Computational Thinking has become the buzz term for many teachers in England with the advent of the new Computing National Curriculum in September 2014. Computing At School (CAS) has been at the forefront of advising on this change and providing much needed support to both primary and secondary teachers faced with the challenge of bringing into being a new subject in our schools. No-one underestimates that challenge, it is not easy. New vocabulary needs to be learnt, new skills acquired and new ways of teaching adopted.
At the heart of the new curriculum is computational thinking and the role it has to play for our 21st century learners:
A high-quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world.
(Computing Programme of Study, Department for Education)
To help develop a shared understanding of the teaching of computational thinking CAS has published a guidance to teachers on Computational Thinking. It presents a conceptual framework of computational thinking, describes pedagogic approaches for teaching and offers guides for assessment. It is complementary to the two CAS guides published in November 2013 (Primary) and June 2014 (Secondary) in supporting the implementation of the new National Curriculum and embraces the CAS Barefoot and CAS QuickStart Computing descriptions of computational thinking.
Readers of ‘The Voice’ will be only too aware that computational thinking provides a powerful framework for studying computing, with wide application beyond computing itself. The term was first used by Seymour Papert, though Professor Jeannette Wing popularised the idea in advocating computational thinking for all new university students (Wing, 2006):
“… 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 informationprocessing agent”
(Cuny, Snyder, Wing, 2010, cited in Wing, 2011, p.20)
“The solution can be carried out by a human or machine, or more generally, by combinations of humans and machines.”
(Wing, 2011, p. 20).
Thus, computational thinking is the process of recognising aspects of computation in the world that surrounds us and applying tools and techniques from computing to understand and reason about natural, social and artificial systems and processes. It allows pupils to tackle problems, to break them down into solvable chunks and to devise algorithms to solve them. This development of thinking skills to support learning and understanding is at the heart of the curriculum in England.
The guide discusses the computational thinking concepts, including:
- the ability to think algorithmically;
- the ability to think in terms of decomposition;
- the ability to think in generalisations, identifying and making use of patterns;
- the ability to think in abstractions, choosing good representations; and
- the ability to think in terms of evaluation.
It provides concrete examples of how these concepts are applied and recognised in lesson planning.