By Molly Ward, Owner, Mountain Goat Instructional Design
Com • pu • ta • tion • al
Of, relating to, or using computers.[i]
Think • ing
The process of thought.[ii]
Have you ever heard the term “Computational Thinking”? If not, get ready—this newly named and defined, but widely and historically practiced problem-solving process is showing up everywhere in the world of education today—including on Curriki! Read on to learn more about what Computational Thinking is, and how it is being used in our fast-paced, high-tech world.
Although we may not think about it, we use computers to solve problems and generally improve our lives on a daily basis.
Think about the apps you use regularly on your phone or tablet—you can find the closest, least expensive gas station, or look at traffic conditions in real time. Or maybe you looked up information about a topic, such as hippopotamus, through a search engine online today.
Behind each of these digital tools are Computer Scientists and Programmers who work on the problem from its initial conception to proper functionality for the end user (the solution). They play the role of problem solvers—how do we get a computer to help us find a nearby gas station? How can a computer show us traffic jams as they happen? How do we get a computer to search for information about hippopotamus?
By The Car Spy (2001 Audi RS4 B5 Avant) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
If you aren’t a computer scientist, you may not have taken time to think much about how common and relied upon digital tools such as the apps on your digital phone or Google Maps came to be. The process of Computational Thinking has played a great role in solving every day or seemingly impossible problems by utilizing the power of computers.
However, Computational Thinking isn’t just for Computer Scientists and programmers. Anyone can incorporate Computational Thinking skills and steps when working on solving a problem. Blending Computational Thinking into your current problem solving methods helps you to address the problem in a logical way and also sets you up to be able to utilize the power of computing towards solving your problem and bigger problems in the future.
Although “Computational Thinking” might sound like a process that involves an advanced degree and the ability to write code, it’s actually a very straightforward process in which anyone from any field or background can participate. In fact, the process of using Computational Thinking to solve problems has been around since well before computers even existed. The process includes:
|Decomposition||Breaking down a problem into smaller parts.|
|Pattern Recognition||Finding and identifying patterns in the problem data and between parts of the problem.|
|Abstraction||Generalizing the main idea of the problem and how to solve it.[i]|
|Algorithmic Design||Step-by-step instructions for solving the problem.|
Easier said than done, you say? Practice is the key. Curriki will soon be releasing a course titled, Problem Solving through Computational Thinking for Educators:
Online Professional Development Training for Middle and High School Teachers which provide additional background in Computational Thinking, but more importantly incorporates high-quality existing activities for teachers (and students) to practice each part of the Computational Thinking process, as well as the process of Computational Thinking as a whole.
Students in a lab. By University of Salford Press Office [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Molly Ward, M.S. Science Education is the owner and Top Goat at Mountain Goat Instructional Design, LLC. She is a Science Education Consultant and Instructional Designer with over 15 years working in Informal Science Education and EdTech.