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 https://blog.google/topics/education/computational-thinking-for-all-students_3/