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Report of a Workshop on the Scope and Nature of Computational Thinking
2.6 COMPUTATIONAL THINKING IN CONTEXTSWITHOUT PROGRAMMING A COMPUTER
Marcia Linn and several other participants discussed computational thinking as a way of approaching complex problems that permeate everyday mental activities made necessary because of the ubiquity and increasing omnipresence of computational tools throughout modern life. This way of thinking involves using methods from computer science such as debugging, search algorithms, and test cases to address everyday problems involving technological resources. Put differently, the affordances offered by modern information technology require reasoning skills such as debugging, test cases, and logical skills to solve everyday problems.
Linn pointed out that even very young children appreciate the Internet and have a sense of search, and they often take advantage of electronic devices such as cell phones and computers to access information they want. When 2-year-old Ben wanted to explain to his friend how a trapeze works, he demanded that his mother show his friend a trapeze on her cell phone. He liked the first example but wanted her to try some of the other search results. After a few minutes the battery of the phone died. Ben told his mother to turn the phone back on. He was frustrated when she tried to explain that it would take time to charge the battery. Ben already understands the power of the Internet and the nature of keyword search. Like many of us, he is confused about the limits of electrical power.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Linn used the example of retirees taking advantage of social networking opportunities to plan trips. Jack reported that he upgraded his computer to use sites like Trip Advisor to find hotels. He gained the ability to select sites that primarily serve leisure travelers rather than business travelers. He has begun to analyze the sites that support advertising—and worries that they promote the advertised products. He prefers sites where the qualifications of the reviewers are available. He has developed a theory about who posts on these sites and has started to realize that many people really do not articulate their criteria. Jack is using his debugging skills.
Joshua Danish presented an example of young students engaging in computational thinking concepts without using computers in a project on honeybees—specifically to understand and represent the process honey-bees use to collect nectar for honey. This process involves a beehive sending out scouts to locate flowers with nectar; these scouts then return to the hive and do a “dance” to communicate the location of the nectar to the other bees. Other bees then return to the specified location to harvest the nectar.
Danish said, “Here [in Figure 2.2] is a student’s representation in four panels of that process, and it’s actually quite nice. Now, there are limitations to that. But we’re starting to see some of the skills and the resources—and this is a 7-year-old’s drawing—and when they’re actually