My Journey to Understanding Computational Thinking

When I first started this module on the ISTE student standard: Computational Thinker I thought I had an idea of what I wanted to explore. From some of the initial reading that I did in preparation for this topic I thought I was going to spend this blog post talking about game based learning. My initial question was centered around this topic and I was really curious about how game based learning can be integrated into content areas like math and still fit within a teachers scope and sequence and current curriculum. We currently live in a society where students are constantly on devices and spend a lot of time playing video games. So how great would it be if classroom teachers were to take something like fortnite and integrate it into their curriculum. I also want to look into how this can help students better understand content and facilitate problem-solving while building conceptual understanding and skills. However as I continued to explore resources it became clearer to me that computational thinking is so much bigger than game based learning and that I needed to broaden my thinking. I was only looking at one small piece of how computational thinking may look in a classroom. However computational thinking is a process that involves different elements all working together for a common purpose.

Exploring Further and Changing Direction

So I began to explore different ideas and research on computational thinking. I also began to rethink my initial question of game based learning integration and began to think about how computational thinking might be integrated into all content areas. So instead of one narrow view I wanted to think about what support would be needed in order to help teachers build computational thinking into their scope and sequences. To begin looking into this I started looking for articles and research that could really point me to what computational thinking is and provided examples of how it could look in the classroom. What I came to find was that computational thinking is really similar to design thinking and that it’s a process. It’s not something that is scripted and it varies from classroom to classroom. However all of the resources agree that when we’re talking about computational thinking we’re talking about four distinct elements. The elements are decomposing or decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction and algorithmic thinking or design. When we start to incorporate all four of these elements into our teaching that’s when we really get at the heart of computational thinking.

Decomposition: Breaking down the problem into smaller bite size pieces. Picture of a banana split and all of the things that make a banana split, cherries, whipped cream, ice cream, bananas

Decomposition: Students need to be taught how to decompose problems they need to know how to break them down into simpler bite-size pieces and things that they can engage with.

Pattern Recognition: recognize and use patterns to make predictions and solve problems. Image of puzzle blocks that fit together.

Pattern Recognition: When it comes to pattern recognition we need to help students develop a sense of being able to recognize patterns and then make predictions based on those patterns that they see and verbalize that.

Abstraction: filtering out the unneeded details so that the problem is easier to understand. Image of coffee being filtered and an image of a cup of coffee.

Abstraction: This was a little harder for me to wrap my head around. Really it’s the idea of filtering out unneeded details. So how do we call those things out from the problem that aren’t needed or that are distracting from what it is we really want to get at. This is something that a lot of students don’t know how to do and so it’s important that we are helping students through that process and encouraging them and providing them with problems where they need to do that.

Algorithmic thinking: organizing the information needed into steps that can be used to solve the problem.

Algorithmic thinking: this is really about organizing all of the information and putting it into action. Using those ideas in order to come up with a plan that can be used over and over again. So I think about coding as a form of algorithmic design where I have to type my code in a particular way in order for it to work.

The cool thing that I found about computational thinking is that it doesn’t have to go in the same scripted order all of the time. Sometimes students might start with abstraction, sometimes they might start with the algorithmic design itself and other times they might start with decomposing the problem. It’s just a matter of where they start and then the steps that they take to work through it. 

The great thing about this is that there are already so many resources out there in order to help teachers think about computational thinking in their classroom. It doesn’t take anything really fancy in order to make this happen. As a matter of fact you don’t even really need technology but technology does make it easier and more exciting. One particular article that I read really highlighted ideas around having students decompose things like the American criminal justice system in order to find problems within it and then come up with solutions. Other examples were Analyzing data Trends in order to make predictions about earthquakes and fantasy football in the human body and Building Things based on all of that information but knowing what information maybe you need to strap and pull out. I also found that there are different websites that teachers can visit in order to look at example lesson plans or even take classes themselves on computational thinking. ISTE has an entire course on computational thinking that teachers can sign up for in order to learn more about this topic. Green Dot Public Schools has an entire website dedicated to computational thinking curriculum and includes lesson plans and projects a share for free for any teacher to access.

Key Takeaways

As I continue to think about this idea of computational thinking and how it can be embedded into content areas I’m really struck by the fact that there’s not one way that computational thinking has to look like. Some of my big takeaways are that it can take on many different forms. If I had to sum up my thinking into three big takeaways they would be the following.

  1. It’s not about technology, it’s about students learning. How can we build lessons that encourage students to think critically about what they’re doing in order to make connections, build understanding and break things apart in order to solve real-world problems.
  2. Computational thinking does not just mean coding. Computational thinking is really about the skills needed in order to code. Those skills are decomposition, abstraction, algorithmic thinking and pattern recognition.
  3. Computational thinking can be done in any classroom. Because it doesn’t look like one thing really any classroom can encourage and build up computational thinking in students. This can be done when students are making a collage or drawing something within the art class, it can be done in PE when thinking about a particular sport and being able to decompose it and break it apart into its simplest form. In language arts when looking at and pulling apart a text in order to analyze the meaning behind it, what the author was talking about and in recognizing patterns in the author speech when they’re writing. There’s so many ways that this can happen and look that it just really encourages me to think about how we might begin to see this in other classes.

Continuing the Journey

Since my thinking changed so much over the course of this module don’t feel like a truly have a full and complete answer to my question. I’m still looking for additional research and ideas in order to fully support the teachers that I work with in incorporating computational thinking into their classrooms. I’m encouraged by all of the research that I have found so far and know that there is so much more that I can learn and discover. I think one of the biggest things for me to remember is that as teachers we need to be intentional about how we do this. Because yes computational thinking can take the form of game-based learning however if we don’t incorporate the game intentionally then students may not see the actual learning behind it, they might just see the game. One particular article by Ryan Juraschka discussed how in order to effectively incorporate games into the classroom there needs to be a balance that is reached so that the game is both educational and fun for students. As teachers it’s our job to really think about the purpose behind what we’re doing and not just trust that when a game or a website tells us it builds computational thinking that it does. We need to do our own research and look into it for ourselves in order to see if it is really asking students to decompose a problem or look for patterns or encouraging them to use their algorithmic thinking. I know for myself I am going to continue to do my own research and my own learning in order to discover new ways in which this can be incorporated. I’m also going to continue to talk with the teachers that I work with and encourage them to look into this and find small ways to bring it into their lessons. As I continue this journey of discovery around computational thinking if you have lessons where you’ve built this up within your own classroom or you found great resources that have examples of what computational thinking can look like in the classroom I would love to see them. Please feel free to share them with me in the comments section below.

References

Bogardus Cortez, M. (2017, July 31). 3 Ways Game-Based Learning Can Boost Math Skills | EdTech Magazine. Retrieved February 22, 2020, from https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2017/07/3-ways-game-based-learning-can-boost-math-skills 

Computational Thinking Curriculum. (n.d.). Retrieved February 29, 2020, from http://ct.excelwa.org/ 

Google for Education: Computational Thinking. (n.d.). Retrieved February 29, 2020, from https://edu.google.com/resources/programs/exploring-computational-thinking/ 

ISTE Standards for Students. Retrieved from www.iste.org/standards/for-students

Juraschka, R. (2019, September 29). How Digital Game-Based Learning Improves Student Success. Prodigy Math Blog. https://www.prodigygame.com/blog/digital-game-based-learning/ 

Sheldon, E. (2017, March 30). Computational Thinking Across the Curriculum. Edutopia. Retrieved February 29, 2020, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/computational-thinking-across-the-curriculum-eli-sheldon 

Valenzuela, J. (2018, February 22). How to develop computational thinkers | ISTE. ISTE Blog. Retrieved February 29, 2020, from https://www.iste.org/explore/Computational-Thinking/How-to-develop-computational-thinkers 

This entry was posted in Collaborator, Digital Age Learning Environments, Learning Designer and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to My Journey to Understanding Computational Thinking

  1. Doug says:

    Megan, I like how you honed in on the misconception that computational thinking requires some sort of technology integration, “The great thing about this is that there are already so many resources out there in order to help teachers think about computational thinking in their classroom. It doesn’t take anything really fancy in order to make this happen. As a matter of fact you don’t even really need technology but technology does make it easier and more exciting.” I think this insight combined with and encapsulated through your big three takeaways is really helpful. I personally like how you captured those big three ideas and I love the idea of doing computational thinking via PE. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Rachel says:

    Megan,
    I really liked how you summed up your 3 big takeaways. I also came away with some of your ideas after my own research. It is important for educators to realize that computational thinking doesn’t have to happen on technology only. It is something that can be incorporated in other ways. I think you give a really good summary and introduction of the information you found. This would be a great article for someone to read who is looking for beginning information on computational thinking.

  3. Jan White says:

    Megan, thanks for sharing your 3 takeaways, especially the reminder that Computational Thinking can be in any subject and does not necessarily require a computer – it is just a thinking strategy. I also appreciate your point that it does not always have to follow the same order, especially in a Language Arts class.

  4. Cory Cummings says:

    Megan,

    I really appreciated how you were open and honest with the change in the direction of your question. I reflected on this from our Wednesday PLC meeting (and was reminded in your post), but your honesty helped me to remind myself that it is totally okay to switch the direction of our inquiry question and solution. This helped me to feel more comfortable with my own change in direction, so thank you. As others have mentioned, your 3 key takeaways were really useful in having 3 big ideas to connect with in regards to computational thinking. As you continue to find new resources on computational thinking, I would love to hear about them!

    – Cory

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *