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What is computational thinking?

Victoria Macann

Victoria Macann is a Ministry of Education accredited PLD facilitator who specialises in the Digital Technologies & Hangarau Matihiko Curriculum, digital fluency and science. She is also an Apple Professional Learning Specialist.

What Is Computational Thinking?
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Are you new to the new Digital Technologies Curriculum and unsure what the term ‘computational thinking’ means? If so, then this post and the free resources is for you.

Computational thinking (CT) involves higher-level thought processes which is often connected to the use of technology, but does not always have to be; it can be performed on a much lower scale which is demonstrated in Progress Outcome 1.

The formal definition of CT according to Jeannette Wing is that it is “the thought process involved in formulating problems and their solutions so that the solutions are represented in a form that can be effectively carried out by an information-processing agent” (Wing, 2017, p. 8). This is where Progress Outcomes 2 onwards are placed.

Why Computational Thinking?

We need to prepare our students for a fast-moving digital world where they have the skills to not only use digital technologies, but to design and create digital systems. These two trends from research by Bocconi et al. (2016) show why educators would be wise to include CT into their curriculum:

  1. CT skills in young people enable them to think in different ways, solve real-world problems and look at everyday issues from a wider perspective.
  2. CT is needed to fill job vacancies in ICT, boost economies and prepare people fo future employment.

We also believe that CT can be embedded in all learning areas of the NZC. In addition to this, there is widespread acknowledgement that the education system needs to empower learners to become producers as well as consumers of technology.

With computational thinking ingrained in the education system from year one onwards, we can begin to see what is possible with computing in order to make informed decisions as [effective] digital world citizens (Ministry of Education, 2017).

Linking Computational Thinking into other learning areas

There are many exciting new ways technology can support learning throughout the curriculum. Our approach at Learning Architects is to focus on how to make easy links between technology, the curriculum and what you are already doing in your programme. In this sense, we take a ‘pedagogy-first’ approach.

Learning with CT is rich in opportunities to collaborate, persist, problem solve, and be creative in a multidisciplinary way.

What are the concerns?

Naturally, there are some major concerns with how some educators and schools are approaching teaching with digital technologies. Wing (2008) cautions not to allow the technology to get in the way of understanding the higher level concepts being taught whilst using the technology tool.

We see this throughout our time facilitating professional development and this is a concern for us. We must ensure that students learn how to use the tool as well as understand the concepts behind computational thinking.

We have designed a poster for placing on the classroom wall which breaks down computational thinking into 4 key parts – we hope you find this really useful in simplifying an exciting area of the curriculum.

Sign up to get the infographic ‘The 4 aspects of Computational Thinking’
to print out for your staffroom or classroom wall.

References

Bocconi, S., Chioccariello, A., Dettori, G., Ferrari, A., Engelhardt, K., Kampylis, P., & Punie, Y. (2016). Developing computational thinking in compulsory education. European Commission, JRC Science for Policy Report.

New Zealand Ministry of Education. (2017). Digital Technology curriculum – Hangarau Matihiko.

Wing, J. M. (2008). Computational thinking and thinking about computing. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 366(1881), 3717-3725.

Wing, J. M. (2017). Computational thinking’s influence on research and education for all. Italian Journal of Educational Technology, 25(2), 7-14.

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