Computational Thinking - Guest Blog Post with @DrChips_

I am privileged to work alongside some amazing trainers! I will be leading conferences with Alan Peat, John Murray and Mark Anderson throughout this academic year. To find out more about these conferences, click here. Another trainer I work alongside is Jon Chippendall aka @DrChips_, I have led training with Jon before however until Tuesday had never sat through his whole session. I have to say I was blown away. I feel my training focusing more on ICT and Digital Literacy, whereas, Jon focuses on Computer Science. His expert knowledge and ability to explain concepts in a way that makes any teacher understand the importance of computer science makes the day really valuable for teachers. As both myself and Jon still work in our school, we share real and successful ideas to ensure technology is being taught creatively in the classroom.

I was really impressed with Jon's session on Computational Thinking. I am pleased he has been willing to write this guest blog post explaining it in more detail. Computational Thinking is at the heart of the Computing curriculum, but what actually is it, why is it important and how do we teach it? Below Jon answers these questions.If you are interested, make sure you book on our next course - visit primarycomputing.co.uk


To purchase Jon Chippindall’s whole school Computing curriculum for just £140 please follow this link: http://primarycomputing.co.uk/a-computing-curriculum/ or get it for FREE if you book onto our next course!

What is computational thinking? 

The opening line of the Computing purpose of study states: 

“A high-quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world” 

So, what exactly is computational thinking? Computational thinking is not thinking like a computer, as machines don’t think (Alan Turing believed this may change in the future, but that’s a different story). 

Computational thinking is all about effective problem solving. Sometimes this involves computers but others times it may not. The Barefoot Computing project (www.barefootcas.org.uk) proposes 6 computational thinking concepts: logic, algorithms, decomposition, patterns, abstraction and evaluation. 


Barefoot Computing Computational Thinker www.barefootcas.org.uk
Let’s look at a couple of examples…

If pupils are challenged to create a game in Scratch, there is much they can do in solving this problem before they jump on to the computer and start coding. First they would breakdown the game into different parts (decomposition). They would decide what information was and wasn’t important to include in the game (abstraction). Critical to the game are the rules which describe how the characters are controlled, how the game is played, and won and lost etc. These are expressed as algorithms which need to be implemented as code. Pupils might spot patterns in these algorithms which help to speed up this coding process. Importantly, they would do all this ‘computational thinking’ before they move on to coding their game.

Whilst the above example uses Scratch, computational thinking happens all the time in ‘non-tech’ situations too. Take mathematics for example, as pupils solve word problems they could break the problem down to make it easier to tackle (decomposition), spot patterns which give rise to formulas, work out the order to tackle things (algorithms), and work out what information is integral to solving the problem and what is superfluous (abstraction). 

Computational thinking also appears in our English lessons: we learn how to spell by spotting patterns which give us spelling rules (algorithms) or by decomposing words into sounds; if your pupils use text mapping this relies on us decomposing a text into sections and creating pictures (abstractions) of the important information. 

So what?

The aim of developing pupils’ computational thinking is to make them better problem solvers, whatever the problem in front of them. It is about giving pupils a toolkit of skills to tackle the tasks they are set, and tasks they might be set in the future – whether that be in education or out in the world of work, these are life long skills. Whilst pupils may naturally exercise these techniques, being explicit about the skills they are using, and using the language to describe them, develops pupils’ awareness of their thinking; their metacognition. 

By using the common language of computational thinking, we can enhance learning across a range of subjects, from computing to English to geography (look at the patterns in settlement locations!). We can teach pupils to be better at abstraction, making them more confident approaching a math’s problem with a wealth of information. Or, to understand the power of pattern recognition: “I think I’ve noticed a pattern… the area of the rectangle is always equal to the width times length!”

Give it a go…

Here are a few activities you can use to start teaching computational thinking with your pupils… 

Speed Modeling: Decomposition and Abstraction

Give pupils a limited time (2 minutes or so) working in pairs to make an animal from plasticine. The aim being that others have to guess what it is. This activity forces pupils to abstract as they think about the important features of the animal needed so others will guess it correctly. As they work together they will also decompose the animal into parts and work on different sections.

Tweeting: Abstraction 

Twitter only allows you to post 140 characters. This forces you to abstract as you negate irrelevant information. If you don’t have a school Twitter account, create a 10 by 14 square grid writing frame (as Mr P suggests) for pupils to write their ‘tweets’ in (or better still get a Twitter account!) 

Logic: Reasoning ‘why’ in games
Logical reasoning is all about explaining ‘why’. Use pupils’ interest in games such as Minecraft to develop their logical reasoning by asking them to explain what they are doing, or might do next, and why. You can develop pupils’ logical reasoning across other subjects too - why have you chosen to use that material? (DT) What do you think will happen if we increase… (science) 


Thank you so much Jon for this and I am sure we will be developing this further on our course in the future! Make sure you book a place on our next conference! 

IF YOU BOOK A PLACE ON THE COURSE BELOW YOU WILL RECEIVE A COPY OF JON'S WHOLE SCHOOL COMPUTING SCHEME OF WORK FOR FREE



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