Makerspace, Standards, and a Look at Computational Thinking

Makerspace, Standards, and a Look at Computational Thinking

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As I travel the nation’s schools I see wonderful experiences provided to students as educators provide opportunities for thinking and doing. This leads to some amazing learning, if our process is both intentional and aligned with standards. With this thought of being intentional in mind, I thought I would take a moment to bring Makerspace, Computational Thinking, and Content Standards all together. Before reading, please take a moment to subscribe by email or RSS, and give me a follow-on Twitter at mjgormans. I promise you will find some wonderful information coming your way in the posts that follow…So sign up now and please pass this on with a retweet. Also, remember you can book me for a conference or your school district with workshops that are informative, engaging, and practical. Check out my Booking Page and as always… thanks so much! I am taking dates for spring, summer, and fall of 2018… Mike Gorman (

Makerspace, Standards and a Look at Computational Thinking – Michael Gorman

As you might know, I believe all transformative practices 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 incorporated not present in the activity.

The idea behind the Makers Movement includes allowing students to imagine, envision, create, innovate, play, formatively learn, experiment, collaborate, share, and most of all dream of possibilities. The idea of making is not a new concept. In fact, the art of making is at the root and mixed into to the very fabric of our culture. I believe that the amazing innovation we have seen in this country is due to a Maker mentality. We have long been a culture set on dreaming up possibilities, and then taking the action to make it happen. The initial growth of technology has somewhat taken some of our creativity and produced consumption based thinking. We are now past the initial way of thinking, and the Makers movement allows people to finally use the technology to create and make. As we reflect on this… how are you using the Makerspace idea to engage students in content standards while facilitating and assessing process skills?

As you set, up or evaluate, the Maker movement in your school or district I ask you to think about how you are bringing this movement to the entire school and curriculum. I call it creating a Maker Culture. After-all the concept behind making is not a space… but instead a way of thinking.

For this reason, I think it is important to discuss one of the thinking processes often involved in making. It is the idea of computational thinking. 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? 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. While 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, 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 knew you were wondering when I would bring the Makerspace idea back into the conversation. 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 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
  2. Facilitate and assess the 4C’s… assessment by teacher, peers, students
  3. Encourage metacognition and the “Habits of the Mind”
  4. Promote collaboration as it expands and enriches the understanding of all involved
  5. Embrace, demand, and facilitate inquiry
  6. Think Webb’s DOK and upper Blooms
  7. Remind…. algorithms are steps that anyone can follow, not as many can write one
  8. Support students making and using computational thinking to expand standards
  9. Support standards that are aligned and assessed through making and thinking
  10. Provide content with thinking,,, plus doing and making

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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 at