Elephant in the Room

The case for computational thinking

Education has embraced ‘the digital age’, but Sally Phillips asks are we doing students a disservice by not providing opportunities for them to learn about the technology that supports our digital world? 

Digital revolution

Everyone is quick to acknowledge the impact that the digital revolution has had on every aspect of our lives over the past couple of decades. Our social and working lives have changed almost beyond recognition, all thanks to the technology at the end of our laptops and smartphones. The same can be said for education, at least in the way that learning is delivered. Yet when it comes to the technology behind the tools, some might argue that we have barely advanced at all.

Undoubtedly, there is a wide range of technology in today’s classrooms to enhance each student’s learning experience better than ever before. But how much are we teaching our children about how a computer is put together and the basic coding that underlies the technology we are using day in and day out?

Basic coding

Thirty years ago, children were taught the rudiments of coding and learned to perform basic programming using quite archaic language such as FORTRAN and COBOL.  Today, the situation is not so different as it was in the late 80s. And rightly so – after all, before they can appreciate Shakespeare, students need to master the basics of Spot the Dog.

The problem, however, is that unless they choose coding and programming at the elective stages of later years, few kids ever get beyond the basics.

Computational thinking

There is a growing school of thought that while the fundamentals of coding are an essential building block, kids need a far broader knowledge to prepare them for life and work in the digital age. And this is where the concept of computational thinking comes in.

The phrase has been somewhat hijacked by Google over recent years, but the idea actually goes back to the 1950s, or even earlier. In essence, it is a discipline that introduces students to concepts such as the logical ordering and analysis of data and the creation of ordered steps to deal with complex and open-ended problems. If this sounds vaguely familiar, it is because it is the theory that underlies every modern computer algorithm.

The School Elephant

Every kid knows, more than most adults, about how to use modern technology, so should they not have the opportunity to gain a better understanding of how it works? Understanding technology really is the elephant in the schoolroom and computational thinking could be the perfect way to bridge the gap between the rudimentary coding class and advanced programming courses in Further Education.

Sally Phillips

Sally is a professional freelance writer with many years experience across many different areas.  When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, playing music, spending time with her family and travelling as much as possible.

 

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