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Computational Thinking: Ten Ways To Promote CT Across The Entire Curriculum, Part 1

Welcome to Part One of this series based on Computation Thinking. This first post will provide the “what” and “why”along with some steps to promote this important practice. The second post will provide a goldmine of resources to get you started with your students.  

As you might know, I believe all transformation must be based in the standards. These standards must include both content and process standards (4C’s). Too often, I see wonderful activities that engages students… but also see important standards that could have been made authentic to students through deliberate meta-cognition engaging the mind and the heart.

In this post, I would like to review a thinking processes that can be applied across the curriculum providing a process for authentic understanding of standards.  The cognitive process I am referring to is Computational Thinking (CT). This type of thinking is important not just in high stake testing, but also success in that world after school. Perhaps you have come across the idea of computational thinking in education.  The best way to describe computational thinking is to look at the way a computer thinks… or at least runs a program. This is actually the most important concept a student learns through coding and developing computer programs. We must keep in mind that it is not the coding that is important… but the thinking process. After all… one can use a computer, but not actually use computational thinking skills.

So, what is this skill set found in Computational Thinking? They are best described as the important steps taken to solve a problem and come up with a solution. As you read these steps think about your own curriculum. Where do you want your students to use computational thinking skills?

  • Decomposition – This involves the ability for students to look at a problem. and through careful observation students break down a problem or system into smaller, more manageable parts.
  • Pattern recognition – Now that the problem is broken down students must look for similarities among and within the problem. What patterns can be seen and what does this mean?
  • Abstraction – At this stage students begin focusing on the valuable information only, ignoring irrelevant detail. It really is time to look at the specific trees while blurring the forest. While determining what is important… how does this relate to a possible solution?
  • Algorithms – At this point students should be able to develop a step-by-step solution to the problem. They maybe able to also identify rules and procedures to solve the problem

As you can see these abilities are an important part of critical thinking. They allow us to use our human ability to go beyond the computer program. We have long used subroutines of thinking in class such as determining reasons for a civilization’s decline, the twists in a story, the answer to a math story problem, or the use of a dichotomous key. In past practice, we as the teacher often provide the steps necessary to find the answer. What would happen if our students created the algorithm itself, at least part of the time? How might we assess them in this style of thinking that provides deeper understanding. What if our hour of code turned into solving a real problem? What if we brought a Makers Culture into the classroom and facilitated and assessed computational thinking while emphasizing authentic and real understanding of the standards?

“We can have facts without thinking but we cannot have thinking without facts” – John Dewey

I believe John Dewey said it best with the above quote. We must provide our students opportunities to critically think. We must assess them, and they must assess themselves.  We must go beyond engaging activities for the sake of engagement. We must engage the mind!  As Dewy reminds us, providing students the opportunity to think about and do something with content is what real learning is all about. Best of all, a new and real understanding will be achieved that no standardized test can stand in the way of.

Ten Ideas to Expand Computational Thinking in your Classroom

  1. Take time to embrace the verbs in the standards… doing is learning.
  2. Facilitate and assess the 4C’s… assessment should be by teacher, peers, self, and mentors.
  3. Encourage meta-cognition and the “Habits of the Mind”. We must have moments that we think about thinking.
  4. Promote and assess collaboration as it expands and enriches the understanding of all involved. Realize that this is a foundation for critical thinking.
  5. Embrace, demand, and facilitate rigorous and continuous inquiry.
  6. Think Webb’s DOK and upper Blooms and make sure it is a part of a high percentage of lessons.
  7. Remind students…. algorithms are steps that anyone can follow, not as many can write one. They must become the creators of algorithms.
  8. Support students making and using computational thinking to expand standards while connecting to real world and other disciplines.
  9. Support standards by aligning and assessing through student making and thinking.
  10. Provide students important content connected with thinking,,,  plus doing and making

In the next post, I will provide you with a Gold Mine of resources to further investigate Computational Thinking. Please take the time to visit and learn.  

cross-posted at 21centuryedtech.wordpress.com

Michael Gorman oversees one-to-one laptop programs and digital professional development for Southwest Allen County Schools near Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is a consultant for Discovery Education, ISTE, My Big Campus, and November Learning and is on the National Faculty for The Buck Institute for Education. His awards include district Teacher of the Year, Indiana STEM Educator of the Year and Microsoft’s 365 Global Education Hero. Read more at21centuryedtech.wordpress.com.