Monday, November 29, 2010

Computational Thinking in Real-Life Projects

Isn't it surprising that with all the technology available to our students, fewer and fewer of them are pursuing education and careers that will have them inventing technologies? The U.S. talent pool from which the next innovations spring is shrinking and NCWIT By the Numbers (pdf) tells the story.
In the interest of changing this trend, Computer Science Education Week was born. From December 5-11 folks around the country are mobilizing to:
  • Eliminate misperceptions about computer science and computing careers
  • Communicate the endless opportunities for which computer science education prepares students within K-12, and into their higher education and careers
  • Provide information and activities for students, educators, parents, and IT professionals to advocate for computer science education at all levels
Visit the site and make a pledge to raise awareness of the role computing plays in all our lives and to promote computer science education for all students.

Here's where PBL comes in. All teachers (not just CS teachers!) have a role in developing the computational thinking patterns that are foundational to computer science.
"Computational thinking is a way of solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science. To flourish in today's world, computational thinking has to be a fundamental part of the way people think and understand the world."
The right learning opportunity combined with accessible technologies -from spreadsheets to Scratch to modeling software- can encourage the exploration of computational concepts during real-life problem solving. With more "computational thinking" experiences under their belts, it's likely more kids will see how harnessing the power of computer science can help them invent and improve their world.

One example? Middle school students in Ohio became concerned about broken city sidewalks that hampered mobility for senior and disabled citizens. By making an inventory of sidewalk quality and studying foot traffic patterns students were able to create a model that they presented to the city council in support of their recommendations for sidewalk repair. Identifying the problem so it could be studied through data inventory and analysis was just the start of the computational thinking involved in the sidewalk project. Determining how to associate foot traffic patterns and sidewalk quality was another computational challenge, as was how to best represent the problem in an infographic.

What aspects of your projects could be amped up to draw on and develop computational thinking?

Learn more about CT from Jeanette Wing:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Take a World Tour of Education

It's been a busy week, with stops in Turkmenistan, India, Australia, and the Mentawai Islands. And that was just Monday.
The first-ever Global Education Conference is underway from Nov. 15-19. This free virtual event has unleashed a world of learning opportunities for anyone with an Internet connection and a sense of curiosity. Sessions are running around the clock, with 400+ presenters eager to share their insights. Many are talking about global collaborative projects, which should be of particular interest to anyone who's involved in project-based learning.
This post for Edutopia covers all the basics, including links to recordings.
There's still plenty of time to take your own world tour. Where do you want to go next?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Today's News, Tomorrow's Projects?

In a post for Edutopia this week, I talked about developing "ripped from the headlines" projects, using the news as a launching pad for in-depth learning. The idea is to go beyond current-events discussions and bring students into the the role of problem-solver, analyst, or perhaps even advocate for change.
Conversations with teachers about this idea have me thinking about both opportunities and challenges. In a follow-up discussion on Teachers Teaching Teachers, for instance, Kevin Hodgson brought up the issue of how to fit in such projects, given the real constraints of time and curriculum. Matt Montagne emphasized the need for teachers (and students) to own a project idea if it's going to take hold. Chris Sloan cited the recent election season as an opportunity to use a real event to get students involved in a critical study of language.
In the comments to my Edutopia post, there were several inspiring examples of real-world projects--countered by a writer who argued for teaching basics first before launching into more contemporary topics in the classroom.
I'm eager to keep gathering examples of "ripped from the headlines" projects. What have you tried with your students? What were the pitfalls? The benefits? Let me know, and I'll share your wisdom in a follow-up post.