What is computational thinking and how can we incorporate this into our computing curriculum?
The purpose of study for the Computing National Curriculum states: –
‘A high-quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world.’
Computing programmes of study: key stages 1 and 2.
Computational thinking is not thinking like a computer because computers can not think for themselves! Computational thinking is about developing critical thinking and problem solving skills. Barefoot Computing has this great poster to show the different approaches and concepts associated with computational thinking.
Computational thinking does not have to be completed with a device. There are lots of ‘unplugged’ activities that can support computational thinking and lots of activities that can be completed outside of the computing lesson. The problem solving and thinking skills can be developed across the curriculum then related back to computing lessons.
So what might computational thinking look like in the classroom?
In early years or Key Stage 1, pupils may have a range of lego bricks available in a construction area.
Scenario one: The pupils have some images of vehicles to support their topic work. In this instance, the pupils may be using an algorithm (instructions) to create the vehicle. They may be using abstraction to take the image of the vehicle displayed and pull out the key parts to create their own vehicle, “it has four wheels and sides”. Decomposition could be used to break the activity down into smaller parts, “first I need to find some wheels.”
Scenario two: The pupils have a range of lego bricks to use. In this instance, the pupils will be using the computational approaches of tinkering and creating to explore the bricks and create their own design. They may be using logical thinking to decide how the bricks fix together and debugging if something doesn’t quite work out.
Opportunities to develop these skills can then support the pupils with accessing the computing curriculum in particular, the programming aspect of computer science. For example, in a Key Stage Two programming lesson, the pupils may be asked to draw some shapes in Scratch. The pupils can apply decomposition to break the problem down into smaller steps, creating one piece of the algorithm at a time. Testing out their programming, debugging and evaluating will enable them to achieve the finished outcome. Logical thinking and pattern recognition will then help the pupils create a more efficient piece of code that quickly changes the code to create different polygons.
So how can we ensure computational thinking is part of our curriculum?
The first thing to do, is to make sure that staff are upskilled in understanding what computational thinking is and the language associated with it such as tinkering, decomposition and debugging. Without this understanding, it will be hard for teachers to make those links in their lessons. Computational thinking will support pupils in computing lessons but will also enable them to have transferable skills that can be used throughout the curriculum and into working life.
There are a wealth of resources out there to support with computational thinking, but if computational thinking is a new concept to staff, then Barefoot Computing is a great starting point. They have a range of plugged and unplugged lessons from EYFS – KS2, including a free workshop for introducing computational thinking.
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