Does this compute?
Posted March 16, 2014on:
I read the announcement that the next 10-year masterplan by Singapore’s IDA will include computational thinking. According to CNA:
The Masterplan’s Steering Committee is also proposing developing computational thinking as a national capability.
This is a problem-solving method that uses computer science techniques.
The Masterplan hopes to introduce the method as an enrichment programme in primary and secondary schools.
I will call it like I see it. Implemented incorrectly, I see the idea going belly up.
Why? Computational thinking is easily confused with computer programming because that is what the layperson associates it with.
The masterplan labels computational thinking as an enrichment. Enrichment in Singapore means good-to-have, not must-have. It becomes a must-have only if parents perceive it to provide their child an advantage over someone else’s.
Both these two factors might push computational thinking to the periphery: It is only for the few who have the aptitude and the interest.
But the most serious barrier to computational thinking being taught is teaching it. Mathematics is supposed to be about logical thought. Science is supposed to be about inquiry-based reasoning. We have conspired to make them about drill-and-practice, memorization, and grades.
Reading how “computational thinking” is described, I do not think it is a new label. It exists simply because we live in a rich computing age.
Ask a scientist and elements of this sort of thinking might be labelled inquiry-based learning. A doctor might see overlaps with problem-based learning. Someone else might call it systemic thinking.
Look at the way computational thinking is described in this article:
Computational thinking involves solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior, by drawing on the concepts fundamental to computer science… Having to solve a particular problem, we might ask: How difficult is it to solve? and What’s the best way to solve it?
Computational thinking is thinking recursively. It is parallel processing.
Computational thinking is using abstraction and decomposition when attacking a large complex task or designing a large complex system.
There are elements of computational thinking that are domain specific (computing). But such thinking is not limited to computing or computer programming.
Put another way, some folks might even pick up computational thinking without programming. Some programmers might not develop computational thinking even as they immerse themselves in code.
I think that computational thinking might get caught if one learns to program. But programming does not ensure computational thinking just like math or science lessons do not guarantee logical or scientific thinking.
Computational thinking is about rising above the trees in the forest while still being in the midst of trees and solving the problems of the forest. Does that compute?
If it does, then any educator teaching any content worth their salt can also teach their learners to think independently, creatively, critically, and systemically.