You may be familiar with the phrase “computational thinking,” as it is one of the biggest trends in educational technology. ISTE listed the topic as one of the trends to watch, and we briefly covered what it means in our post about hot topics at the ISTE 2018 conference.
What is Computational Thinking?
The idea behind computational thinking (CT) is problem solving processes that include logically ordering and analyzing data, creating solutions using a series of ordered steps (an algorithm), and dispositions, such as the ability to confidently deal with complexity and open-ended problems. Computational thinking is obviously important in understanding how computers work, but the strategy involved, and way of thinking, can also be applied to many disciplines, including math, humanities, and the sciences. Students who learn computational thinking across their school curriculum have the opportunity to see the connection between subjects, and the real-world applications of the skills they are practicing.
The National Science Foundation has prioritized Computational Thinking as a critical skill for the future for a few reasons:
The number of computer science graduates has declined steadily since the peak in 2001, and there is a need to fill the skills gap to keep up with technology innovation. Having a population that understands these concepts could also help maintain global economic competitiveness and national security. Furthermore, the NSF has funded numerous CT projects, including the work of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), and ISTE, to produce CT resources for K-12 educators.
Computational Thinking Basics:
CT is made up of foundational building blocks of concepts, skills, and dispositions that get more advanced as students get older. All teachers can introduce the concept at any grade level, and reinforce its key themes throughout the year, as well as find ways to assess CT skills. It has a shared vocabulary that can be incorporated into lessons in nearly every discipline. Teachers are probably already using CT basics in the classroom, but may not know it, or the long term benefits of this kind of thinking. Another bonus is that CT doesn’t necessarily require computers – but curricular methods and guiding principles.
Cross disciplinary in nature:
Educators are finding that computational thinking is a cross-disciplinary skill that enables teachers to unlock creative problem solving, and is just as relevant in language arts and math classes as it is in computer science. Educators are becoming skilled at incorporating CT components like decomposition, generalizing, algorithmic thinking, evaluation and abstraction – no matter the subject area.
Real world learning
The wide-ranging benefits of teaching students computational thinking include instilling confidence in dealing with complexity in the real world. Whether at work, or at home, thinking through issues or problems that are not straightforward, or cut and dry is helpful, as well as having persistence in working through challenges. Revolving around all of this, is an overall tolerance for ambiguity.
How providers can meet the need for computational thinking resources:
Some good examples of computational thinking can be found at Google for Education, but given the interdisciplinary nature of the topic, the sky is the limit with how to develop solutions. If you are seeking funding for developing K-12 solutions involving Computational Thinking, I’d suggest starting with grant awarding organizations like the NSF, that have made CT skills a priority for their awards. Teachers are looking for holistic, time saving ways to easily incorporate this concept into their curriculum, without compromising their larger classroom syllabus or goals. Whether through video, augmented reality, or interactive media, the way to instill CT skills into a variety of curriculum areas includes in-the-moment, context driven opportunities to teach how to think, not necessarily what to think.