These days it seems that everywhere you look someone is offering coding classes for kids. While coding is all the rage, courses that teach coding focus on a very specific skill, one that not everyone needs or wants. But what happens before we even get to the point that we need to code a program?
Computational thinking is defined as the thought processes involved in expressing solutions as computational steps or algorithms that can be carried out by a computer. Computational thinking, then, is everything that comes before we program a computer to follow a process. Computational thinking requires knowledge of what a computer is capable of, how it can address a problem, and ways of creating algorithms to code a program.
Thinking Like a Computer
Taking this broad definition a little further, we learn that computational thinking is learning how to ask questions, but it is asking questions in a way that can be answered by a predetermined data set. That is, you must know who you are asking and, in some ways, be able to anticipate an answer – at least as much as directs your question to the appropriate place. Skills involved in this type of thinking include:
- Recognizing patterns and sequences, a skill that is often taught as early as kindergarten but can be broadened and deepened throughout a student's education.
- Developing experiments and fixing errors in those experiments is another important aspect of computational thinking and one that can also be taught in the classroom.
- Computational thinking also requires the ability to expand simple ideas into complex ones and complex ones into simple ones. Skills that sharpen critical thinking skills and develop skills in synthesis.
Another aspect of computational thinking is turning problems around and looking at them from different perspectives. It also includes breaking larger problems down into smaller units. As students learn to do this, they develop heightened logical thinking skills and learn to approach problems in a variety of ways.
Computational thinking also promotes the use of sequencing as a problem-solving skill. It encourages logical thought and allows teens to see problems as steps. Some even argue that this aspect of computational thinking helps to decrease stress if applied to all aspects of life. In some ways, it develops the mindset that all problems are solvable.
Teaching Computational Thinking
After providing basic frameworks for computational thought processes, developing computational thinking is largely student-led. Students have to work through the process on their own, deciding how to approach problems and defining how they will break apart problems and construct solutions. They learn where to look for answers and how to shape the responses they find. Learning to think in this way is a skill that breaks learning down to its very essence – asking the right questions.
Hendrickson, Katie. “Computational Thinking.”
Pappano, Laura. “Learning to Think Like a Computer.”
Wolfram, Stephen. “How to Teach Computational Thinking.”