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Five reasons why computational thinking is an essential tool for teachers and students.

Numerous countries and regions undertaking curriculum redesign within recent years have embraced computational thinking as an essential mindset for students and teachers of the digital age in which live.

Although the term Computational Thinking sounds a little nerdy and daunting the reality is quite the opposite.  Computational Thinking is definitely is an easy concept to grasp and a fun concept to teach and learn.

Let’s take a look at why Computational Thinking has grown so popular in classrooms around the world and learn a little more about it along the way.

1:  Computational thinkers are Problem Solvers

Computational thinking is a structured and proven method designed to identify problems regardless of age or computer literacy level.  It is made up of four parts.

  • decomposition - breaking down a complex problem or system into smaller, more manageable parts

  • pattern recognition – looking for similarities among and within problems

  • abstraction – focusing on the important information only, ignoring irrelevant detail

  • algorithms - developing a step-by-step solution to the problem, or the rules to follow to solve the problem

This process can be used by students and teachers in an English class to reinforce spelling rules through pattern recognition, planning.  Create different styles of writing using algorithms and enhance research skills through abstraction.

2:  Computational Thinkers are Innovators

An inventor creates something new, but an innovator takes a great idea and enhances it or applies it to a new purpose.

The process of Abstraction within computational thinking is unique in comparison to other popular thinking strategies such as De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats.

When students have the capacity to determine what to extract from a system or problem in order to create a solution they are forced to think differently about the most important elements of what they are working with and remove irrelevant factors.

By doing this we can then laser focus on the tools, resources and skills available to us to create new innovative solutions and directions.

Students can use abstraction in the classroom to design graphics which communicate a message or emotion and write efficient instruction sequences for others to follow.

3:  Computational Thinking is research based and tested.

Whilst the concept and term of Computational Thinking was first coined and implemented by Seymour Papert in the eighties it was Jeanette Wing who ‘innovated’  it to the global attention with her research paper identifying the impact computer science, algorithmic design and technology has upon our society in so many aspects from controlling traffic, finding a partner online and decomposing human DNA down to individual genetic elements.

You can read Jeanette’s paper here. As a result of Wing’s research world leaders such as Barack Obama, and educational philosophers such as Ken Robinson identified Computational Thinking as an essential skill that opens our students minds to using data, technology, resources and people in a manner which shifts us from technology consumers to creators.  

Companies such as Google, Apple and Microsoft actively recruit and train staff in Computational Thinking as an essential skill and competitive advantage in their marketplace.

4:  Computational Thinkers make the leap from from consumers to creators.

Unlike humans, computers are incredible at doing boring, repetitive tasks with flawless efficiency and accuracy.  But the only way they can do them is when somebody can specifically instruct them what to do and how to do it.

We call this process in Computational Thinking Algorithmic design, and an algorithm is nothing more than a set of instructions.

When used in Cooking it is called a recipe.  When used in Mathematics it is called an equation.  When used in a basketball game we call it a play, and when used in computer science we call it coding.

Algorithmic Design is a logical part of the computational thinking process allowing students to create computer instructions using languages such as Scratch and Python which make computers and machines do things they could previously not.  

5:  Computational Thinking is simple to teach and fun to learn.

I am confident any teacher reading this can lay claim to many of the teaching concepts mentioned in this article even if they were undertaken in isolation or without any knowledge of Computational Thinking.

Computational Thinking is a skill that can be applied to any area of the curriculum from Kinder to University level in any walk of life.

Here are three resources I can strongly recommend all teachers utilise to gain a solid understanding of Computational Thinking and how to apply it to your own teaching and learning role.

Google’s Computational Thinking Course for Educators:  This free course can be completed at your  leisure within just a few hours using a range of interactive tools and activities that you can then do wtih your students.  A great starting point.

Computational Thinking, Coding and Robotics for Teachers:  This could be viewed as the 2016 ‘bible’ of S.T.E.M, Coding and Computational Thinking.  It ties together hundreds of resources and explains complex concepts in very easy to understand language so any teacher could rapidly teach and learn within a modern curriculum.

CS Unplugged:  Once you understand Computational Thinking and it’s place within the curriculum this resource is an incredible collection of over 200 activities from professor Tim Bell that teach computational thinking to students of all ages without the need for a computer.