Whenever I speak to teachers about computational thinking it seems to place a layer of tension and confusion upon their shoulders, as most have preconceptions about this new ‘imposition placed upon them’. They usually to glaze over and seek alternate discussion topics within minutes...
From experience I find most teachers have this attitude to Computational Thinking.
“At some point in time I know the curriculum is going to make it mandatory for me to teach this stuff…”
“I don’t know a single thing about coding and robotics, and I think they have something to do with computational thinking. And that stuff is really hard to learn”
“I only teach English or (insert topic here) and it’s not really going to affect me so I am pretty sure all those nerdy teachers will deal with it for my school..”
“Maybe if we just ignore it… It will go away.”
Recently, I set about trying to better understand computational thinking myself through research and professional development, before I had too many more conversations with teachers.
I have good news for teachers getting anxious about how they are going to deal with it when it becomes reality for them… It’s definitely not rocket science, but it is a little different and can be quite exciting for teachers and students who are prepared to buy in....
Firstly we need to break down these common misconceptions around computational thinking. So let’s look at the facts.
Computational Thinking is a strategy for solving problems that can be applied to any field or situation. Much the same as the concept of De Bono’s six thinking hats or other problem solving models.
Computational Thinking and Computer Science are two completely different things, and you can successfully teach and use computational thinking without ever touching a computer if you chose to.
You definitely do not need to make robots, learn a new language or program a computer to ensure your students understand computational thinking.
It’s not going away anytime soon… In fact it’s on the rise
If you want to get an understanding of what computational thinking is in under six minutes then watch this clip from Google Computational Thinking experts. It should be essential viewing for any teacher before jumping to conclusions.
Essentially there are four parts to computational thinking as aforementioned which can be applied to any problem.
Decomposition - Breaking a problem into smaller parts so you may divide a task.
Pattern Recognition - Finding similarities and differences in order to make predictions
Abstraction - Identifying the general principles that generate the patterns
Algorithm Design - Developing the step by step instructions to solve problems.
Don’t get me wrong. Computational Thinking definitely lends itself to computer science and opens the doors to coding and robotics. You will certainly need to embrace technology if you wish to go any further than teaching and learning the process of Computational Thinking.
Why are we doing all of this? Haven’t we already got enough in the curriculum? I hear you say…
Yes the curriculum is overcrowded, but governments around the world see this as an essential skill in the 21st Century workforce. If you need evidence around it’s place in our society simply take look at the look at the world's top companies and richest individuals. You will see the Apple’s and Google’s of the world fill out a large portion of those lists, and all exist on the fundamentals of Computational Thinking.
In essence we need to turn our kids from technology consumers to creators. And Computational Thinking allows us to make this change.
from my experience Computational Thinking is a worthwhile problem solving skill for anyone, and certainly something teachers shouldn't fear.
I acknowledge coding and robotics is a long stretch for most to get their head around but it is not an essential part of Computational Thinking and shouldn't put you and your students off from taking the first steps into a new realm of teaching and learning opportunities.