Computational Thinking

I'm a scientist. I think in terms of what I can see and manipulate. Part of my training included a large amount of time making changes in systems, observing results, and making new changes in order to answer a question. It was systematic, measured, and thorough. Naturally, that tendency bleeds over into my relationships, parenting, hobbies, and pedagogy.

I've learned that much of the thinking we do from day to day is to solve problems.

I began learning HTML, CSS, and JavaScript a few years back, which shifted the way I think. I had to approach problems as patterns, analyzing cause-and-effect in real time through trial-and-error. The whole process is strikingly similar to scientific thought processes. I slowly realized that, at the core, programming is comparing true against false; one against zero.

Computational thinking is the process of breaking down problems into true and false statements one step at a time. Each results takes you down a path sequentially. Eventually, you reach the destination you were aiming for through this series of switches.

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC ) flickr photo shared by uncoolbob

Teaching science is as much about content as it is about thinking. Without thinking, students become repositories for facts with no faculties for problem solving. Thinking as a scientist, it is my responsibility to help students develop the patience and tenacity required to solve new problems to the new world we live in. Content is everywhere; I can look up information as I need it, and the same is true for our students. Finding the context for the content is more important, and exploring relationships with computational thinking processes can help.

I've explored the idea of using instructional methods to improve the quality of questions students ask, which would lead directly into idea analysis. Curiosity is natural, but not in the classroom...especially a high school science classroom. Our current expectations for education focus on the right answer, not on the right questions. Because of this, students have been inadvertently trained to disregard the unknown in favor of memorization. Focusing on questions as the basis for learning rather than facts will push our students to be thinkers, not reciters.

One thought on “Computational Thinking

  1. Doug Ragan says:

    Sometimes 140 characters can’t do it justice. Well said Brian! Cant wiat till next week to get started and begin focusing on the questions!

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