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Report of a Workshop on the Scope and Nature of Computational Thinking REPORT OF A WORKSHOP ON THE SCOPE AND NATURE OF COMPUTATIONAL THINKING Committee for the Workshops on Computational Thinking Computer Science and Telecommunications Board Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS Washington, D.C. www.nap.edu
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Report of a Workshop on the Scope and Nature of Computational Thinking THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20001 NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance. Support for this project was provided by the National Science Foundation under sponsor award number CNS-0831827. Any opinions expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the agencies and organizations that provided support for the project. International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-14957-0 International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-14957-6 Copies of this report are available from The National Academies Press 500 Fifth Street, N.W., Lockbox 285 Washington, D.C. 20055 800/624-6242 202/334-3313 (in the Washington metropolitan area) http://www.nap.edu Copyright 2010 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America
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Report of a Workshop on the Scope and Nature of Computational Thinking THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering. The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine. The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council. www.national-academies.org
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Report of a Workshop on the Scope and Nature of Computational Thinking COMMITTEE FOR THE WORKSHOPS ON COMPUTATIONAL THINKING MARCIA C. LINN, University of California, Berkeley, Chair ALFRED V. AHO (NAE), Columbia University M. BRIAN BLAKE, University of Notre Dame ROBERT CONSTABLE, Cornell University YASMIN B. KAFAI, University of Pennsylvania JANET L. KOLODNER, Georgia Institute of Technology LAWRENCE SNYDER, University of Washington, Seattle URI WILENSKY, Northwestern University Staff HERBERT S. LIN, Study Director and Chief Scientist, CSTB ENITA A. WILLIAMS, Associate Program Officer SHENAE BRADLEY, Senior Program Assistant
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Report of a Workshop on the Scope and Nature of Computational Thinking COMPUTER SCIENCE AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS BOARD ROBERT F. SPROULL, Sun Microsystems, Inc., Chair PRITHVIRAJ BANERJEE, Hewlett Packard Company WILLIAM J. DALLY, NVIDIA Corporation and Stanford University DEBORAH ESTRIN, University of California KEVIN KAHN, Intel Corporation, Hillsboro JAMES KAJIYA, Microsoft Corporation JOHN E. KELLY III, IBM JON M. KLEINBERG, Cornell University WILLIAM H. PRESS, University of Texas PRABHAKAR RAGHAVAN, Yahoo! Research DAVID E. SHAW, D.E. Shaw Research ALFRED Z. SPECTOR, Google, Inc. PETER SZOLOVITS, Massachusetts Institute of Technology PETER J. WEINBERGER, Google, Inc. JON EISENBERG, Director RENEE HAWKINS, Financial and Administrative Manager HERBERT S. LIN, Chief Scientist, CSTB LYNETTE I. MILLETT, Senior Program Officer NANCY GILLIS, Program Officer ENITA A. WILLIAMS, Associate Program Officer VIRGINIA BACON TALATI, Program Associate SHENAE BRADLEY, Senior Program Assistant ERIC WHITAKER, Senior Program Assistant For more information on CSTB, see its website at http://www.cstb.org, write to CSTB, National Research Council, 500 Fifth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001, call (202) 334-2605, or e-mail the CSTB at email@example.com.
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Report of a Workshop on the Scope and Nature of Computational Thinking Preface As the use of computational devices has become widespread, there is a need to understand the scope and impact of what is sometimes called the Information Revolution or the Age of Digital Information. This is particularly apparent in education at all levels. Various efforts have been made to introduce K-12 students to the most basic and essential computational concepts, and college curricula have tried to provide students a basis for lifelong learning of increasingly new and advanced computational concepts and technologies. At both ends of this spectrum, however, most efforts have not focused on fundamental concepts. One common approach to incorporating computation into the K-12 curriculum is to emphasize computer literacy, which generally involves using tools to create newsletters, documents, Web pages, multimedia presentations, or budgets. A second common approach is to emphasize computer programming by teaching students to program in particular programming languages such as Java or C++. A third common approach focuses on programming applications such as games, robots, and simulations. But in the view of many computer scientists, these three major approaches—although useful and arguably important—should not be confused with learning to think computationally. In this view, computational thinking is a fundamental analytical skill that everyone, not just computer scientists, can use to help solve problems, design systems, and understand human behavior. As such, they believe that computational thinking is comparable to the mathematical, linguistic, and logical
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Report of a Workshop on the Scope and Nature of Computational Thinking reasoning that is taught to all children. This view mirrors the growing recognition that computational thinking (and not just computation) has begun to influence and shape thinking in many disciplines—Earth sciences, biology, and statistics, for example. Moreover, computational thinking is likely to benefit not only other scientists but also everyone else—bankers, stockbrokers, lawyers, car mechanics, salespeople, health care professionals, artists, and so on. To explore these notions in greater depth, the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate of the National Science Foundation asked the National Research Council (NRC) to conduct two workshops to explore the nature of computational thinking and its cognitive and educational implications. This report summarizes the first workshop, which focused on the scope and nature of computational thinking and on articulating what “computational thinking for everyone” might mean. A second workshop, to be held sometime later, will focus on the cognitive and educational dimensions of computational thinking. Although this document was prepared by the Committee for the Workshops on Computational Thinking based on workshop presentations and discussions, it does not reflect consensus views of the committee. Under NRC guidelines for conducting workshops and developing report summaries, workshop activities do not seek consensus and workshop summaries (such as the present volume) cannot be said to represent “an NRC view” on the subject at hand. This workshop report reveals the plethora of perspectives on computational thinking, raises issues for the follow-on workshop concerned with pedagogy, and suggests the need for the field to build consensus on the scope, nature, and structure of computational thinking. The present report contains a digest of both presentations and discussion. The workshop agenda and participants are described in Appendix A and Appendix B, respectively. Appendix C reprints the executive summary of the NRC’s Being Fluent with Information Technology report (National Academy Press, Washington D.C., 1999). Appendix D provides an extended bibliography of additional references not contained in footnotes. Marcia C. Linn, Chair Committee for the Workshops on Computational Thinking
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Report of a Workshop on the Scope and Nature of Computational Thinking Acknowledgment of Reviewers This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Edward A. Fox, Virginia Polytechnic Institute Susanne Hambrusch, Purdue University David E. Shaw, D.E. Shaw Research Gerald Sussman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Ursula Wolz, The College of New Jersey Wm. A. Wulf, University of Virginia The reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions; they did not see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was coordinated by Harold Abelson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Appointed by the NRC, he was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this
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Report of a Workshop on the Scope and Nature of Computational Thinking report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
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Report of a Workshop on the Scope and Nature of Computational Thinking Contents 1 INTRODUCTION 1 1.1 Scope and Approach of This Report, 1 1.2 Motivation—Why Should Anyone Care About Computational Thinking?, 3 2 WHAT IS COMPUTATIONAL THINKING? 7 2.1 The Landscape of Computational Thinking, 8 2.2 Computational Thinking as a Range of Concepts, Applications, Tools, and Skill Sets, 10 2.3 Computational Thinking as Language and the Importance of Programming, 13 2.4 Computational Thinking as the Automation of Abstractions, 16 2.5 Computational Thinking as a Cognitive Tool, 17 2.6 Computational Thinking in Contexts Without Programming a Computer, 20 2.7 The Role of Computers and Technology, 26 2.8 A Collaborative Dimension to Computational Thinking, 27 2.9 What Computational Thinking Is Not, 28 3 LOOKING OUTWARD 33 3.1 The Relationship of Computational Thinking to Mathematics and Engineering, 33 3.1.1 Mathematical Thinking, 33 3.1.2 Engineering, 34 3.2 Disciplinary Applications of Computational Thinking, 36
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Report of a Workshop on the Scope and Nature of Computational Thinking 3.3 Computational Thinking Across Different Disciplines, 40 3.3.1 Problem Solving/Debugging, 40 3.3.2 Testing, 41 3.3.3 Data Mining and Information Retrieval, 41 3.3.4 Concurrency and Parallelism, 41 3.3.5 Modeling, 42 4 RELATIONSHIP TO PAST AND ONGOING EFFORTS 45 4.1 Previous Work, 45 4.1.1 LOGO, 45 4.1.2 Fluency with Information Technology (FIT), 46 4.1.3 Computing the Future, 47 4.1.4 Reflections on the Field, 51 4.1.5 Engineering in K-12 Education, 52 4.1.6 Technically Speaking, 53 4.2 Some Drivers of Change, 54 4.2.1 The National Science Foundation CPATH Program, 55 4.2.2 The Computing Research Association Education Committee, 55 4.2.3 Advanced Placement Computer Science—NSF Broadening Participation Program and the College Board, 56 4.2.4 Carnegie Mellon University’s Center on Computational Thinking, 57 5 OPEN QUESTIONS 59 5.1 What Is the Structure of Computational Thinking?, 59 5.2 How Can a Computational Thinker Be Recognized?, 60 5.3 What Is the Connection Between Technology and Computational Thinking?, 61 5.4 What Is the Best Pedagogy for Promoting Computational Thinking?, 62 5.5 What Is the Proper Institutional Role of the Computer Science Community with Respect to Computational Thinking?, 63 6 NEXT STEPS 65 APPENDIXES A Workshop Agenda 69 B Short Biographies of Committee Members, Workshop Participants, and Staff 74 C Executive Summary from Being Fluent with Information Technology 94 D Supplemental Bibliography 99