Computational Thinking

Having taught ‘Computing‘ for two years now I have taken some time during this summer to reflect on Computational Thinking.  Since September 2013 I have been telling Primary Teachers that the new Primary Computing Curriculum (England) was about ‘reprogramming’ pupils to help them think logically, to attack challenges in a logical way by decomposing them into manageable chunks.  This is a life skill and something with application across their lives and the whole curriculum from Maths to Science to Music…

I have been reading more about Computational Thinking over the summer.  I first really looked at  the phrase when it came up in Barefoot Computing from CAS.  That then made me take a look at Google’s Computational Thinking for Educators online course.  It’s a free course that will make you think a little more about Computational Thinking so if you are interested I would recommend it.

Computational Thinking involves some of the following:

Decomposition (I mentioned earlier) is about taking a large challenge or task and being able to identify sensible parts to break it up in to to tackle it in a logical manner.  This can apply to any physical or mental task from ‘writing a piece of music’ to ‘making a cupboard’ and of course will include ‘writing a computer game program’.

Pattern Recognition is about spotting patterns that can be used to help you work out solutions.  These could be patterns in data which would help you solve a problem like ‘what is causing this illness’ to patterns in a computer program so if you code that bit you can re-use that code again.

Abstraction is a confusing word which tends to make most Primary Teachers panic!.  It seems to be about discovering the principles which make the patterns happen.  Sometimes it is described as being about honing down what is going on to the bare bones. ‘get the little dots and avoid the ghosts’ = Pacman!

Algorithm is another confusing word.  Basically it’s the recipe that makes something happen.  Cooks use them to create their wonderful food, young pupils are taught them for ‘what to do when you first come into the classroom in the morning’ or ‘what we do now it’s dinner time’.  Algorithms are vital for programming.  If a programmer doesn’t understand exactly what the program should do they will not program it correctly.  In Pacman the player character needs to be able to move left, right, up and down but NOT through walls. Once you understand this little part of the program you can work out how to make it happen.

Computational Thinking is definitely a life skill, but it is also something that I believe not everyone will be able to embrace and be proficient in.  Having said that even if pupils just gain a little more insight into how to tackle something logically the benefit to society will be huge.

Draft National Curriculum for ‘Computing’

As of February 2013 the new National Curriculum document shows ICT as no longer a subject as it is replaced by Computing, which is compulsory across Key Stages 1-4.

Computing (as announced in the Draft Curriculum documentation, Feb 2013)

Purpose of study
A high-quality computing education equips pupils to understand and change the world through computational thinking. It develops and requires logical thinking and precision. It combines creativity with rigour: pupils apply underlying principles to understand real-world systems, and to create purposeful and usable artefacts. More broadly, it provides a lens through which to understand both natural and artificial systems, and has substantial links with the teaching of mathematics, science, and design and technology.

At the core of computing is the science and engineering discipline of computer science, in which pupils are taught how digital systems work, how they are designed and programmed, and the fundamental principles of information and computation. Building on this core, computing equips pupils to apply information technology to create products and solutions. A computing education also ensures that pupils become digitally literate – able to use, and express themselves through, information and communication technology – at a level suitable for the future workplace and as active participants in a digital world.

Aims
The National Curriculum for computing aims to ensure that all pupils:
•can understand and apply the fundamental principles of computer science, including logic, algorithms, data representation, and communication
•can analyse problems in computational terms, and have repeated practical experience of writing computer programs in order to solve such problems
•can evaluate and apply information technology, including new or unfamiliar technologies, analytically to solve problems
•are responsible, competent, confident and creative users of information and communication technology.

Attainment targets
By the end of each key stage, pupils are expected to know, apply and understand the matters, skills and processes specified in the relevant programme of study.

Subject content

Key Stage 1
Pupils should be taught to:
•understand what algorithms are, how they are implemented as programs on digital devices, and that programs execute by following a sequence of instructions
•write and test simple programs
•use logical reasoning to predict the behaviour of simple programs
•organise, store, manipulate and retrieve data in a range of digital formats
•communicate safely and respectfully online, keeping personal information private, and recognise common uses of information technology beyond school.

Key Stage 2
Pupils should be taught to:
•design and write programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts
•use sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; work with variables and various forms of input and output; generate appropriate inputs and predicted outputs to test programs
•use logical reasoning to explain how a simple algorithm works and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs
•understand computer networks including the internet; how they can provide multiple services, such as the world-wide web; and the opportunities they offer for communication and collaboration
•describe how internet search engines find and store data; use search engines effectively; be discerning in evaluating digital content; respect individuals and intellectual property; use technology responsibly, securely and safely
•select, use and combine a variety of software (including internet services) on a range of digital devices to accomplish given goals, including collecting, analysing, evaluating and presenting data and information.

Key Stage 3
Pupils should be taught to:
•design, use and evaluate computational abstractions that model the state and behaviour of real-world problems and physical systems
•understand at least two key algorithms for each of sorting and searching; use logical reasoning to evaluate the performance trade-offs of using alternative algorithms to solve the same problem
•use two or more programming languages, one of which is textual, each used to solve a variety of computational problems; use data structures such as tables or arrays; use procedures to write modular programs; for each procedure, be able to explain how it works and how to test it
•understand simple Boolean logic (such as AND, OR and NOT) and its use in determining which parts of a program are executed; use Boolean logic and wild-cards in search or database queries; appreciate how search engine results are selected and ranked
•understand the hardware and software components that make up networked computer systems, how they interact, and how they affect cost and performance; explain how networks such as the internet work; understand how computers can monitor and control physical systems
•explain how instructions are stored and executed within a computer system
•explain how data of various types can be represented and manipulated in the form of binary digits including numbers, text, sounds and pictures, and be able to carry out some such manipulations by hand
•undertake creative projects that involve selecting, using, and combining multiple applications, preferably across a range of devices, to achieve challenging goals, including collecting and analysing data and meeting the needs of known users
•create, reuse, revise and repurpose digital information and content with attention to design, intellectual property and audience.

Key Stage 4

All pupils must have the opportunity to study aspects of information technology and computer science at sufficient depth to allow them to progress to higher levels of study or to a professional career.

All pupils should be taught to:
•develop their capability, creativity and knowledge in computer science, digital media and information technology
•develop and apply their analytic, problem-solving, design, and computational thinking skills.

 

Find out more from the DfE website

Is it the ICT or the USE of ICT?

An interesting debate has been sparked on  the Naace newslist recently which was started by a document entitled “Toolkit of Strategies to Improve Learning” (http://www.suttontrust.com/public/documents/toolkit-summary-final-r-2-.pdf) which is a paper which makes recommendations about how to spend the Pupil Premium and was produced by the CEM Centre of Durham University.

The debate has been rekindled into exactly what we should be focussing on to raise standards.  A lot of money was pumped into UK schools to improve standards, but the majority of that was used to purchase hardware and software.  The feeling of many people is that school standards will only be raised using ICT if staff are given high-quality training in how to harness the technology they have!  At a time when UK school’s budgets have been significantly reduced many Head Teachers are faced with the dilemma of shedding staff or significantly reducing CPD, in some cases to say NO to CPD at all!  Surely something is wrong here?

 

Vision Mapper from Future Lab

Vision Mapper is a free web resource to support long-term planning and decision making in education. With its wide range of group activities and inspirational materials designed to inspire broader thinking, challenge your views and create realistic, achievable action plans, Vision Mapper can help you create a long-term vision and strategy for your organisation.

Vision Mapper was created as part of the Beyond Current Horizons programme, and is designed to help examine the future of education beyond 2025. It supports the UK education system in preparing for and responding to the challenges it faces as society and technology rapidly evolve.

What skills will children need for work? How might parenting and family change? What impact will new technologies have on learning? Vision Mapper provides a wide range of activities and resources to explore these issues, centred around 6 expert future scenarios. These scenarios are based on 18 month’s work in 2008-9 by a team of 98 experts and are backed by a wealth of background research, providing a powerful planning resource for educators.

To find out more visit Future Lab at http://www.futurelab.org.uk/resources/vision-mapper or take a look at Vision Mapper directly at http://www.visionmapper.org.uk/

School Trips

For anyone looking for school trip venues in the UK it is worth having a look at the website: http://www.ukschooltrips.co.uk/.

School Trips UK is a specialist website for people looking for excellent UK based educational trips, accommodation, outreach services and transport.

Follow on Clare Hunter Twitter @UKSchoolTrips UK

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