I had a moment of clarity while learning about Computational Thinking (CT) – as an educator, a parent, a citizen and a learner, I use CT every day without realizing it. The more I became familiar with the terminology of CT, the more I found it hard to imagine a situation where CT does not come into play at some point, every day, in everyone’s life. Here is a video that helps simplify the CT problem solving approach and can help demystify what it is:
hThe steps of CT are decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction and algorithmic thinking. The more I understood each step within CT, the more I noticed that everyday there were times where I use all or parts of this problem solving approach. For example, my daughter – who is 6 years old, has a tendency to really lick her lips in the winter and she gets that red ring on above her upper lip. This leads to her lips drying out, her licking them even more and then complaining that they hurt. I realized the other day, that my response to her was CT driven without me realizing it. Here is what happened:
Daughter: My lips hurt, this is so terrible. Why is this happening. Make it stop and go away. (All said in a distraught and defeated tone – this felt like a really big problem to her)
Me: Well, what can we do to solve the problem. Complaining does not make your lips feel better (classic Mom response I give her). What is the problem?
Daughter: My lips are dry and I keep licking them and it makes it worse. (Decomposition)
Me: Okay, has this happened before? Why does it happen?
Daughter: Yes. It happens a lot. And it happens on the back of my knees a lot. And on my arms. (Pattern recognition)
Mom: What have you noticed when it happens?
Daughter: That when my lips or my skin get too dry it gets itchy and bumpy and cracks and then we have to put cream or vaseline on (she has eczema and we use vaseline and creams on her arms and legs so it doesn’t get really bad especially right after she gets out of the bath – she is well versed in why over the last year or so!) (Abstraction)
Me: Okay, so what are some things we know about dry skin and how to help your skin?
Daughter: That I need to put vaseline on my skin after the bath so my legs and arms don’t get so dry and that when we do it every morning and night it makes it so my skin doesn’t get itchy. And that I should not itch it with my fingernails and if it is itchy then I should put cream on it so it doesn’t get worse.
Me: Yep, are your lips skin?
Daughter: Yes? (she was pretty sure…I reassured her that yep, lips have skin)
Me: Okay, so what could you do for your lips?
Daughter: I could put vaseline or chapstick on them. In the morning and at night. And I should bring some to school. And if my lips start to hurt, I should not lick them. I should put something on them instead. (Algorithmic Thinking)
This really happened and we go through this cycle daily around a variety of issues! The CT process we used did not involve computers or digital tools BUT the possibilities are endless in how it could! Especially as she grows up and becomes more sophisticated in her thinking and uses purposeful problem solving like CT to reach real life solutions. Sure, initially this looks like simple problem solving but from problem solving, comes the next step, computational thinking. Maybe she could track her symptoms and gather data to better understand why this happens – weather, temperature, types of cream/chapsticks that help or don’t (we were using mentholatum for awhile and that made it worse!), clothing or bedding that irritates her skin, not staying hydrated enough, and so on. Or maybe she could research the mysteries of eczema and use a computer program to track similarities to others who deal with similar issues and what works and what doesn’t. What about steroid cream, is it worth the risk? What are the pros and cons? My hope for her, besides less skin issues, is that if she learns to analyze and understand problems rather than feel helpless or just complain about them, she will develop the desire to solve problems and apply CT to all areas of her life – School, projects, relationships, curiosities/questions, entrepreneurial ideas, world issues, and the list goes on.
So, while a future computer programmer certainly needs CT, it is not necessarily true that everyone who learns CT should go on to learn coding. Rather, as computer technology becomes more embedded into the fabric of every industry, professionals in every industry need to be able to think in ways that leverage those computers to solve the problems of the future. (Enoch, 2018)
The National Science Foundation, ISTE and Computer Science Teachers Association began a project called, Leveraging Thought Leadership for Computational Thinking PK-12, to dig deeper into how to make CT more accessible for educators (Barr, et al, 2011). The long term goal is to recommend ways that all students have the opportunity to learn these skills and to ensure that they can be transferred to different problems and used in different contexts (Barr, et al, 2011). When I think about how to best start the process of learning CT at a younger age, this made me see that if explicitly taught in simple situations, the leap to using it more deeply will not be a leap at all, it will be a natural next step.
In Computational Thinking for a Computational World, there are 10 micro-credentials that lay out key elements and pedagogical approaches to best incorporate CT in your classroom daily as an educator.
- Working with data. Educator supports student inquiry practices using data to investigate questions and communicate findings.
- Creating algorithms. Educator supports students in using algorithmic thinking to formulate procedures as algorithms and compare different solutions to the same problem.
- Understanding systems with computational models. Educator supports students in developing systemic understandings of concepts by engaging with computational models.
- Creating computational models. Educator supports students in using computational thinking to model the behavior of a system that has interrelated parts.
- Developing computational literacies. Educator supports students in understanding and participating in computational literacies.
- Creating an inclusive environment for computational thinking. Educator cultivates a learning environment that provides students opportunities to build knowledge and express themselves through computational thinking.
- Integrating computational thinking into curriculum. Educator supports students in using computational thinking to develop understandings of ideas central to a discipline.
- Assessing computational thinking. Educator uses assessment feedback to support student growth in computational thinking.
- Using computers as tools for thinking. Educator documents and analyzes the ways students use computers as tools for representing their thought processes and connecting their learning to that of their peers.
- Selecting appropriate tools for computational thinking. Educator selects computational tools that provide the appropriate support to meet computational thinking learning goals for diverse students.
My initial question about CT and ISTE Standard 5 – What does Computational Thinking look like at each grade level? – was based around wanting to see how to teach it at every grade level. After learning more about CT, I have realized it is not about having a lesson plan that teaches CT in each grade. Instead, it is about incorporating CT within a variety of contexts so that students become naturally aware of how to use CT to solve problems and how computer technology can help them better solve problems. The micro-credentials mentioned above can grow with our computer/digital driven future. For my 6 year old, this may involve simple data collection with a printed data sheet and stickers to indicate when she has chapped lips and to notice patterns on when they are more or less dry as the months/seasons pass. For her older self, this may involve using a computer program to input data and have the computer analyze the results to see if there are connections she has not noticed with how weather affects her skin. But in reality, for her older self, who knows what digital tool she will use to enhance her thinking because most likely, it hasn’t been invented yet. Which is exactly why the roots of CT are so important, so she can adapt and grow with the learning world she is, and will be, a part of.
- Barr, D., Harrison, J., & Conery, L. (2011). Computational thinking: A digital age skill for everyone. Learning & Leading with Technology, 38(6), 20-23.
- Hunsaker, Enoch. (2018). Integrating Computation Thinking. Retrieved from https://k12techintegration.pressbooks.com/chapter/integrating-computational-thinking/
- “ISTE Standards for Students” Retrieved from www.iste.org/