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It's time to demystify computational thinking

By Team ISTE
July 30, 2015
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Selling a new idea — or one that is unfamiliar to a majority of folks — can be a daunting task, fraught with barriers of skepticism, doubt and resistance. In the universe of computer science, the definition and application of “computational thinking” (CT) is widely acknowledged as a pathway to problem solving, easily transferable to other academic subjects and even everyday life.

But have you tried tossing those words up for public consumption outside the boundaries of computer science and then waiting for a reaction? If not, prepare yourself for a blank stare and crossed arms. This will take some work.

Many of those who espouse teaching CT across disciplines — because it will be a skill increasingly applied in fields from economics to sports  — say it’s incumbent upon those who either teach computer science or embrace technology in the classroom to help demystify the concept.

Once educators recognize that computational thinking is not confined to the specific study of computers but is a skill to enhance deeper thinking and discovery, it becomes a catalyst for exploration, the vehicle of curiosity.

ISTE and the Computer Science Teachers Association recognized the gap several years ago and developed a CT Vocabulary and Progressive Chart with examples of the nine core principles of CT and appropriate activities for grade levels PK-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12, each level tackling a more complex project than the previous one. It’s a step-by-step explanation of how students can select a project and work through it efficiently, reaching conclusions based on data collection, analysis and representation; problem decomposition; abstraction; algorithms and procedures; automation; simulation; and parallelization.

The chart is a great primer for grasping the overall implications of CT. Other resources for educators interested in weaving CT into instruction include:

Computational Thinking for Educators, Google’s newly launched free online course, where you will learn what CT is and how it can be integrated into a variety of subject areas. Learn at your own pace by exploring examples of CT in a variety of subject areas, experimenting with examples of CT-integrated activities and creating a plan to incorporate CT into your classroom.

Exploring Computational Thinking, Google’s curated collection of lesson plans, videos and other resources on CT designed for educators and administrators who want to integrate CT into classroom content and their teaching practice.

Computational Thinking Toolkit, a comprehensive collection of resources compiled by ISTE and CSTA.

Computer Science For Fun, or CS4FN is a UK-based magazine on computer science aimed at students. It is produced by the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science at Queen Mary University of London.

Computational Thinking with Scratch, a Harvard education department website that describes the CT framework based on research that includes computational concepts, practices and perspectives.

CT is a skill many of us, including teachers, already apply to tasks and fields of study, but are not even aware of it, says Jeannette Wing of Microsoft in the July 2015 issue of entrsekt.  

But as teachers, administrators and even legislators become familiar with how the deliberate application of CT enhances study across disciplines and will be a necessity in the work force of the 21st century, vocabularies in the general public will become two words richer.

ISTE members can read more about how computational thinking is broadening students' analytical thinking skills in the July 2015 issue of entrsekt.