By Pati Ruiz, Sarah Hampton, Riley Leary, Judi Fusco, and Patti Schank
For the last few months, we’ve been reading, thinking, and talking about computational thinking (CT) in preparation for three Webinars for Teachers and Parents on the topic. The webinars are on January 30, February 6, and February 13. Go to the link above to sign up for the webinar and get all the details.
A lot of the websites and articles we reviewed about computational thinking for teachers gave us only a brief introduction to it. We’ve read about what researchers have been doing and how they have been thinking about CT, and using their research, we’ve been trying to think about what CT means for and looks like in the classroom. We also know that it’s a new topic for parents, and that parents may want to think about what it means and what it can look like at home.
The term computational thinking was made popular in a paper in 2006 by Jeannette Wing, and since then, researchers have expressed different understandings and definitions of the term. There wasn’t a common understanding of what it was then, and exactly “What is it?” is still a fair question today. Some people equate computational thinking with coding, but others do not. We agree that computational thinking is a much broader set of skills than just coding or programming, and that it’s not the same thing as computer science. Computational thinking skills include abilities that help people use computers to solve problems. Being able to program is one way of interacting with a computer, but there are other ways that one can work with a computer, and computational thinking is needed in more than just programming classes. For example, when researching for a history project, students may need to use data to strengthen their arguments. Students are using CT when they locate, evaluate, analyze, and display data. Learning to program is an advantage, in terms of learning to think in a new way, but we believe that programming is not the only way to incorporate CT into classes. We’ll explore these things in our webinars.
The first session will be an overview of CT. The second session will be geared toward what CT can look like in K12 classrooms. At our third session––a special webinar for parents or other caregivers––we will think about projects and practices that can be done at home with kids to help them learn and think in this new way. Come to the webinars to learn and think with us about computational thinking and what it looks like in K12 classrooms and at home! Please share this information with interested colleagues and parents as well. We hope to see you there!
By Sarah Hampton
In my last post, I talked about four reasons we should read the Cyberlearning Community Report: The State of Cyberlearning and the Future of Learning With Technology. I really believe that what you learn from the report will make you a more effective educator. Let me give you one concrete example of how the Community Report has already helped improve my teaching by demonstrating the significant value of learning opportunities outside the classroom and how they can be leveraged. (I had the privilege of sneak previewing the report over the summer so I have had a few months to implement what I learned!) Check out this excerpt from the report:
“The central ongoing research question in this work (from the Expressive Construction section) is how to interconnect appealing, playful environments through self-expression to deeper learning goals. The dimension of time is important: how can play result in learning at timescales of minutes, or weeks, or months or years? The dimension of context also needs more investigation: how do unique aspects of homes, museums, playgrounds or classrooms contribute to or block learning? Strengthening our understanding of the social dimension is also critical as these activities often involve complex ecologies of support from peers, parents, and informal and formal educators -- and are not as simple as typical teacher-student interactions...This research is demonstrating how important learning can occur through playful experience, often outside of the school setting. Yet what students are learning clearly relates to existing curricular subject matter, such as engineering, and emerging subjects, like data science and computational thinking. Studying learning in playful and constructive settings can lead to new discoveries about when, where, and how children can learn important ideas and these discoveries can guide policy about when, where, and how these important topics are taught.”
In past years, I would plan a unit and then take my students on a field trip only if the exhibit(s) aligned at that time. This fall (after reading the report), the technology teacher and I planned an entire unit around a Smithsonian traveling exhibit called Things Come Apart that is currently housed in the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, a museum near our school. The exhibit consists of dozens of common objects that have been taken apart to reveal their inner workings. We tied this into physical science concepts like electricity, circuitry, and engineering. Before we visited the museum, students reverse engineered their own objects such as mechanical pencils, clocks, calculators, speakers, and flashlights. They also built circuits using PhET simulations, snap circuits, and then batteries, wire, light bulbs, motors, etc.
After that, we recruited local experts who donated their time, knowledge, and materials so our students could dismantle iPhone 5s phones. When the students later visited the exhibit, they recognized most of the components in the pieces and were able to ask and answer more informed questions because of their classroom work leading to the trip. Reading the report persuaded me that rich, authentic learning is fostered when connections are made between multiple environments, situations, and people, and it made me more intentional about offering opportunities across contexts. I would definitely describe this unit as a richer learning experience for my students than the ways I have approached it in the past.
Going even further, as part of their final assessment, students are creating infographics on five electronic components and how they are used in one of the pieces from the museum exhibit. This was a suggestion from the technology teacher, and I jumped at the idea after reading about the STEM Literacy through Infographics project in the community report. Our students will present their infographics and dismantled objects at our school STEAM Fair in November.
I hope you take the time to read the report, and I hope it impacts your practice as much as it already has mine. I would love to hear your thoughts after you have had a chance to read it! What did you find most interesting? What innovations are you most excited about? Do you think you might look into one of the projects for your classroom? Post in the comments section below!
By Sarah Hampton
It’s here! It’s finally here! Members of the cyberlearning community have been working for months to bring us a report on their recent research in the Cyberlearning Community Report: The State of Cyberlearning and the Future of Learning With Technology. The report brings together key players who “envision, design, and investigate possible futures of learning in the presence of significant innovations.” And when they say significant innovations, they mean significant.
There are new ways to think about learning environments and new ways to use technology that I would have never dreamed about. For example, be sure to check out projects using simulations like RoomQuake in which simulated seismographs in different locations in the room allow students to investigate the earthquake’s effects and locate “roomquake” epicenters within the room. “The students have the social and scientific experience of doing field work, but without ever leaving their classroom.”
Students using RoomQuake
For another example, check out the BeeSim project in which young students enact the behaviors of a bee community as it tries to satisfy the energy needs of its hive using bee puppets equipped with sensors that interact with puppet hives.
BeeSim with younger children
I know you’re insanely busy. Teachers do a year’s worth of work in nine months so I get it. Why should you take the time to read the lengthy report? Here are my top reasons:
1. The report is ultimately for us, the teachers. The entire community that prepared the report wants to support and help us improve what we do for our students. We make these findings valuable when we use them to benefit our schools. All the grant money, all the time, and all the discoveries--we determine their worth. There’s a sign in a grocery store parking lot that says that reusable grocery bags can’t help the environment if they are left in the car. This research can’t help our education system if we leave it on the internet.
2. You can't read this report without getting excited about the future landscape of education. There is a current of enthusiasm and optimism woven throughout the report along with the explosion of technology and research. At school, sometimes the bureaucratic hoops and water cooler chatter is discouraging, but the information in this report will inspire you!
3. There is an encouraging focus on equity. Specifically, there is focus on:
4. You will learn about our changing roles as educators. Instead of the keeper of the keys of knowledge, the report casts the teacher as a facilitator, organizer, creative engineer of learning moments, and co-learner/co-contributor in the learning process. In addition, as technology becomes better able to automate some teaching tasks and give just-in-time alerts, we are freed to target struggling learners with specific skills while other learners remain engaged in learning tasks managed by digital learning environments. See Inq-ITS aka Inquiry Intelligent Tutoring System in the Learning Analytics for Assessment section, for example. The relationship between technology and teachers in the classroom can be rewarding as well as challenging. As part of the report states, “One tension is to balance the human and digital sides and support each side in what they do best.” Digital environments can never replace the value of human teachers in the classroom. The key is to optimize the dynamic. The community report offers insight on our changing roles and on how we can maximize the contribution of both people and technology.
In a few days, I am going to share a concrete example of how the report has already helped me improve my teaching. (As a reviewer, I got to read it this summer and get a headstart.) In the meantime, go download the Cyberlearning Community Report! If you’ve gotten a chance to read it, let me know what you think about it and what I’ve said.