Computational Thinking
Computational Thinking

By Eric Hogenson, Director of 3rd - 6th Grades & STEAM Innovation K-6

In our ever-evolving goal to teach to the "Total Child," we are excited about our latest advancements in developing a roadmap for K-6 computational thinking at Laurence School. Teaching computational thinking speaks to our mission because it encourages the use of both halves of the brain and can truly nurture a developing creative mind. At Laurence, we aim to intentionally teach students computer science skills while employing them to engage in solution-finding processes. By balancing the enjoyment of designing and tinkering with the real benefits of computer science, we can offer our students a meaningful gateway into a field that is revolutionizing every aspect of our world. 

What is computational thinking? 
Computational thinking involves taking a complex problem, breaking it down to a series of more manageable pieces, looking at each individually to see if there are similar problems that have been solved before, and developing simple steps to help solve the puzzle, usually with the assistance of an appropriate technology. To begin, in Kindergarten and 1st Grade, we teach students how to break down complex problems through a variety of STEAM opportunities, including math and science classes, Makey Mondays, Genius Hour, and Imagination Station. The basics of programming and coding can even be taught without the use of computers or tablets. For example, through board games students develop basic programming ideas, like sequencing and logic, to "program" their game pieces. Students are directed in activities to learn that a series of inputs can lead to a series of outputs, essentially developing algorithms along the way. The skills learned through these activities, such as understanding conditional statements, working in teams, thinking critically, and expressing creativity build upon one another and give students the confidence they need to pursue more complex computer science concepts.

Starting in 2nd Grade technology classes, we sequence a deliberate teaching of computer science coding, programs, languages, electrical circuitry, and robotics (please reference the "Technology" page of the Laurence website to access specifics). Additionally, our teachers collaborate to find opportunities in the curriculum for students to utilize their technology proficiency in authentic situations.  By immersing our students with cross-curricular opportunities, we provide them tools that will take them far beyond the walls of Laurence and prepare them to be the future stewards of our digital world.  

How does computational thinking support creativity and innovation?
One of the most significant premises of teaching computational thinking is that students are allowed the space to integrate work and play. Research tells us that hybrid forms of work and play may actually provide the most optimal context for learning and creativity to thrive. Here are a few examples of how this embodiment of work and play look in our program at Laurence:

  • The 1st Grade Global Education project, where students designed a virtual tour of a city in their sister country, China, using Arduino (circuits) and Ozobot Bit (coding and robotics).
  • The 4th Grade Social Studies project, in which students 3D printed replicas of tools (using Autodesk's TinkerCAD) from their studies of California history and displayed the videos they created using HP Reveal (augmented reality). 
  • The 6th Grade Reading project, where students used Unity (3D video game design program) to create their own 3D cities, based on their interpretation of dystopian society in The Giver, by Lois Lowry. 

While these are only snapshots of some of the amazing work that students and teachers are engaging in, the evidence of learning can best be recognized by observing the students throughout their ideation and creation phases. If you were a fly on the wall during these "play" sessions, you would likely witness some mixture of concentration and imagination, joy and distress, laughter and frustration, debate and agreement, success and failure. Through it all, students are hyper-engaged, and the creative energy of the classroom is unmistakable. Better yet, both hard and soft skills come shining through. 

Our nation's trajectory points to a lasting digital era where we will continue to need citizens who are proactive learners and solution seekers, not just consumers, to shape our future. At Laurence, we are still young in our goal of weaving computational thinking into our fabric, but we hope that you will join us in the endeavor at home. With your children, you can play board games, engage in building challenges, "program" each other to do small tasks, break large problems into manageable ones, and make play a key part of your time together. In doing so, you will give your child opportunities to test their ideas and help us to build a shared vision that learned skills combined with playful curiosity will lead to true innovation. 
 

Sources:

Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire (2015)
The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson (2011)
www.iste.org (International Society for Technology in Education)
www.pltw.org (Project Lead the Way)
https://www.laurenceschool.com/learning/steam/technology