So what is computational thinking? In general, it is a bit like thinking about how you think – particularly how you think about solving a problem – my cohort of educators called it METACOGNITION – and this is like METACOGNITION 2.0!
A superb resource for understanding computational thinking was published in 2016 by the renown computer scientist and mathematician: Stephen Wolfram's Wired essay How to Teach Computational Thinking
Computational thinking is really about thinking. It’s about formulating ideas in a structured way, that, conveniently enough, can in the modern world be communicated to a computer, which can then do interesting things.
Wolfram also believes that computational thinking is going to continue to grow in importance – to the point that everyone will ultimately need to use this approach for everyday life. Home automation, transportation, manufacturing, farming, project management are just a few examples of how we are structuring our activities using computers using artificial intelligence. Again from Stephen Wolfram's Wired essay How to Teach Computational Thinking:
In an age of automation, the automators will be the ones with the highest paying jobs.… except maybe for politicians, lawyers and entertainers.
What Are We Doing to Inspire Students to Problem Solve in a Computational Fashion
(or "Why I chose to create a Drone Obstacle Course Challenge")
What I am trying to accomplish with this student STEAM activity:
- Engagement - Drones are one of the most fascinating categories of technology and robotics right now.
- Three Dimensional Literacy - After becoming fairly competent in planar (two dimensional X-Y axis) digital design, I still remember the stretching of my abstract thought when going to three dimensional design.
- Students Want Relevant Math - A recent survey found that students want more "out-of-the-box, creative, relevant" math activities in secondary schools.
- Students need to exercise creativity and hone design skills - There should be a design component that the students get to create and build something.
- STEAM relies on quantification and measurement – Science and Engineering requires this and students are not measuring enough stuff themselves!
What You Need
If you want to give your students the Drone Obstacle Course, feel free to borrow my activity guidelines and even modify them. I would love you to share this with your colleagues and give me some feedback!
First Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Teacher stress, anxiety and workload levels are heavy on my heart tonight! Teachers are frustrated, crying, and spending countless hours trying to plan and play catch-up! Schools all over have multiple openings and are struggling to get good quality applicants for their positions. It is difficult to find substitutes. I wonder what we are doing to our poor teachers... Makes me sad, when I know all they want to do is teach, because that is their passion and purpose. The problem is they do everything else but... Hmmm, I will be reflecting this weekend!
Over the last 40 years, friends, students, parents and acquaintances, have said they appreciated teachers, but teachers take home has continued to decline from it's relatively low salary as insurance has gone up. In our state, (Florida average teacher salary is in the lowest 10% - 43rd in the nation). it is hard not to feel conflicted for the future of K12 public education in general. October of 2019, a retired educator broke it down pretty clearly for our Space Coast - teacher pay is not a priority - even though there is a national teacher shortage
We have had such a cultural, moral decline in our country that the task of teaching is overshadowed with parenting, nursing, fundraising, troubleshooting, analyzing data, individualizing accommodations, parent meetings, reporting, constant changes in directives that are often mutually exclusive.
I remember back at the beginning of my career (close to 30 years ago), a health services professional coming into our junior high school and warning educators to brace themselves for the next generation of children of parents with substance abuse (primarily cocaine). We have also seen a rise in latchkey children, children from 'broken families,' raised by relatives, in transition (homeless), autism, ADHD, and numerous other exceptionalities that add to the workload and stress on educators. These trends are further magnified in public education as we have seen many of the healthier, stable family, financially capable families pull their children out of public school to homeschool or enroll in private schools.
Public school teachers have an impossible job and many who have chosen to become or stay in teaching have nurturing, self-sacrificing personalities that have a hard time establishing healthy boundaries. There is always more the teacher (and administrator) can and should do. It is never enough and the psychological stress, social stress, financial stress, is tremendous. I was just thinking this week how most any job provides several breaks during a work day – as teachers, we don't even have bathroom breaks – we are supposed to keep our room secure, do hall duty and go for three-four hours sometimes before our 45 minute planning period. And our planning period is not at all a break- because it is then that we need to: make parent contacts, meet privately with several of the behavior problems or special needs students, try and talk to an administrator, get with the bookkeeper, straighten the room for the next class, respond to numerous emails, set up or tear down a lab, etc. There really is no opportunity to decompress when you are responsible for ~130 individual personalities with different needs.
And the notion of meeting all of those individual needs (as teachers) is not supported by the factory model our schools are built on. Students don't sit in rows like eager empty receptacles and receive knowledge as the teacher pours knowledge and skills into them equitably addressing each standard for the course. Learning seldom occurs like a gradual rising graph line for anyone student much less for a class of 24 students all at once. Rather it is characterized by moments of distraction, disinterest, inattention, failed attempts, discouragement, confusion, then boom! a sudden aha moment – and all of this at different rates and for different students -seldom all at once.
Even though I still enjoy going to work each day after 36 years as a science and technology educator, I would counsel my son or daughter (or anyone for that matter) to count the cost before choosing this career. I am concerned for the future of public education.
The blog article that got our attention was Google finds STEM skills aren't the most important skills… really?!!!
We all are guilty of making provocative, exaggerated statements to garner attention for our particular opinion or perspective. And this article does that by first of all naming the one of the most famous tech companies in the world, and then (in my humble opinion) misinterpreting or misapplying a study done by Google and finally pairing this with an extreme statement aren't the most important…
But let's look closer at this topic and maybe even read the original study! Read More...
I don't think anyone would question that soft skills are important to businesses that innovate and create. Whether you could say they are more important than technical knowledge is really questionable though! It isn't an either/or situation; the synergy is found in individuals that possess both soft and technical skills.
Developing A Healthy Self-Image
Here is the story of one STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) activity for creating stronger students.
Early in my teaching career, I heard students say things such as:
- I am not good at (subject area).
- I cannot do (subject).
- This makes no sense to me.
- I am not a (subject) person.
The students had reached a self-image wall: Read More...
Their self-image had gone from Let's Try! –> to –> I can't!
A Buzz Worthy Strategy to Help Motivate Students
Although it is not a new idea - educators internationally are developing badging systems to recognize, identify, and motivate learners. It is one of the strategies embedded in the Gamification of Curriculum.
A STEAM Badging Program at Stone Magnet Middle School.
We would like to amend our Laptop Policy regarding the customization of the laptop covers for students to permit school-provided badges to be displayed on the top cover. This would be a means of gamifying our curriculum. It would be analogous to Scout Merit Badges, Fighter Pilot Kills, notches on the belt or feathers in the headband.
We would like to limit this initiative particularly to Digital Literacy accomplishments and statuses, although digital skills being used in exemplary curriculum products is certainly encouraged. Most of these challenges will be accomplished on student’s own time after they have completed their classwork, before or after school. We are inviting comment on as well as suggestions for a limited number of badges for this initiative.
We must stress that only officially approved badges are permitted to be adhered to the cover of the laptops. We want to insure not only is there space, removability, and appropriateness, but we want to also increase the value and control the scarcity of these recognitions.
Make learning, achievement, skill attainment visible. Unlike digital badges, these are more visible for peer students and educators in one's physical vicinity.
Celebrate achievement, erect a monument!
Encourage peer support (students can see which peer to go to for help).
Help teachers identify student leaders, mentors.
Ironically, when one considers the definition, it is really not a pleasant term.
I just hope that by sharing this one more time, one more place that we can move the pendulum back to a more centrist position. We -the public, the citizens- should be involved and aware of the Public Education System – whether we have or don't have children:
- Public education is a large part of the state and local budget. You are paying for this. It is an an expensive endeavor.
- Public education is one of the answers to social stability. (Notice I didn't say the answer.)
Reflect on how different this world is from 10 years ago - before smart phone / tablet technology. Or how different the world is from 20 years ago with the eruption of the World Wide Web; or 30 years ago with the personal (consumer) computer revolution. How we communicate, learn from and with each other, collaborate, research, shop, aggregate, curate, discern… almost everything is very different. We cannot expect to teach as we were taught.
Granted, there is considerable disparity between schools, school systems and segments of societies. Most classrooms, most days are not significantly different today than they were 40 years ago, especially with regard to what the students are doing. At educational conferences, we see great examples of modern learning activities, but there is that nagging feeling that this only represents a small group of students and often only for a week or two out of the entire year.
My essential question after attending the tech conferences is:
How do we enhance education in a systemic fashion, and sustainable fashion?
Earlier this year, a good friend and fellow ADE Lucy Gray published an About.com article: Tips for Educational Technology Coaches that provided some great suggestions about pursuing excellence as a Technology Leader in the local school.
For me this article triggered a question:
Do education policy makers recognize just how important a Technology Specialist, Technology Integrator, or Technology Innovation Coach is at the local school level?
Here is a list of my summary comments:
- The idea that learning occurs on a schedule, in a standardized fashion for all students is ill informed.
- The legitimacy of using a single test given one time and one time only is not a legitimate way to grade instruction nor the instructor.