Wednesday, December 7, 2016 0

Recently there has been a lot of talk about “coding”, and about the difference between “coding” and “programming”.  In several of the articles I read discussing these issues, a free Google online course was mentioned:  Computational Thinking for Educators.  So I went to investigate.  The “real time” experience of this course is over, but all the materials are online, and you are welcome to explore it at your leisure as a self-study program.  The course was designed to help Humanities, Math, Science, and Computing educators integrate computational thinking into their curriculum.

The course is divided into these segments:

• Introducing Computational Thinking: What is CT? – What is computational thinking, where does it occur, why should you care, and how is it being applied?
• Exploring Algorithms – Walk through examples of algorithms used in your subject. Recognize why algorithms are powerful tools to increase what you can do and that technology can be useful for implementing and automating them.
• Finding Patterns – Explore examples of patterns in various subjects and develop your own processes for approaching a problem through pattern recognition.
• Developing Algorithms – Increase your confidence in applying the computational process to a given problem and recognize how algorithms can articulate a process or rule.
• Final Project: Applying CT – Create a statement of how CT applies to your subject area and design a plan to integrate it into your work and classroom.

It guides you from the beginning to see the material you are already teaching through the conceptual lens of computational thinking. As I worked through the course, I thought that probably most of the ideas/activities presented would not be new to IB teachers.  What would be new is the paradigm shift in naming what you’ve been doing in your classes as “computational thinking” – perhaps a new conceptual understanding for you!

This is a chart from the first segment of the course, which illustrates this shift:

screen shot from Computational Thinking for Educators

Let me expand on that idea by enlarging on a fragment of IB text: “Conceptual understanding is a significant and enduring goal for teaching and learning in IB programmes.

“A concept is a “big idea”—a principle or notion that is enduring, the significance of which goes beyond particular origins, subject matter or a place in time (Wiggins and McTighe 1998). Concepts represent the vehicle for teachers’ and students’ inquiry into the issues and ideas of personal, local and global significance, providing the means by which they can explore the essence of a subject.

“Concepts have an essential place in the structure of knowledge. They require teachers and students to demonstrate levels of thinking that reach beyond facts or topics. Concepts are used to formulate the understandings that teachers and students should retain in the future; they become principles and generalizations that  can use to understand the world and to succeed in further study and in life beyond and outside of school.”

There is a “companion” website at Exploring Computational Thinking (ECT)  which hosts “is a curated collection of lesson plans, videos, and other resources on computational thinking (CT). This site was created to provide a better understanding of CT for educators and administrators, and to support those who want to integrate CT into their own classroom content, teaching practice, and learning.”  It includes more than 130 lesson plans and  demonstrations aligned to international education standards, and videos showing how Google uses CT and the 7 Big Ideas from the CS Principles.

Two other fine free, self-paced online courses created by Google are Power Searching and Advanced Power Searching.