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Project Rockit: A student favourite for antibullying programs

Telstra Foundation

Posted on September 14, 2015

2 min read

In May this year we announced that the Telstra Kids Fund had invested $200,000 in regional digital inclusion grants – to help kids get online, build their digital literacy and to promote cyber safety.

Last week was e-Smart week, so it was timely that the Tasmanian grant recipients realised their ambition to introduce the online anti-bullying champions, Project Rockit, to their students.

Clarence High School, Austins Ferry Primary School, Taroona Primary School and Clarendon Vale Primary School shared the $10,000 grant to fund PROJECT ROCKIT workshops for more than 300 students. PROJECT ROCKIT has worked with more than 100,000 school students to address bullying, particularly cyberbullying, by presenting strategies and real life scenarios.

Bullying remains a huge issue affecting young Australians – almost one third of young people report being bullied every few weeks. With the rapid growth in use of digital technology and social media, bullying occurs around the clock and is often suffered in silence.

PROJECT ROCKIT are really proud of their reputation as a student ‘fave’ for school antibullying programs. They built on that reputation this week by wowing students and soliciting feedback like this from their audience:


This student went on to say that they expected the training to be run by ‘people in suits’. Here’s another key strength of PROJECT ROCKIT: they’re youth led. Young people educating young people – no lectures from the suits!

With the support of the Telstra Foundation Project Rockit is now taking its program online and are about to launch their digital classroom. The online curriculum provides young people with credible, high impact and ‘cool’ anti-bullying development – accessible anywhere with an internet connection, anytime. For more information on the Telstra Foundation’s partnership with PROJECT ROCKIT (and other partners) visit us here.

Since 2002, Telstra Kids has contributed more than $9.5 million to more than 8,400 community projects for kids. Enabled by Telstra employees across the country, Telstra Kids grants support grassroots community programs that help kids play and learn. The new $10,000 digital inclusion grants for regional schools have been selected by the Telstra Foundation and local Telstra teams, to help bridge the digital divide and deliver better outcomes for Australian kids.

Innovation with a difference


Posted on July 15, 2015

3 min read

At Telstra, we’re always looking for innovative ways to connect people though technology. So when we met with one of Telstra Foundation’s community partners to learn more about the challenges people living with severe disability experience, we were keen to explore how we could make a difference.

I first came to learn about the work of the MJD Foundation through a $300,000 Social Innovation Grant they received from the Telstra Foundation. The grant enabled them to develop and scale a program that uses tablet devices as therapeutic and assistive communication devices for Indigenous people living with Machado Joseph Disease (MJD) in some of the most remote parts of Australia.

What is MJD? MJD is in a “family” of neuro-degenerative diseases similar to Huntington’s disease. This disease impacts Indigenous people around the world, but is particularly prevalent in communities in east Arnhem Land. Genetic and incurable, MJD robs people of their ability to move their muscles over 5-10 years from its onset – that means they will lose their speech, their movement, and eventually control of all bodily functions.

One of the many challenges for people with MJD is the inability to communicate. While some great assistive communication apps are currently available for people with little or no speech, none cater for the needs of Indigenous Australians, some of whom speak English as a second, third or even fourth language.

As part of Telstra hackathon, a team of us decided to build an app to help MJD Foundation clients better prepare for the impacts of this devastating disease by enabling them to record their own voice, in-English and in-language, for use when their ability to speak is lost.

What started as two-day challenge has developed into a longer term personal commitment from the team that includes my colleague Kevin Kondys from the Chief Technology Office and Natalie Falzon from the Telstra Foundation. We have worked closely with the MJD Foundation and their clients to develop a prototype that we will continue to test and refine.

Powered by the Telstra Foundation and now Telstra employees too, this innovative program demonstrates the power of digital connections to increase independence and social inclusion of people impacted by disability.

Find out more about MJD Foundation and the Telstra Foundation’s partnership with this inspiring organisation.


The Telstra Foundation is one of the many ways Telstra delivers on its mission to create a brilliant connected future for everyone. Our investments demonstrate the power of technology to deliver social change and community connection to some of the most socially excluded groups in Australia.Promoting Indigenous wellbeing is a priority investment area for the Foundation. We currently have two significant partnerships totalling over $5 million in support of this objective. These partnerships, with the MJD Foundation and with the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence, are exciting proof points of what can be achieved when great ideas connect with technology.For more information about our Indigenous Australian wellbeing partnerships see

Jackie Coates, Telstra Foundation General Manager

Why Kids Should Learn to Code

Technology For Kids

Posted on May 22, 2015

7 min read

Among technology leaders, the movement for coding in the curriculum of primary and secondary students in Australia is fast transforming – to a clarion call. Last week, Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, added his party’s endorsement, stating that every young Australian should have a chance to read, write and work with the global language of the digital age.

But while there is some support, there is still a great deal of resistance. In my work as a Board Member of the non-profit organisation, Code Club Australia, I meet with children, parents, teachers and business and government professionals, to introduce them to the Code Club program and to respond to any concerns they raise. The experience is always the same; the children and their parents absolutely love the program and are eager to immerse themselves more deeply in the activities.

Resistance to the program comes from professionals who raise questions about the dullness and complexity of learning to code, as well as from teachers who feel inadequately equipped to introduce coding, This resistance isn’t something to be dismissed as irrelevant. These are genuine and appropriate issues to raise. But there are misconceptions about coding education programs, and barriers to introduction which are gradually being overcome.

Whatever You Teach Now Will be Out Of Date Soon

It’s certainly true that the dominant coding languages used today will be surpassed by other languages in years to come. But there are similarities in the structure of programming languages which are, and have been, consistent for decades. That’s why we talk about coding as teaching ‘computational thinking’.

In the Code Club program we start with the visual tool, Scratch, developed by MIT. With that tool children learn how to create an action sequence, and to see how computers ‘think’. The kids don’t even think of it as a ‘language’ as such. Instead, it’s a chronology of actions and consequences with the logic and syntax of computational thinking underlying their learning – giving them the confidence to adopt newer languages as they emerge, because the structure of the language is sustained.

It’s Not Creative

This is probably the fault of early advocates for coding in the curriculum. Because most of the attention on coding is focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, there is a widely-held belief that coding is not useful in any other subject area.

As forward-thinking arts and social studies teachers across the world will attest, coding education facilitates skill development in story-telling, logic and general creativity. In the Code Club program, kids learn to create games they want to play giving immense scope for creative exploration in digital artistry, design and narrative development.

Further, for children who suffer from learning difficulties due to dyslexia or perhaps developmental problems, coding can bridge the communications chasm that written and auditory learning methods fail to cross.

It’s For Boys

As a woman in technology, you cannot image a misconception that annoys me more. The reality is that girls and boys share the same cognitive skills overall, and any variance in aptitude for the more logical elements of coding is balanced by proficiency in creative and problem solving abilities.

The general poorer performance of girls in mathematics globally (as identified in the OECD report last year) is primarily attributable to social factors including ethnicity and culture, but also confidence. Because girls are not encouraged to take on maths and coding subjects, their trust in their own abilities is compromised. This has led to a general decline in girls choosing careers in science and maths.

Among the schools who have adopted the Code Club programs at lunch time and out of school hours, the gender split is 50/50. And girls love it.

Children Will Become Antisocial

The nature of coding in education is that it is a social activity. Kids naturally work in groups on coding projects, and seek each other out when trying to solve problems. We have found the most efficient structure of coding classes is to pair up students on tasks so that they work collaboratively on solving problems.

The concern over antisocial behaviour from too much time in front of screens is not going to be overcome by denying kids access to those screens. It’s like banning books; you just send the activity underground. What you can do to combat the isolating aspects of screen time is to broaden participation so that it becomes a shared experience.

There’s No Evidence that Learning to Code is Beneficial

Let’s just get this out of the way right now: coding makes children better problem solvers. The research has been trickling in for decades now, but the most recent research is showing that coding education is improving the efficiency of problem solving among learners.

There is also some neuroscience research showing that the density of grey matter in the brain around the parietal cortex is increased among people who learn multiple languages – including coding languages. But while this is also interesting research (indicating that the brain treats coding as a language), we can’t make any assumptions on learning benefits. All we can say is that early neuroscience research has provided a basis for explaining why problem solving may be more efficient among learners of coding.

The Curriculum is Already Full

A barrier rather than a misconception, it is absolutely true that teachers are struggling to get through the existing curriculum in the classroom. To introduce a coding program, there needs to be a serious discussion about ‘what gets left out’, or how coding can be integrated into existing learning activities.

It is my belief that coding should be integrated into learning more broadly, as the creative and problem solving elements of coding apply in all subject areas.. All it would take is collaborative development of coding activities for different subject areas.

Teachers Are Not Adequately Trained to Teach Coding

This is exactly what the Code Club Australia teacher training program is designed to address. In late 2014 the Telstra Foundation funded Code Club to conduct training programs around the country to skill up teachers and volunteers to run Code Clubs While we are running these events around the country, as a non-profit we have limited resources, and we need schools to free up staff to come to the training programs.

We are consistently developing and improving training materials, and we are seeking locations to conduct training, volunteers to come and help with the training process, and the support of industry to continue the mission of improving coding education.

Children Don’t Have Technology and Internet Access Everywhere

This last barrier to participation is not insignificant. Children in rural areas with limited network infrastructure and devices, as well as kids from poorer homes, are less likely to have the basic kit they need to learn to code. But even this barrier is not impossible to overcome. Emergent technologies are enabling internet access through community mesh networks, improved mobile connectivity and even projects like Google’s internet balloons. And as more and cheaper tablet devices are released on to the market, participation in coding education is becoming more affordable.

These emergent technologies won’t completely overcome the access and equity barrier, but they go some way to addressing it.

Summing up…

Children who learn to code now will be best placed to fill the massive skills shortage facing Australia in coming years in the STEM disciplines. But they will also be problem solvers beyond STEM industries, and they will be creative thinkers, too. Coding is not just a technical skill. It is an active learning method. And it is the antithesis of passive consumption of digital content. The value of learning to code is that children will be better able to build a better world. Isn’t that something worth fighting for?

For more information on Code Club Australia click here

To find out more about Joanne and the Disruptor’s Handbook


Everyone Connects: “Ahaaaa…Now, We Are Connected!”


Posted on May 3, 2015

5 min read

“Not many people know that I can understand what they say; sometimes it is beyond their belief.” Maison, a fifteen year old boy with complex communication needs.

You’re a vibrant, curious and smart teenager but you also have a brain injury that prevents you from speaking your thoughts, emotions and needs. Maison lives this reality daily, not ideal for a young man with a lot to say.

Being a fifteen year old is challenging enough but couple that with not being heard and things can get complicated. (more…)

Creating a more compassionate Facebook

Smartphone Safety Hub

Posted on March 31, 2015

4 min read

The Telstra Foundation is partnering with PROJECT ROCKIT to take their anti-bullying and youth leadership program online. Rosie, PROJECT ROCKIT cofounder, has just returned from a whirlwind trip to what is often described as ‘Disneyland for Grown-ups’ – Facebook’s Global Headquarters in Menlo Park, California. 

My name is Rosie Thomas and I’m cofounder of PROJECT ROCKIT, Australia’s biggest youth-driven movement against (cyber)bullying. Since 2006, we’ve been empowering young people to stand up and lead change by tackling bullying and building real leadership in school communities.

At PROJECT ROCKIT we believe in a world where respect and kindness thrive over bullying, hate and prejudice and all young people are free to realise their potential.

We’re super excited to be partnering with the Telstra Foundation to take our anti-bullying & leadership programs online with the creation of our Digital Classroom. As well as providing innovative education for the classroom, we’re also developing a pretty sweet app so that all young people have access to totally cool and credible anti-bullying and leadership development, no matter where they are! (more…)