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CT Competencies: Embrace integration across the curriculum

By Jorge Valenzuela
June 17, 2019

When embarking on your school or district’s computer science (CS) journey, computa­tional thinking (CT) should be taught first, primarily because CT helps learners under­stand the logic and algorithmic processes that are the foundation of both hardware and software designs.

Educators can leverage the power of CT as a higher order problem-solving skill by helping students develop their versatility or recognizing and applying the four ele­ments of CT to everyday problems and situations prior to doing so with CS-related scenarios.

The newly developed ISTE Computational Thinking Competencies are an excellent resource for helping educators create the learning experiences that are best for students.

To complement both the K-12 Computer Science Framework and the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards for Students, ISTE developed the CT Competencies for educators to help schools integrate CT across all disciplines and grade levels by cor­relating it to what they already teach.

As teachers begin to unpack the competencies for lesson planning, it’s im­portant to know and understand that the CS standards and CT Competencies are not just about programming and coding. They were purposefully written to align with the academic standards and subjects that have to be taught in schools. The competencies list indicators that assist educators with both planning and delivering instruction with CT.

Now that computers are part of everything we encounter and edtech must be used by all teachers to augment instruc­tion, these competencies are extremely helpful in assisting learners with becoming computational thinkers who can leverage computing to solve problems creatively, in­novatively and while working collaboratively with peers.

Let’s take a dive into the five CT competencies for educators and explore ways we can address them in classrooms and with students:

1. Computational Thinking (Learner)

The key here is for educators to help students make sense of the four CT elements of decomposition, abstraction, pattern recogni­tion and algorithm design. Teachers need to help students make connections between the elements using familiar, unplugged scenarios while also being strategic in cor­relating CT to the content of the class.

An example of this is connecting algorithm design to everyday tasks like brushing teeth or tying a shoelace. What these simple tasks have in common with more complex problems is that they are accomplished by completing a series of steps. Whether a student is reducing frac­tions or solving long division, they need to use a step-by-step process. Decomposition can be compared to making breakfast and decomposing text. Pattern recognition can be applied to making predictions, concept mapping and looking at text or pictures to identify similarities. Finally, abstraction can be demonstrated by creating timelines or by using the process of removing features from something to make a new set of essential features.

2. Equity Leader (Leader)

For leading with an equity mindset, it’s critical for educators to understand that some learners may lack confidence, are being bullied, struggle with identity, lack a sense of belonging, are experiencing hardships, have learning disabilities, lack social skills, have gaps in knowledge or just need to develop their voice. The key here is to remove the isolation that often impedes the social and academic success of our students.

Therefore, creating a school or classroom culture based on deep mastery of CT competencies requires educators to take equitable and practical steps toward learning objectives and intended outcomes for all students. When educators integrate CT into their lessons, they should be mind­ful of those students who are furthest from opportunity – those who are typically left out have a chance to engage in the produc­tive struggle that is vital for developing social and emotional learning as well as academic and career learning.

3. Collaborating around computing (Collaborator)

Collaboration between both educators and students is key for successfully mastering the indicators within this competency.

Although our classrooms are typically siloed, our students are not and many inter­act with teachers in their grade level every week. We, therefore, should connect our classrooms by planning rigorous instruction that reinforces the CT elements for students.

However, making solid cross-curricular connections by a grade-level team is often not easy, especially when the learning goals of computational student products are not always clear to teachers. That’s why it’s important when we’re using edtech to take some time to learn the tool first and bring to our planning sessions working models of whatever we want students to create. This provides clarity to the other collaborators and sets up a meaningful way to structure the learning experiences, which each team mem­ber can then support in their classroom.

For students, collaboration also needs to be structured, learner-centered and a fruit­ful and productive struggle. This requires teachers to become master facilitators of the learning process – but not necessarily all of the content – and to group students strategically (not by academic levels). As facilitators, educators should create roles within teams, make tasks lists and contracts, and implement protocols such as Charrette, Say Something and the Question Form-ulation Technique (QFT) to help students collaborate effectively and within guidelines. The key here is to create a culture of both self-management and interdependence.

4. Creativity and design (Designer)

The goal here is for students to harness CT for making creative and authentic computa­tional artifacts. This competency is excellent for teaching CT and allowing students to transfer their new knowledge while using familiar tools like YouTube, Canva and Google Slides. Since not all classes will be coding and programming, CT skills can be transferred in other creative ways such as creating apps, webpages, podcasts, videos, blogs or recorded PSAs, among others.

In specific CS programming courses or in those that involve coding and program­ming, students can learn to apply the CT elements in more complex and diverse ways within computer programs they create.

5. Integrating computational thinking (Facilitator)

Facilitation is a skill that teachers should add to their teaching toolkit for effectively engaging students in learning CT and CS. This can be done by structuring learning experiences within projects and requiring students to share in the workload.

The project-based learning (PBL) in­structional approach is excellent for making this happen. By using the High-Quality PBL framework and receiving professional development through PBLWorks (formerly known as Buck Institute for Education), schools are increasingly building capacity for implementing PBL with fidelity and success­ful student outcomes.

It’s also important to note that facilitation must be supported with adequate planning, direct instruction and management of learn­ing. Any intended CT learning outcomes must align to standards and require teachers to allow students multiple opportunities for capturing and transferring the learning. For this purpose, the K-12 CS Learning Frame­work, the ISTE Standards for Students and the ISTE Standards for Educators are excel­lent resources to help teachers plan learning goals, craft learning targets and create check­lists and rubrics for empowering students to take ownership of their learning.

Don’t go it alone, but don’t compare yourself to others

The power of the ISTE Computational Thinking Competencies is that they’re not one size fits all – nor are they intended to keep educators stifled in set ways of inte­grating CT. The approaches in this article are merely ways that colleagues and I have unpacked the CT Competencies for meeting the needs of our learners.

I urge you to never go it alone and to leverage the collective wisdom of your col­leagues in your schools and professional learning networks (PLNs). Think of them as a support system and a familiar place where
you can go to learn and share. Having this access makes learning and understanding CT no longer appear daunting, but the next step in the evolution of our teaching practice.

Also, it may be natural to compare our teaching (or life) journey with those of others, but Australian Diamonds captain Caitlin Bassett says the trick is not to do so. “Everyone’s journey is different. You might be starting your chapter at chapter one while someone is at chapter 20 of their life.”

Jorge Valenzuela is an educational coach and a graduate teaching assistant at old dominion university. he’s also the lead coach for lifelong learning defined, Inc., a national faculty member for pblworks, a national teacher effectiveness coach with the international technology and engineering educators association (iteea) and part of the lead educator program for littlebits. You can connect with Valenzuela on Twitter @jorgedoespbl to continue the conversation.