Inspiring young minds at Girls High

Nicola King has been teaching Technology at Girls’ High for nearly 23 years. With her zest for learning, she’s still just as excited as when she began

1 May 2023

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Inspiring young minds at Girls High

Nicola King has been teaching Technology at Palmerston North Girls' High School for nearly 23 years. With her zest for learning, she's still just as excited about her subject as when she began. Today, she's Head of Digital Technologies. That means she leads the development, delivery and evaluation of the New Zealand curriculum across the school.

There's a lot that Nicola loves about teaching. One of the key things is uncovering her students' passions and helping them realise the amazing opportunities that are open to them in the world of technology.

"Whether they want a career in farming, healthcare, business, or something else, a grounding in technology is an advantage," says Nicola.

She feels her previous life experience set her up well for a career inspiring young women into the world of technology.

Originally from Feilding, she left school at the end of sixth form (year 12), did a secretarial course at Manawatū Polytechnic (now Te Pūkenga) and walked straight into a job at the Inland Revenue Department. After 14 years working in administration roles in New Zealand and England, she had a wealth of experience but was ready for a career change.

"My partner at the time said, 'could you teach what you do?'" says Nicola.

She knew from her experiences coaching sports that she enjoyed teenagers, so she set her sights on becoming a secondary school teacher. In the early '90s, she graduated with a Bachelor of Teaching and Learning through Christchurch College of Education. With a new baby in tow, she returned to the Manawatū and got a job at The Universal College of Learning (UCOL).

When a job came up at Palmerston North Girls' High School, she jumped at it and has been there ever since.

Nicola has seen a massive shift in technology education over her teaching career.

Initially, the focus was on teaching students how to use applications like spreadsheets and do word processing.

Then, in 2011 an exciting new Digital Technologies curriculum was introduced.

"It was like a whole different planet – which was awesome," says Nicola, "and it meant that we [teachers] had to suddenly learn a whole heap of stuff like programming, which I hadn't grown up with."

Learning the language of coding was a big challenge, but Nicola embraced it.

Initially, she spent many late nights studying to ensure she stayed ahead of her students. There have been several curriculum updates since, so the learning never stops.

As a member of Digital Technologies Teachers Aotearoa, she has access to a supportive community of teachers across New Zealand. They share resources and learnings, which Nicola finds invaluable.

"Things just come at you and you just have to cope pretty much, however, I wouldn't like to be a teacher that generally does the same thing year after year. I would go crazy."

The current curriculum aims to build students' skills so they can create digital solutions to real-world problems, rather than simply being users of digital technologies.

"You come in here to create outcomes, not just use applications."

Programming, website design, digital media, coding, animation and robotics are all in the mix. Out of all those, digital media is Nicola's passion.

Digital Technologies are compulsory through years one to eight, so all students entering high school have had exposure to tech concepts, albeit to different degrees. Nicola's job is to build on that foundation.

But sometimes, she has to bust myths with students and their parents before they'll opt into the subjects.

She tells parents and students, "You come in here to create outcomes, not just use applications."

Nicola says it's sometimes been hard to get feet in the door, but that's changing.

"We just want to encourage them to have the skills and know that they can do it and it's not something scary or terrible."

While the role has its stresses, Nicola thrives on sharing her knowledge and plans to continue until she retires.

"Every time a student 'gets' something, and gets excited about learning something new, it's magic."

-- by Renee Murphy