoin is more than just a currency

Even if digital currency never really takes the place of flat money, the blockchain technology underlying it is changing the way people do transactions and contracts. In the future, musicians might attach their music to a ‘smart contract’. Each time their song is downloaded, people will automatically be charged a fee, eliminating pirating, middle operators and ensuring that these artists are no longer getting ripped off.

5) Smart contracts on the blockchain will revolutionise the way people interact

Smart contracts are a revolutionary way of thinking about contracts. Instead of entrusting a central body to manage transactional information, such as a bank, trust is instead distributed throughout the entire blockchain, making it much harder to tamper with. Information about a transaction must be changed on each and every block on the blockchain and 100s or 1000s or millions of people verify the information at any given time in order to discredit a transaction.

6) Bitcoin in the classroom

The mathematical element of Bitcoin lends itself quite well to the classroom and a lot of fun can be had getting creative with this. Students can battle it out solving math problems and collect Bitcoin as rewards. Any Bitcoin collected can be updated and recorded on each student’s ledger, which is replicated identically and distributed throughout the classroom. The class is essentially the blockchain.

7) The future will involve being immersed in the blockchain

This is why it is an essential part of good financial literacy. Understanding how the blockchain works will prepare school-aged students for a very different financial landscape than the current one. Many of the next generation of entrepreneurial endeavours will centre on blockchain-related business models and businesses that incorporate blockchain-related applications.

8) Integrated learning through the blockchain

The blockchain can be replicated in the classroom. In fact, it is the perfect place to replicate the blockchain. This is achieved through integration of learning areas such as drama, mathematics and science – the distributed ledger system can be replicated in fun, engaging and relevant ways in primary school classrooms.

9) The possibilities for Bitcoin are endless

Bitcoin is only the start. There are lots of other cryptocurrencies in the form of coins and tokens being created by start-ups and companies around the globe right now. In the not too distant future, there may even be opportunities where each coin specialises in a particular transaction. For example, one particular coin may specialise in real estate transactions such as registering property, while another may facilitate transactions of energy stored and sold to the grid via solar panels in a home.

10) Automation of the workforce

Many future jobs will be automated. For example, in the legal world, conveyancing may become completely automated. In this instance, conveyancing functions can be written into computer programs which use smart contracts to confirm transactions with the entire blockchain on a distributed ledger system. A good understanding of blockchain technology, distributed trust and the ledger system will contribute towards future-focused learning and support the preparation of students to take their place as active global citizens.

Interested in taking Bitcoin further?

If readers are using Bitcoin in the classroom, please contact either of the two authors – they would like to understand what you are doing and how you are linking Bitcoin to the syllabus/es and, importantly, how it is exciting students about their learning in STEM.

Jane Hunter PhD is a former primary and high school teacher and is currently conducting a series of postdoctoral research studies in STEM education in Australian schools. She also teaches in the School of Education at the University of Technology Sydney. Jane can be contacted on Twitter @janehunter01

Gaya Pillai B. Arts. M. Teach is a teacher at Lakemba Public School. She and her Year 3 class were participants in a STEM education research study conducted by the lead author. Gaya has a passion for future-focused learning and has taught programming and computational thinking for four years in K–6 classrooms. Gaya can be contacted via email at Gayathri.pillai2@det.nsw.edu.au

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Jane Hunter

Jane Hunter

Senior Lecturer, School of Education at University of Technology Sydney
I am a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education conducting postdoctoral research in STEM, with a background in secondary and primary school teaching and teacher professional learning. In the past I have held leadership roles as a head teacher in secondary schools, in government bureaucracies in education policy and in large-scale technology projects including the Teaching and Learning Exchange, the Connected Classrooms Program and Quality Teaching. I taught in teacher education at the University of Sydney for six years where I was seconded to the Interim Committee for a NSW Institute of Teachers and the Australian Government Quality Teaching Program. In 2010 I joined the staff in the School of Education as a Lecturer in the Master of Teaching program at Western Sydney University where I also completed my PhD in 2013. Throughout my education career in both universities and ‘outside the academy’ I have circulated findings of my research in book chapters and scholarly papers. I also enjoy writing for public forums like The Conversation, I have a blog and find Twitter @janehunter01 an important place to engage with education colleagues more broadly. In March 2016 I was a keynote speaker at the Future Schools Conference in Sydney.

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