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Ministry of Education.
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Exploring technological systems and computational thinking using household appliances

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Understanding what a technological system is

Waitaki Valley School Teina Hub teachers and students enjoyed investigating simple household appliances as technological systems. The unit progressed to using computational thinking skills and linked into learning in other learning areas.

Household appliances as technological systems

Words and concepts

The students began by exploring and using a popcorn maker and a toaster as simple technological systems. The systems were familiar and they could view the components. At the same time the students learnt the vocabulary associated with technological systems. The vocabulary included inputs, outputs, process, components, and technological systems.

We were astonished at how quickly the students picked up the vocabulary. When our colleague was working with the students on words that used the pr blend the first word that they all suggested was process! They loved using the technological system words and later on digital technologies.

Karen Blue and Deahna Shearer, Teina Hub teachers (years 1-3)

A toaster as a technological system

Exploring toasters as a technological system allowed the students to think about the controlled transformation that occurs when making toast. They experimented with the dial. They worked out it controlled the time the bread was exposed to the element rather than the temperature.

Is this kitchen item a technological system?

students sorting kitchen item images as technological systems

Students worked in groups to sort kitchen item images and determine if they were technological systems.

There were lots of great discussions. For example students considered whether a frypan was a technological system. They realised it was the stove with the heating element that was the technological system. The frypan wasn’t a technological system because it didn’t heat itself. The salad spinner caused good discussion on whether it was a technological system. 

The students carried out the same exercise on their own and placed the images in their books.

student sticking kitchen items in workbook as technological systems

Indicators of progression and teacher guidance

Teacher guidance on technological systems is available in the indicators of progression.

To support students to develop an understanding of technological systems at level 1, teachers could:

  • provide students with a range of technological systems and encourage them to explore these through such things as: using, playing, dismantling, and rebuilding as appropriate
  • guide students to identify the components and how they are connected in the systems explored
  • guide students to identify the inputs and outputs of technological systems and provide opportunity for them to recognise that a controlled transformation has occurred.

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Introducing the nature of technology

toast in a toaster
What is technology?

The teachers included learning about what is technology from the characteristics of technology within the nature of technology strand. Students discussed how devices such as toasters were made by humans, designed to make humans lives easier, and designed for a purpose.

Achievement objective, indicators of progression, and teacher guidance

Introducing the nature of technology concepts early assists students with understanding the purpose of learning within the technology learning area.

One of the achievement objectives within the nature of technology states:

Students will understand that technology is purposeful intervention through design.

The indicators of progression at level 1 are that students can:

  • identify that technology helps to create the made world
  • identify that technology involves people designing and making technological outcomes for an identified purpose
  • identify that technological practice involves knowing what you are making and why, planning what to do and what resources are needed, and making and evaluating an outcome.

Watch videos showing the characteristics of technology in primary schools.

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Toast making to simple programming

two students programming a beebot to follow a course
Technological systems leading to computational thinking

Simple technological systems, such as toasters, are an effective starting point to lead into students’ understandings of the computational thinking technological area. Putting steps in the right sequence has direct links to progress outcome 1 for computational thinking.

Logical sequence for making toast

The students watched the popular YouTube clip The exact instructions challenge – a humorous clip showing a Dad following his children’s instructions to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The students used laminated cards to sort out the steps for making toast into a logical sequence. They explained to each other why they had used a particular sequence.

Laminated cards for sorting the sequence of making toast is a culturally responsive practice to using food as learning materials.

The students now understood if a step was missed in a sequence of instructions the result was an incorrect outcome. They added the word sequence to their vocabulary.

Maze instructions

Following instructions to move through a maze to reach an endpoint was a logical next step. The students instructed and filmed each other moving around a maze – similar to robots.

Programming a Bee-Bot

The students moved onto programming a Bee-Bot to follow a set of instructions to reach an endpoint.

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Confidence teaching technological systems and computational thinking

Professional learning and development

Using centrally funded professional learning and development (PLD) the teachers at Waitaki Valley developed their understandings of the strands and the associated components within the technology learning area. Literacy and technology were a focus for the year.

The teachers took part in professional learning with a particular focus on the computational thinking and designing and developing digital outcomes technological areas.

They continue to use locally focused PLD.


The nationally accredited facilitator Cheryl Pym supported the teachers. She provided face-to-face meetups, online meetings, and lesson observations. The support helped the teachers to teach the technology learning area and locate digital technologies within this learning area. The household appliance idea came from Cheryl.

Positive outcomes

The professional development and support gave the year 1 to 3 teachers confidence to develop and trial a successful unit of work.

The teachers enjoyed learning alongside the students about computational thinking and technological systems. The teachers noted they observed a resilience developing in the students' learning abilities and also in their own.

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Planning and integration with other learning areas

Unit plan

The school uses the plantastic format as a basis for planning.The plan was updated to include the technology learning area.

This year the students’ learning focused on technological systems and computational thinking for digital technologies.

The unit plan included the students creating a photo/video/slideshow for a purpose – to share with parents showing they are team players. The unit took longer than planned and did not include this exercise. It maybe part of the revised unit next year.

Student learning steps

This year the Teina Hub students were initially emergent in their understanding of the technological systems component within the technological knowledge strand of the technology learning area. They were also considered to be emergent in computational thinking for digital technologies. 

Some students attended a lunchtime code club becoming proficient at programming and debugging programmes for Bee-Bots, Scratch, and Code.org.

These students will already be at progress outcome 2 in the computational thinking for digital technologies technological area.

The teachers plan to extend the year 1 and 2 students (who will be the year 2-3 students in their hub) next year.

children eating toast with butter they made
Integration with other learning areas

The students made butter to have on their toast as part of a nature of science inquiry. The students used their new knowledge and vocabulary of technological systems to explain that making butter in a jar was not a technological system. This was because it required constant shaking by the user.

In their geometry/numeracy learning the students learnt about direction. The students used this knowledge to give maze instructions in a particular direction when they were learning about logical sequences. Literacy was also integrated into the unit.

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