It's Time to Weave Computational Thinking into K-12
- By Dian Schaffhauser
It's high time for students to move beyond an hour of coding exercises and learn computational thinking. That's the message of a new report from Digital Promise that examines what's important to know and be able to do in a "computational world."
Digital Promise is a non-profit that that promotes the use of innovation in education, particularly as it uses digital technologies.
The new report, "Computational Thinking for a Computational World," explains its theme of computational thinking by borrowing a description from a long-ago article published by the Association for Computing Machinery: It is "a way of solving problems, designing systems and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science… a fundamental skill for everyone, not just computer scientists." More simply, the report noted, "The skill required to tell a computer what to do is programming. The thought process behind programming is computational thinking." What it isn't is humans thinking like computers. And, according to the report's authors, it's something that needs to be taught across subjects in K-12 schools.
As the report described, "technology is having a dramatic impact on jobs and how we work." Those technologies include smart systems, machine learning and robotics. Yet, while schools do their best to add coding and some computer science studies into the curriculum, it's "highly decentralized." "There is no single authority at the national level guiding the purpose and implementation of opportunities to learn about computing," the report noted. As a result of this uneven coverage of CS in education from state to state and district to district, there's a "severe shortage" of teachers who can teach the subject of computer science; education isn't looking ahead to how CS education should evolve; and "equitable participation" continues to pose a challenge.
Bringing computational thinking into education would outfit students to undertake problem solving where the problems are complex and have many interrelated parts (like a computational model does); to develop processes that are "logical, precise and repeatable" (like algorithms); and to understand how to work with data to support their problem-solving.
The good news, the report offered, was that computational thinking "is already underway in schools." It surfaces in many of the learning standards states have adopted, such as the Next Generation Science Standards. And its inclusion doesn't require additional classes; it can be integrated into existing subjects.
The report listed a number of recommendations for moving the work of computational thinking forward in schools, including advocacy campaigns, curriculum and resource development, professional development for teachers and school leaders and additional research.
Digital Promise has also produced 10 educator microcredentials to support teachers as they develop the competencies to integrate computational thinking into their classrooms. Five cover the key elements and five cover pedagogical practices. Neither set requires experience in computer science or coding as a prerequisite.
The report is openly available on the Digital Promise website.
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.