Category Archives: EDTC6102

Using Code to Teach the Design Process

Innovative Designers

ISTE Standard for Students #4 is “Innovative Designer: Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.” There are four indicators listed under this standard and the first indicator reads: Students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems. (ISTE, 2016).  Jorge Valenzuela wrote a article published on the ISTE website called “Teaching Kids Computer Science Through Design and Inquiry” and he believes, “to be a proficient coder, it’s critical to learn how to develop a product, not just write code.”  Valenzuela lays out 4 steps for educators to consider when attempting to approach code through a design and inquiry perspective. Step 1: learn the skills and the tools, Step 2: start with computational thinking, algorithmic thinking and design, Step 3: introduce new knowledge and skills through inquiry and design, and Step 4: incorporate reflection into work with your students (Valenzuela, 2017).   


What’s the True Objective?

One of the most important things we can do during a lesson or unit of study is to be intentional with our learning objective as well as be very explicit when describing this objective to our students.  For me, I find this task difficult when planning lessons for coding instruction. When teaching my elementary students coding, many of them get very caught up with solving the puzzles as quickly as possible and get frustrated when they get “stuck”.  My objective for these types of learning experiences is focused on the process rather than the product.  I want my students to not just learn how to solve code puzzles but learn how to design by planning, taking risks, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes.  My part of the equation (intentional objective) is clear, but articulating this to my students and having them grasp the objective is more difficult.  I think one of the keys to solving this dilemma is to spend time teaching about the design and inquiry process first, so students will have that foundation to draw upon when working through the coding puzzles.  Valenzuela has been intentional doing this with his students, “At first, we didn’t directly tell our students that they would be learning to code in this new project. We introduced it this way so that they wouldn’t initially focus so much on coding but more on the steps of the design (or project) that would include coding for successful implementation (Valenzuela, 2017).”  

Ok to Fail

Making mistakes or “failing” has often solely been negatively associated and not valued as a learning experience.  Slowly, making mistakes and using those mistakes to adjust our plan of action in a learning environment is becoming “ok”. When writing about educational makerspaces, Kurti and Kurti (2014) write, “It’s OK to fail. In fact, we encourage what most of society calls “failure,” because in reality, it is simply the first or second or third step toward success. No amazing innovation is created on the first try. Truly paradigm-shifting technologies and devices are the outgrowth of many iterations. Thus the path to success is paved with failures.”  I want my students to take risks when they are solving their coding puzzles, even if these risks mean they are more likely to make mistakes. I encourage my students to use “repeat” functions and “conditionals”  when they see fit, so they learn the concept of using loops and conditionals.  Innovation, inquiry, and the design process are learning environments that we need more than ever in schools. And these learning environments require “failure”. Our students must learn how to persevere when making mistakes and use their mistakes to plan a better design the next time.  As educators, we can help them learn how to persevere by engaging them in low-stakes, yet motivating, coding tutorials.


Sources: website (Retrieved on 2018, February 16) (2017) ISTE Standards for Students. (Retrieved on 2018, February 14) from:

ISTE Connects. (2016, January 19). Here’s how you teach innovative thinking. International Society for Technology in Education. (Retrieved on 2018, February 15) from:

Kurti, R. S., Kurti, D. L., & Fleming, L. (2014). The Philosophy of Educational Makerspaces. Teacher Librarian, 41(5), 8-11.

Valenzuela, J. (2017). Teaching Kids Computer Science Through Design and Inquiry. (Retrieved on 2018, February 13) from:

Student-Created Digital Dictionaries

A “real” dictionary is not something today’s students rely on heavily when writing papers and studying.  Our students get most of their information online and their world is rooted in digital information and experiences.   “Twenty-first century students are no longer thumbing through printed encyclopedia sets to locate information, but rather are relying on Internet-based text.” (Kingsley & Tancock, 2014). However vocabulary acquisition and comprehension is still as critical as ever for our students.  If our students aren’t using the dictionaries of the past, then we need to help them find digital tools to support their vocabulary development.  ISTE Standard for Students #3 reads “Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.” (, 2017).  Student-created digital dictionaries allows students to differentiate based on their vocabulary needs, use creativity in their work, and allows them to build something they can continually add to as they progress in their areas of study.  I will be doing this using Google Slides because that is what my district currently uses, but there are many other options.  Julie Smith (aka “the techie teacher”) suggests using PicCollage, a free app for the iPad.

Differentiation for Different Learners

Giving students choice on which words to include in their digital dictionary allows them to spend their time on what they, as a unique student, need to learn.  A teacher may provide a large bank of words from their social studies or science curriculum and have each student choose a minimum number of words to use. If a student feels they have a firm grasp of all the words in the word bank, they can propose new words from other content areas or more advanced words related to the same area of study.  While there are many different learning styles, it is hard to argue that hands-on, student-driven, visual learning experiences will not be valuable for a vast majority, if not all, of your students.  On the International Literacy Association website, Meg Rishel writes about using Google Slides “to make Vocabulary Stick”. She also feels that this work will benefit many different types of learners in a classroom. “By using Google Slides, third-grade students create digital word collages, and fifth-grade students create a digital vocabulary notebooks as part of our vocabulary instruction. These tasks became easily differentiated for students with autism, who needed more non-verbal representations; for gifted and high-achieving students, who wanted to create new ways to represent meaning of higher academic vocabulary; and for struggling readers, who needed the repetition and guidance.” (Rishel, 2017).

The Process

Using Google Drawing, Google Slides, PicCollage, and likely many other programs, students can “decorate” their vocabulary words to create meaning and make them memorable. Julie Smith explains this process in her blog post, “First, have them type their word using the text box. Next, they can use the drawing and shape tools to add details on and within the letters of the word. This requires some critical thinking! Students really need to have an understanding of their vocabulary term as well as its part of speech in order to do the decorating.” (Smith, 2017).  Because we all have different associations with words and ways for remembering new vocabulary, giving students choice and a chance to be creative allows them to illustrate words in ways that work for their learning styles and connections to the words.  


Examples from Julie Smith’s blog

Creating Meaningful Work

I like that this activity is one that is not completed and forgotten about. It is something students can revisit and build upon throughout the year and even over several years. They can categorize their words by topic or subject and refer back to them when studying for a test or writing a paper.  This activity can be individual, done in partners, or in small groups. Students can present their work to the class or students can work collaboratively on a whole-class digital dictionary for a unit of study. Sharing drawings of their vocabulary words with their peers provides other students with different ways of thinking about the same word. The more experiences and understandings of a vocabulary word a student has the more likely they are to firmly comprehend the word and retain that knowledge.  Student-created digital dictionaries are effective and meaningful because they allow for differentiation, encourage creativity, and give students a tool to “construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.” (ISTE, 2017).




Kingsley, T., & Tancock, S. (2014). Internet inquiry. The Reading Teacher, 67(5), 389-399.


Rishel, M. (2017, March 31). Using Google Slides to Make Vocabulary Stick. (Retrieved on 2018, January 31). from:  


Smith, J. (2017, May 1). How to Use Technology to Make Vocabulary Words Memorable. (Retrieved on 2018, January 31) from: (2017) ISTE Standards for Students. (Retrieved on 2018, February 3) from:

Creating Online Graphic Novels


This quarter we’ve been focusing on Digital Citizenship and ISTE student standards in conjunction with backwards planning, using the Understanding By Design model by Wiggins and McTighe. For my final project this quarter at SPU, I have modified a 5th grade English Language Arts lesson to better meet the needs and interests of my ELL students. By incorporating new digital tools, my students were able to complete the unit by creating and sharing informational graphic novels about famous inventors.


Although I had read a bit about Understanding By Design at my previous school, this was the first time I really took an in depth look at what Wiggins asks us to do.  I find this model of planning helps alleviate stress. One of my greatest challenges is following the pacing plan of Gen. Ed teachers, being asked to teach the same content and lessons, in addition to scaffolding, and still give the end of unit assessments at the same time. By using this model, I maintained my focus on the end of unit assessment and keep my essential questions and skills needed as my driving focus.  For me that meant eliminating a few lessons and tailoring my unit to my current students in order for them to have access to successfully complete the unit.  Going forward, I look forward to using this model with all three grade levels, although perhaps not in as much detail.

This quarter is my first time understanding that digital citizenship needs to be explicitly taught, and now that I am introducing more digital tools, I need to truly embed digital citizenship into my teaching.  I appreciate knowing that Common Sense Media has gone ahead and provided detailed, grade appropriate, user friendly lessons.

In addition to backwards planning, this unit allowed me to discover Pixton, which has become a wonderful way for my students to not only meet standards, but share their creative side and personality.  Pixton allowed three of my students to complete tasks that normally would remained unfinished if they had been asked to use paper and pencil.  All the students were eager to share their work not only within our classroom, but also with their parents and other staff and students. Although I supported my students with spelling, new leaders appeared as students gained new skills and navigated how to manipulate their characters, they supported their peers in ways I have not seen before.

On the last day of our unit, we celebrated with the Gen. Ed classes and students were able to walk around and look at each other’s work and leave comments.  My students had printed copies on their desk as well as displaying their novels on computers around the room.  The positive comments from my colleagues and students solify that I would like to teach this unit again next year.


Below are links to my unit plan based on the Understanding by Design model, and additional resources for the unit.

Understanding By Design Unit Plan

Creating Online Graphic Novels

Sample Graphic Novel

Using our knowledge from the past unit about Philo Farnsworth, I used Pixton to create a graphic novel that students can use as a model.

Philo Farnsworth Graphic Novel


Whose Is It, Anyway? (3-5). (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2017, from

Engage NY Grade 5 English Language Arts. (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2017, from

Gonzalez, J. (2014, June 23). Understanding by design, Introduction and Chapters 1-4. [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, Jay. (2005). Understanding by Design (Expanded 2nd ed., Gale virtual reference library). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.



Individual Project: The Literary Essay as an Online Review

My individual project is the last blog post of this quarter in the Seattle Pacific University Digital Education Leadership M.Ed. program. In this post I will reflect on the process of backward planning using the understanding by design (UbD) format and reflect on what facets of understanding my students may display at the end my set of lessons. Most of what I write will be speculative since I am currently in the middle of teaching this unit and have not yet gotten to the focus lessons highlighted in the unit plan.

The UbD lesson format is time consuming when considering planning an entire unit, or even lessons in a unit. I find the work to be valuable based on how I anticipate my teaching will go when I deliver the lessons however, I found that adapting the curriculum to align with the UbD format is more time consuming that my typical planning. However, I do not want to discount the fact that planning is a process that is accelerated with additional practice, especially when adopting a new format or teaching a new unit. For me this unit is completely new, and I haven’t practiced the UbD format since my undergraduate degree, so the format could in fact be one that I begin to use again with additional practice. Also, I anticipate if I was planning one lesson in place of part of a unit it would require slightly less time. This project did offer me an excellent way to integrate digital citizenship instruction into a unit that otherwise has very little technology integration by asking students to publish final essays in a blog format and asking them to respond to each other’s work via online comments. I anticipate that both of those modifications will provide additional engagement for students in a unit that they appear to enjoy even without technology integration.
The six facets of understanding are a description from Wiggins and McTighe (2005) about what it means for students to truly understand. I will attempt to reflect on how my students will understand this content and unit based on the UbD formatting of the lessons. At the end of this unit I anticipate that my students will be able to demonstrate all of the facets of understanding because of the highly engaging content and the level of differentiation that can happen when each students is writing about a book they have chosen to read.

Students will be able to explain content and in explaining themes within a text, or character traits shared across texts, they will apply that knowledge to life and to real people which will allow them to interpret the actions of individuals.

Additionally after this unit students will become more empathetic because they will understand characters and people are multidimensional, they are not just one way. This understanding will allow students to see the big picture within a text, to understand the theme, or grasp what the author is trying to teach throughout the text. Finally students will relate the learning back to their own lives. They will wonder how they themselves are like characters in their books, or they will realize that they cannot fully understand a theme or character because they themselves do not have the life experiences necessary to understand in the way that others would.

Then in coming to that understanding I hope again that students would feel empathy and seek out different perspectives or feedback on their own thinking in order to better help them understand people and life.

The Literary Essay as an Online Review by James Bettis

Link to new window: 

Creating Podcasts: Within The Outsiders Unit – Exploring Personal Pursuits & Originality


My final blog post of the academic quarter in my graduate program in Digital Education Leadership is here, and I am eager to share my finished individual project: Creating Podcasts: Within The Outsiders Unit – Exploring Personal Pursuits & Originality. This is a topic that I previously explored in my post,  ISTE 7: Global Collaborator – Assessing Podcasts and their Creativity. I did that blog post in connection with a long-standing need to redesign the culminating project that ends the guided reading unit of The Outsiders; the unit was crafted using the backward design model. The assigned reading for this course came from Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay Mctighe. Until this project, I had never officially used this model before. It puts you in the mindset of always having the end in mind and keeping your eye on the prize if I can use some useful euphemisms.
I will not have the opportunity to implement the full unit until next year when I have the ability to restart the year and teach The Outsiders to a new group of students.  But I do have an opportunity to implement podcasting as an option in my reader’s workshop unit at the end of this year.  It will be an option for the culminating project, and at least by that point, I will have some examples to build a repository for my students to listen to and learn from.  I do love allowing student choice in projects because it gives them autonomy to explore a technology that they might be much more familiar with than I am, and usually, I end up learning something right along with them.

Creating Podcasts Within The Outsiders Unit – Exploring Personal Pursuits & Originality

Module 5: Students as Creative Communicators and Contributors

My last blog post about the ISTE Standards for Students I had to choose to reflect on Standard 6 Creative Communicator or Standard 7 Global Collaborator. What a tough choice! Both standards are of course extremely important and given the time I would post about each, but with the time constraints and our quarter winding down ultimately I decided to focus on ISTE 6 Creative Communicator. The standard says “Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals” (ISTE, 2016). Within that standard there are four indicators. I chose to focus on indicator 6a with my research for this module. Indicator 6a says, “Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication” (ISTE, 2016).

During a part of our first quarter in Seattle Pacific University’s Digital Education Leadership program we looked at how technology could overwhelm in place of informing teachers and students alike if it was not used mindfully, purposefully and with clear expectations and learning targets. Even in my elementary classroom students use technology almost constantly throughout the day, much like I do, whether at home or at school. With that in mind I thought that a first step for my post this module was to get an idea of what resources or tools my elementary students actually know how to use. They all use YouTube as you can see in my survey summary picture.

Some technology tools my students use at home

That didn’t surprise me based on conversations I’ve had with my class this year and in past years. YouTube seems to be prolific among elementary students. However, when I followed up with a question about whether or not students post online, I found that a relative few post content often.


How often students post online.

So I moved on to the next part of my question. How can students use those tools to meet desired learning goals? Next, I looked for ideas of how other teachers have integrated technology into their classrooms. Since students are familiar with YouTube at home it is important to teach them how to use that resource in the classroom. I found many great articles, one from Edutopia that specifically dealt with YouTube in the classroom.

I don’t know that my students even equate YouTube as being a place where they can gain academic knowledge, so I’d like to show them that is possible. I found a couple great suggestions for doing that in the post “Harnessing the Power of YouTube in the Classroom” by Monica Burns. In her blog post Burns suggests two great ideas for teachers who are looking to get the most out of YouTube with students. First she suggests searching within YouTube channels, like Kahn Academy or other favorites. Second, she suggests using the advanced search option when you are looking for channels based on certain keywords, (2016). Those are two first steps that could be taught to my 4th grade students, which will enable them to get more out of YouTube at school. After they see the academic uses for YouTube, I anticipate that they will want to contribute based on their own learning. Moving students from consumers of media to producers of media is my goal with a focus on teaching them to become critical consumers of media is likely a part of this process.

Getting back to ISTE 6, I think that many students would in fact choose to use YouTube to express themselves in ways related to learning goals given the chance. I also can clearly see that my students are fairly diverse in their use of technology tools aside from YouTube. The reason I asked what tools they already use, was so that integrating those tools into the learning process would be fairly simple for them. However, I also see based on the survey results that there is room for me to expose my classroom to a variety of other learning tools, like screencasting, podcast making, blogging, or Edmodo, so that they can demonstrate their ability to create or communicate in a digital environment. That gives me someplace to go after exposing students to ISTE 6 and getting them familiar with the Creative Communicator standard.

In my investigation of ISTE 6 I’ve returned to some fundamental ideas that I think are important to my integration of technology in the classroom. Choice is good. I gave my students a survey so begin to see what they are familiar with, but it is nearly impossible to expose them to all of the possible resources in that way. Instead through careful planning I want to integrate a wider variety of tools in my teaching and make the connections to how those tools or platforms satisfy learning goals extremely clear to students. I tend to pigeonhole myself with technology tools in the classroom. Often I use what am I comfortable with or what do I always use out of habit. Perhaps my students do the same? Careful planning can help all of us. Mindful integration is also necessary, I am aiming to transform learning and turn it back to students, not just recreate standard practice digitally (Holland, 2017). At the elementary level I think it is important to continue to remind students that they can demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways whether that is though a standard blog, a video blog, or even a slide show. I think the video below by artandentertainment (2012) shows one way that students can incorporate YouTube into their learning goals.


Artandentertainment. (2012, March 9). Audri’s monster trap. [Video File]. Retrieved from

Burns, M. (2016, May 03). Harnessing the power of youtube in the classroom [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Holland, B. (2017, February 22). Are we innovating, or just digitizing traditional teaching [Blog post]? Retrieved from

International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). The 2016 ISTE standards for students. (Standard 6 creative communicator). Retrieved from

Gaming the System: ISTE Standard 6 and Fun and Games

I may have a problem.  My current board game collection runs slightly over 200 games – and excluding all the expansion, upgrades, and other fiddly bits I’ve acquired along the way.  It’s getting to the point where storage is becoming an issue.  I have a game group I game with once a week and I’ve … Continue reading "Gaming the System: ISTE Standard 6 and Fun and Games"

Module 5 – Encouraging Creative Communicators



This week we looked at ISTE standard 6, students as Creative Communicators.  Looking at Standards 6a and 6c, this led me to question, how can I create opportunities for my students to strive to meet state standards while incorporating a variety of digital tools as methods of differentiation?

Evidence of Learning Beyond Paper and Pencil

I need evidence of where my students are performing with state standards, yet I don’t think our system of paper/pencil or computer testing truly shows me what they know. Recently I had three meetings with multiple staff members and parents regarding students who might need special education services.  At each meeting, I felt compelled to share strengths of the children and moments their child did something unique, creative, or intellectual. I want more evidence of what my students are capable of, not just how they perform on standardized testing.

As an ELL teacher, who pulls out students reading below grade level, it is a struggle to teach grade level content and meet district expectations.  My hope is to introduce a variety of digital tools to my students and give them some choice in which way they choose to express their understanding.  Working with such a variety of needs, I want students to find strategies and tools that work for them.  However, we still have a ton of standardized assessments where they are expected to show growth.

Blended Learning

So how can I support their development?  Inspired by Beth Holland’s article, Are We Innovating, or Just Digitizing Traditional Teaching?  She advocates for blended learning as a way to give students agency over their learning.  For example, allowing students access to learning through screencasting, video, digital text, ebooks, oral collaboration, online or in person research.

Once teachers offer more than one way to access content, we still need to provide multiple opportunities and ways for students to express their understanding. This means we need to move beyond allowing students to type using Word or Google Docs and considering this digital differentiation.

Personalized Learning as Formative Assessment

This year I’ve been exploring various sites in search of tools that will allow my students to express themselves. So far I’ve been very happy with Recap as a great way to assess speaking, grammar, and comprehension.  For my struggling writers, this allows a quick check to see where they are at without the struggle of writing or a blank paper turned in. Digital Storytelling has truly allowed my students to open up and I find it to be a valuable tool where students can express themselves in their primary language or English, which allows all students to participate.

Searching for other formative assessment tools, I found an article on ISTE’s site that truly resonates with me. Robyn Howton’s journey encourages me to keep looking into what’s out there, despite having limited devices to work with. This lead to my discovery of Kahoot! In my limited time exploring the site, I liked how a novel from my next unit already has premade quizzes on there that I can sift through and choose for my own class as a fun formative assessment tool.  

In conclusion, I have a variety of tools now that I can introduce to my students, to allow some freedom in how they choose to demonstrate their understanding. For example, writing a narrative may involve using digital storytelling, creating a PowerPoint, using speech-to-text, create a graphic novel, Microsoft Word or Google Docs.  We need to allow students to take the skills we are trying to assess, and give them a chance to demonstrate their understanding in a way that makes sense to them. As I continue this journey of discovery, my next step is to reach out to others in ELL, Special Education, or Technology roles to see what works or doesn’t work for them.


Holland, B. (2017, February 22). Are We Innovating, or Just Digitizing Traditional Teaching? Retrieved March 11, 2017, from

Howton, R. (2015, May 19). Turn Your Classroom Into A Personalized Learning Environment. Retrieved March 11, 2017, from

ISTE Standards FOR STUDENTS. (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2017, from

ISTE – Global Collaborator – Assessing Podcasts and their Creativity

Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 12.56.34 PM.png

In my final week of reflection on ISTE Students Standards for my graduate work in Digital Education Leadership at Seattle Pacific University, I am focused on ISTE 7: Global Collaborator; specifically 7b students will us collaborative technologies to work with other to examine issues and problems from multiple viewpoints. 

Recently, I have been working on reforming a unit so that my students will be developing their own podcasts during our guided reading of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.  One of the elements on my rubric is creativity and originality with the podcast even though we spend a large section of the planning section scripting.  If you are interested in having your students create a podcast I would take a look at this brief piece about making a podcast with students of a younger age range, but I think it could be helpful to any teacher.  If I taught high schoolers, still I might give them this website and have them look through the resources provided.  As Mark Warner states, “Podcasting is a wonderful way of allowing children to safely share their work and experiences with a potentially huge audience over the Internet. Schools are increasingly using the internet to promote what they do and to celebrate the achievements of their children, and podcasting is an excellent way of doing this” (2015). Then the second source that I provide here is a YouTube video about Audacity, watch it learn how to build an episode from beginning to end. It goes into a step-by-step tutorial that I think that I would have to look at a couple times or simultaneously when I was building my podcast.  These are the nuts and bolts elements of the podcast but as I said I want to also assess the creativity of the student teams on their end resultss.  So I watched an insightful YouTube video by Sir Ken Robinson. 

Sir Ken Robinson in “Can Creativity be Taught?” states that “creativity as I see it is the process of having original ideas that have value” (1:25-1:27). Creativity is not a “freewheeling” process the beginning steps have some process to them, even if that process is about feeling and the gut instinct about what fits and what is right or wrong for the project or piece.  I enjoyed his perspective on creativity; he argues that many people claim that they are not creative and they are referring to arty or crafty.  But his clear distinction comes in when he states that creativity is “anything that involves human intelligence” and it is a myth that we cannot teach it (3.29).   Teaching is not a process of direct instruction as Robinson says but a process of enabling and giving students opportunities. Therefore I need to think about the original value that I place on the Podcasts that I want my students to create.  He goes further to say that those teachers who claim that they cannot assess creativity are limiting the scope and capabilities of their students. Teachers must identify the criteria and value of originality and what originality means to the project the students are working on. I have found that having my students help create their rubrics allows them to buy into their education at a higher capacity because they feel like they are at the wheel and driving the whole project.  But my mentors for this class shared a couple of rubrics that might be helpful to this process and how to assess a creative project like a podcast.

Green, Carey. “Podcast with Audacity – watch me build an episode from start to finish – free Audacity tutorial.” YouTube. YouTube, 01 Jan. 2013. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.

Kepp , Phyllis, Warner , Mark . “Podcasting.” Teaching Ideas. Teaching Ideas 1998-2015, 30 Oct. 2015. Web. 04 Mar. 2017.

[TheBrainwaveVideoAnthology]. (2014, August 30). Sir ken robinson – can creativity be taught? [Video File]. Retrieved from

Module 4: Computational Thinker and Mindful Teacher

Once again in investigating computational thinking and ISTE standard for students number 5, I was surprised at just how many different directions I could have gone in the search for answers on computational thinking. I was hoping to find some ways to integrate computational thinking into my classroom practice in order to build on the curriculum I already use. I was also hoping to discover how computational thinking might facilitate problem solving. I think that I came up with a partial answer to those questions at best. I found that first it was important to identify just what computational thinking entails in order to figure out how to integrate computational thinking into a curriculum or to find how computational thinking facilitates problem solving. I think that if teachers first have a basis for understanding what computational thinking is, then computational thinking will become a part of the classroom environment and be adapted into instruction for many K-12 teachers. It was reassuring to me to read that the description of computational thinking (CT) is still in flux, even after an article written by Jeanette Wing was published in 2006, since I was unfamiliar with the term computational thinking at the start of this module (Barr, Conery & Harrison 2011, p. 20). In a subsequent reading I found a basic definition for CT from Grover and Pea (2013) to include the following elements:

  • Abstractions and pattern generalizations (including models and simulation)
  • Systematic processing of information
  • Symbol systems and representations
  • Algorithmic notions of flow of control
  • Structured problem decomposition (modularizing)
  • Iterative, recursive and parallel thinking
  • Conditional logic
  • Efficiency and performance constraints
  • Debugging and systematic error detection

I did find that often those who are suggesting connections to CT for elementary or other K-12 teachers say that there a many connections between CT and curriculum we already use but most examples seem to be limited to math, or upper grade instruction. Some disciplines were completely left out, a colleague wondered, how does CT connect to the humanities? I’m not sure if he was able to ever answer that question. I think that maybe in the humanities, just as in elementary education we are in fact only scratching the surface for how we can integrate computational thinking into our practice. For me personally, having some concrete definitions in math did help me to understand how I could make those explicit connections, however I found myself thinking that I certainly have room for improvement within my practice. There were some chance happenings that I would like to build upon like my use of the word algorithm in describing the standard way of solving a multiplication or a division problem at the end of each respective unit. However, I wondered what does the word algorithm mean to students? Maggie Johnson (2016) says it well when she says “what is often missing in current examples of computational thinking is the explicit connection between what students are learning and its application in computing.” My investigation into ISTE 5 showed that I too am missing an explicit way to connect ISTE 5 and computational thinking to the curriculum I am already teaching. In my reading however, I did find that there are connections to be made. I think my goal regarding CT is to continue to build on those connections, make them specific to students and hope that another quote from Maggie Johnson (2013) rings true in my teaching “when something that students have used to solve an instance of a problem can automatically solve all instances of the that problem, it’s quite a powerful moment for them even if they don’t do the coding themselves.” I hope to be a bridge to students connecting their current learning to CT and in being that bridge I expect to see an increase in understanding that Maggie Johnson references in regard to the CT concept of translating a problem solving technique into an algorithm that is proven to be always true and a connection to ISTE 5d. 

Here is a charge that I would like to remember from Maggie Johnson that summarizes why we should teach computational thinking.

If we can make these explicit connections for students, they will see how the devices and apps that they use everyday are powered by algorithms and programs. They will learn the importance of data in making decisions. They will learn skills that will prepare them for a workforce that will be doing vastly different tasks than the workforce of today. (Johnson, 2016)



Barr, D., Conery, L., & Harrison, J.  (2011). “Computational thinking: A digital age skill for everyone.” Learning & Leading with Technology, 38(6), 20-23.

Grover, S., Pea, R. (2013). “Computational thinking in K-12: A review of the state of the field.” Educational Researcher, 42(1), 38-42. DOI 10.3102/0013189X12463051

Johnson, M. (2016, August 03). Computational thinking for all students. [Blog]. Retrieved from