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Computational thinking boosts students’ higher-order skills

By Andra Brichacek 12/5/2014 Computational thinking

Technology has certainly made many tasks easier and more efficient. What once took hours or even months — capturing and analyzing data, typing documents, searching for information, and sending messages around the world, for instance — we can now accomplish in a fraction of the time with help from our digital tools.

Taking these lower-order undertakings off our plates has changed our lives in many ways. But perhaps an even more important consequence of the digital age is its impact on our higher-order thinking. Now that we can outsource so many things to our computers, we’ve freed up a lot of brainspace and time to use and develop our creative, collaborative, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills — all of which we desperately need to find innovative solutions to the complex problems we face in modern life.

“We keep hearing all the time that we’re getting kids ready for a world that we don’t know exactly what they’re going to need,” said Barry Bachenheimer, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at Pascack Valley Regional High School District in Montvale, New Jersey. “What we want to do is more inquiry, more engagement, more thinking on the part of our kids, and technology becomes the lever to make that happen.”

Here’s where it really gets interesting. If applying technology to lower-order skills boosts our capacity for innovation, what might we accomplish if we combine computing power with our higher-order thinking skills? That’s what computational thinking (CT) is all about.

Computational thinking is not a skill per se. It’s a cognitive approach that encompasses a whole suite of digital age capabilities and puts them into context so that we can use them to their full potential.

According to the Computational Thinking Leadership Toolkit, a free resource created by ISTE and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), “CT is an approach to solving a problem that empowers the integration of digital technologies with human ideas. It does not replace an emphasis on creativity, reasoning and critical thinking, but it re-emphasizes those skills while highlighting ways to organize a problem so that a computer can help. It extends and refocuses human creativity and critical thinking by allowing the computer to extend and refocus one’s problem-solving capacity.”

Students who have had the opportunity to learn and practice CT skills will be able to recognize when a computer can augment their own abilities, such as by collecting and manipulating large data sets to help them make informed decisions or using collaborative tools to crowdsource a solution to a common problem. What’s more, if there is not a program already in existence that will do what they want to do, students with CT skills will know enough about programming to create the tool they need or explain it to someone who can.

In the video below, find out how teaching computational thinking to our students can prepare them for a future we can’t yet imagine.

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