From our Educator Guest Blogger Series
Forging “Magic Hammers”: How Computational Thinking Can Enhance Students’ Problem Solving Skills
Marvel Studios has had major success in developing movies that depict superheroes battling super villains. I would like to briefly focus on one specific hero known as Thor. In the fight against evil, Thor wields a “magic hammer” called Mjolnir. Whenever he finds himself in a perilous situation, Thor stretches out his arm and Mjolnir readily flies into the palm of his hand. Thor and his “magic hammer” is analogous to the potential relationship between students and computational thinking. Just as a blacksmith applies a mold to shape and design a hammer, computational thinking can serve as a mold or template for students to follow when they engage in solving complex tasks.
What is Computational Thinking?
Contrary to what many people may believe, computational thinking does not require students to think like a machine or become expert computer programmers. Computational thinking is a framework for solving problems systematically. It is a problem solving approach that focuses on critical and logical thinking. This approach allows students to design, develop, and utilize strategies that take advantage of the unique capabilities offered by digital devices and technology.
Why Computational Thinking?
When students model, analyze, and organize information, they are thinking computationally. While many may agree on the usefulness of these skills, there is less agreement on how to train students to apply them successfully. We expect our students to persevere in problem solving and stand up to the challenges of increased rigor. While these are commendable goals for student achievement, in many cases, educators fail to provide students with the tools or “magic hammers” that will help them reach these expectations.
How can I use my new “magic hammer”?
The four elements of computational thinking include abstraction, algorithmic thinking, decomposition and pattern recognition. These elements can be applied in all subject areas across the curriculum.
Decomposition means dividing a system or problem into smaller more manageable parts. The parts can then be evaluated separately thus making complex problems easier to solve and systems easier to design or develop.
Pattern recognition involves finding the similarities or characteristics that can be utilized in problem solving. Pattern recognition is beneficial in formulating rules and generating algorithms.
Algorithms are the rules, procedures, or steps in the problem solving process that always provide the same result or outcome. Recipes, storyboards, directions, and lesson plans are examples of algorithms.
Abstraction is the process of simplification and identification of relevant details. This is the process of focusing on details that matter while ignoring details that are unimportant.
When students have a blueprint to follow for problem solving, it increases their confidence and the likelihood that they will be successful. While computational thinking is an effective model for addressing complex problems, it is not the only model. Other models include the scientific method which is used by scientists to answer questions about how the world works and design thinking which is used by engineers. While computational thinking can serve as a “magic hammer” for students, the scientific method and design thinking are also tools that can be used to complete students’ “magical toolboxes.
George Austin has worked in education for 14 years. He has taught on the middle school, high school, and college levels, teaching mathematics and educational pedagogy. He is currently serving as an Assistant Principal at Brewer Middle School in Greenwood 50. George obtained college degrees in electrical engineering, learner-centered instruction, school administration, and mathematics. As an educator, George describes himself as a cheerleader or “hype-man” who motivates students by building their self-confidence. He is also passionate about promoting culturally relevant pedagogy and the efficient use of educational technology.
TEDx Talks link: https://youtu.be/VUbAz4cjPX4
Note: This guest blog does not necessarily reflect the views of ETV Education.