Why Computational Thinking

What Skills Will Our Kids Need?

Like all moms, I want what's best for my children and I want to prepare them for their futures. Back when our society advanced at a slower rate, kids only needed to learn the "Three Rs" to build a solid foundation in their lives.

Seeing how rapidly things advance now, I wonder if my kids will learn to drive (or if autonomous vehicles will be ubiquitous) and what kinds of jobs will be available when I see the easy ones getting automated already (like the McDonald's checkout line). And why did my teachers tell me I couldn't use a calculator on the test because in the real world I won't be walking around with a calculator - when most of us can't go 10 minutes without our phones which is a more powerful calculator than we ever used in school. In the age of Google, why are we still memorizing facts that a quick search will provide the answer to?


"In today’s world, those who can produce digital technologies will do better than those who can only consume them. Those who can innovate and problem solve will create the democracies of tomorrow, ready to take on the challenges of a multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious, complex global world."

Marina Umaschi Bers, Researcher and Author of Coding as a Playground


 

What is Computational Thinking

We still read, practice writing, and work on Math on a daily basis. But the skill kids really need to develop (that is lacking in schools) is how to create solutions to problems that don't even exist yet. That's where Computational Thinking comes in. Many people describe computational thinking as simple problem solving; but it's a bit more than that. It includes specific strategies for solving problems through decomposition, abstraction, algorithms, and pattern recognition. Computational Thinking involves creating solutions that are powerful and yet simplified enough to be carried out by a computer. Simply put, it's thinking like a computer scientist.

For example, Mark Zuckerberg wanted a better way to connect with friends and other peers in college. As a computer scientist he decomposed the problem (broke it down), abstracted out the important details (simplifying necessary operations), recognized patterns (to generalize his solution), and created an algorithm as his solution (Facebook).

This type of thinking isn't just for programmers. Anyone who needs to creatively develop systematic solutions needs computational thinking. All of the good jobs in the future will require this. Plus, because computational thinking can't be taught in a vacuum, through our activities, our kids are also developing creativity, problem solving skills, engineering aptitude, and more.

Concepts for Little Problem Solvers

Because our kids are so young, we really just focus on the ABCs of computational thinking. These include:

  • Algorithms
  • Decomposition
  • Pattern Matching
  • Debugging
  • Sequencing
  • Loops (simple)

Our activities are fun, quick to put together, and provide meaningful learning opportunities. However, at times progress can be slow. We have to remind ourselves that it takes a lot of repetition before toddlers start to internalize the concepts. But when our son, O, showed improvement in recognizing patterns and creating longer algorithms we were reaffirmed in our mission to help our kids become Little Problem Solvers.