Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions.

1.5.a Problem Definitions

Students formulate problem definitions suited for technology-assisted methods such as data analysis, abstract models and algorithmic thinking in exploring and finding solutions.

1.5.b Data Sets

Students collect data or identify relevant data sets, use digital tools to analyze them and represent data in various ways to facilitate problem-solving and decision-making.

1.5.c Decompose Problems

Students break problems into component parts, extract key information and develop descriptive models to understand complex systems or facilitate problem-solving.

1.5.d Algorithmic Thinking

Students understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions.

Computational thinking will be a fundamental skill used by everyone in the world by the middle of the 21st Century.

Jeanette Wing

Computational thinking is defined as a set of mental and cognitive skills used in problem-solving to identify strategies and algorithmic solutions to complex problems (Neumann, Dion & Snap, 2021). When asked about the word ‘algorithm,’ most students immediately associate it with mathematics, envisioning the standard algorithm used in solving addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems. However, in a broader sense, an algorithm essentially refers to a set of connected steps to accomplish a task. Algorithmic thinking, as described by Sheldon (2017), entails using or creating a well-defined series of steps to achieve a desired outcome. 

While working with snap circuits during the inquiry unit on energy, students used algorithmic thinking (1.5.d) to discover how energy moves and transfers from one component of the circuit to another to produce a desired outcome – to light up the small bulb and produce light energy. They learned about a well-defined series of steps to produce light, such as reading the positive and negative charge, placing the batteries, deciding which snap wires to connect, avoiding short circuits, and using the switch button to turn on the light.

Figure 1: Energy Investigation Using Snap Circuits

In their role as computational thinkers, students also collect data and use digital tools to analyze and represent them in various ways to facilitate problem-solving (1.5.b). 

During the launch of our science inquiry unit centered on structures of living things, we conducted an experiment with celery, water and red, green and yellow food coloring. Students made predictions regarding the potential effects of immersing celery in colored water.  On Days 1, 2 and 4, students captured images of the celery experiment using their devices, utilizing these pictures to create scientific drawings in their notebooks. I asked the question, “What makes the celery change color?” On Day 2, we dissected celery stalks, delving into the internal structures that enabled the celery to absorb water and change its color. We also learned important vocabulary about the celery plant, such as stalks, shoots, bulb and leaves. Students used the pictures they took over the course of the week to enhance their illustrations and show the changes they have observed.  Out of the four celery stalks we immersed in water, they noted that only one stalk changed its color completely, while others were partially discolored and another stalk retained its natural color. 

Students began to wonder why each celery behaved differently. They offered solutions and formulated explanations to this phenomenon they observed (1.5.a).  They noted different factors, such as the height of the celery stalk, its thickness, the amount of water in the vase and the different colors as possible explanations. Students continued to add to their drawings with labels, captions, and zoomed-in details, documenting their evolving understanding of the internal structures within the celery plant. 

Writing can be a complex task for any writer, particularly when writers encounter moments of being stuck. Breaking down the complexity of writing into distinct parts proves highly beneficial for our young writers (1.5.c). The diagram below illustrates how the writing process can be decomposed into smaller components or steps. Each step is necessary to achieve the outcome of producing a quality piece of writing. The writing process, however, is not strictly linear; each individual writer progresses through the steps in their own unique ways. It is not intended to be rigid; rather, it is recursive and flexible, allowing writers to move forward or backward in each step based on their individual goals and needs.

Figure 2. The Primary Writing Process (Growing Educators, n.d.)

The synergy between computational thinking and innovative design skills is evident, as both hinge on a fundamental skill—problem-solving. I would like to reiterate the importance of these two skills in order for our students to effectively navigate and successfully thrive in this current digital climate. In conclusion, I’d like to share an excerpt from my blog post entitled “How can innovative design skills and computational thinking impact the writing of elementary students?” (blog post):

Innovative Design Thinking and Computational Thinking are 21st century skills that students must possess in order to thrive in this day and age. We must help our students develop as thinkers, problem solvers, designers, makers and lifelong learners so they are able to navigate these rapidly-changing times. We must also help develop the skills of collaboration, perseverance, learning from one’s mistakes and communication to help them participate in the larger online community.

Sources:

Neumann, M. D., Dion, L., & Snapp, R. (2021). Teaching computational thinking: An integrative approach for middle and high school learning. The MIT Press. https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/11209.001.0001

Sheldon, E. (2017) Computational thinking across the curriculum. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/computational-thinking-across-the-curriculum-eli-sheldon

4 Innovative Designer 6 Creative Communicator