We hear a lot of reasons why parents register their children for our computer science bootcamps. These range from:
– my kid knows how to use a computer and smartphone but they should learn how technology works
– my kid wants to learn to code
– I want to boost my kids’ academic performance
– I work in technology and I realise the importance of having some exposure to computer science
– I need a way to distract my kid from his or her computer or tablet (we hear this a lot)
We’d like children, parents, teachers, schools and technology education advocates to add another reason: developing computational thinking skills.
What is Computational Thinking?
We like the definition coined by Jeannette Wing, an early and fierce advocate of computational thinking, which is referenced in the European Commission’s report “Developing Computational Thinking in Compulsory Education: Implications for Policy and Practice” (December 2016).
“Computational thinking [CT] is the thought processes 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”.
The report goes on to translate this definition into plain English:
“1. CT is a thought process, thus independent from technology;
2. CT is a specific type of problem-solving that entails distinct abilities, e.g. being able to design solutions that can be executed by a computer, a human, or a combination of both.”
Click here for to read highlights of the EU report.
Why Do Kids Need to Develop Computational Thinking Skills?
NewTechKids believes that computational thinking is an important 21st century skill which children need to start developing as soon as they begin primary school. By starting young, children will be better prepared to thrive in a technology-filled world as conscious and critical students, working individuals and citizens. Instead of only being passive technology users, they can become active inventors and innovators.
Computational thinking provides kids with a way of thinking that they can use to solve an array of problems:
– see situations in their entirety or as inter-connected parts
– break problems into smaller parts in order to solve them
– analyse and structure information
– understand how the technology and machines around them work
– design and program technology to solve challenges
How Does NewTechKids Teach Computational Thinking?
Computational thinking can be taught via many subjects. We believe that one of the best ways to teach it is through computer science and technological literacy.
We teach core computer science concepts (automation, algorithms, commands, loops, if-else statements, etc.) and then challenge our students to apply these concepts when designing and programming tangible solutions.
We highlight examples from everyday life to show children how technologists use computational thinking and computer science to solve problems, create new opportunities and makes our lives and those of others better (and unfortunately sometimes worse).
When the focus is on computational thinking, technical skills such as coding become secondary. Learning a programming language is important (if proper pedagogy and teaching approaches are integrated) but this knowledge can quickly become outdated as new programming languages emerge. When we teach computational thinking, our emphasis is on teaching core concepts and introducing and reinforcing thinking patterns which can be applied in a variety of situations regardless of how technology changes.
The $64,000 Question: How Long Does It Take for Kids to Acquire Computational Thinking?
Computational thinking is a higher level, thinking skill. This means that it takes a long time to establish thinking patterns and to provide kids with enough practice that it becomes becomes natural and second nature.
NewTechKids has seen real progress in students who have been with us for more than one year. That’s one year of weekly workshops.
A more effective way would be to introduce computer science and technological literacy as mandatory subjects as soon as children start primary school. On top of this, education experts should work to integrate computational thinking into the other subjects taught in primary school such as mathematics and arts.
This may seem like a pipe dream. But there are many people and organisations, including NewTechKids and the Computer Science Teachers Association, which are actively working on this.
We are still in the early stages of technology education. We’ve evolved from an emphasis on coding to programming and computer science.
Now we’re entering the age of computational thinking. And it’s going to be powerful.