Why all students should learn Computational Thinking+ #29

+ Dec 2021 Residential Program | External Events

Quote of the Week

Computational thinking is going to be needed everywhere. And doing it well is going to be a key to success in almost all future careers. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, farmers, whatever. The future of all these professions will be full of computational thinking. Whether it’s sensor-based medicine, computational contracts, education analytics or computational agriculture — success is going to rely on being able to do computational thinking well.

-Stephen Wolfram, Renowned Computer Scientist, Physicist and Business man


Hi, this is the GenWise team- we bring out this newsletter to help parents and educators to complement the work of formal schools and associated systems. We can help our children thrive in these complex times only by exchanging ideas and insights and collaborating on this.

This week’s main post, ‘Why all students should learn Computational Thinking’ is from Sonia Garcha of CSpathshala, who are doing great work on enabling schools to teach computational thinking at all levels. Computational thinking is widely confused with programming, whereas, as Stephen Wolfram says “its intellectual core is about formulating things with enough clarity, and in a systematic enough way, that one can tell a computer how to do them.” Increasingly, less and less code will be required to tell a computer how to do something.

You are invited to be an early member and beta-tester of the GenWise Club (ages 13-90), a community of interested students, parents, and educators. Check out this link for more about the club and how to join it. It is open to all in the current beta phase. 

Join this conversation on learning, by commenting on our posts, or joining our club community for more regular and closer interactions.

Do block 6 PM, Oct 29 for the inaugural expert talk of the Gifted India Network by Dr. Paula Olszewski-Kubelius, Head of the Center for Talent Development, Northwestern University on ‘The Importance of Non-Cognitive Skills in Talent Development’. More details in the Upcoming Events Section.

Contents

  1. Why all students should learn Computational Thinking

  2. Book on Computational Thinking

  3. GenWise Residential Program, Dec 2021

  4. Upcoming External Events

Why all students should learn Computational Thinking

‘Mathematical and Computational Thinking’ is one of the 5 tracks of the GenWise Curriculum. CSpathshala, an ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) India education initiative with a mission of developing computational thinking skills among all children in India has done pioneering work in this area. They also conduct the International Bebras Computational Thinking Challenge every year- an engaging contest that excites children about computational thinking. Sonia Garcha of CSpathshala writes below about what computational thinking is (as distinct from programming), why all students should learn it and shares tips on resources and how to get students excited about this domain.

Should computational thinking be taught in school?  Is the goal only to get more students to take up computer science/ coding as a profession, or is it a basic skill that all students need to know, like mathematics, science, languages and social sciences?

 “Computer science” is generally interpreted as the study of computers and has focused mainly on usage of computers, platforms and the Internet in urban private schools. The emphasis is on dissecting a computer and memorizing terms such as CPU, RAM and hard disk, reducing the subject to a taxonomy of body parts. Programming is reduced to a set of 10 or 12 standard problems for which “ideal” solutions are to be memorized and reproduced in an exam. The massive government school system typically introduces computers only at the secondary or higher secondary school level. All this is set to change, with the advent of the National Education Policy 2020, which advocates computational thinking and coding throughout the school years.

What is computational thinking (CT)?

American computer scientist Jeannette Wing popularized CT in 2006.  Simply phrased, CT is a process that enables us to take a complex problem, understand it and develop possible solutions in a way that a computer, a human, or both, can understand how to implement the solution. CT is all about logical reasoning and problem solving. At its core is the idea of an algorithm — a systematic description of how to solve a problem. Woven into this is the notion of efficiency — how much time does it take, what resources do you need, can you make the process simpler, faster, more robust?

Why all school students should learn CT?

Computational thinking (CT) is an analytical thinking skill that draws on concepts from computer science but is a fundamental skill useful for everyone. New disciplines have come up in the past decade or so due to the advancement in computational methods. There is hardly any profession where computers and computational methods are not used, be it biology, health, retail, transportation, history, journalism, finance, or archaeology. For example, biologists today can build computational models and simulations of living systems- of the liver, of cancer cells etc. and study their behaviour without conducting experiments on actual animals.

Tools extend the power of the human mind. The invention of the zero and the decimal system made multiplying large numbers easier. The invention of algebra and calculus changed the way scientists and engineers approached problems. Thus, thinking and solving problems effectively in this century requires students to understand ‘how computers think’ and how we can leverage their capabilities. Students who can think computationally are able to conceptualise, understand and use technology, helping them to be better prepared for a future in which computers are used in every field. This is why it becomes imperative that school students learn CT.

We would argue that a basic level of computational thinking is already a core skill- like reading, writing and arithmetic. And for those who have a deeper interest in this area, there’s a lot more they can learn at the school and college level, irrespective of the subject they choose.

Teaching computing without the use of computers

Much of school mathematics already involves executing algorithms — long division, taking square roots, computing GCD and LCM. However, because these procedures have to be blindly followed, CT skills are not developed if these are taught in a standard fashion. Similarly, in our experience, many ‘programmers’ who write code, can actually be quite poor at logic and computational thinking, following some procedures blindly. This is because they have been taught a plethora of programming languages with a focus more on the syntax of a programming language instead of being taught programming and algorithmic thinking. It is more important to build strong foundations in CT first, and experts say that learning CT without using computers in the beginning builds logical reasoning and algorithmic thinking.

CT can be taught as a series of interesting, engaging and fun activities without computers. This avoids confusing Computer Science with programming or learning application software and also makes the activities available to those children who do not have access to computers. It also helps to overcome the hurdle of having to learn to program before being able to explore ideas and articulating solutions as algorithms. As students work on such activities, they soon realize that they are capable of finding solutions to problems on their own, rather than being given a solution to apply to the problem.

For example, children can play the game of Tic-Tac-Toe and then develop the rules of the game and winning strategies from observation. Another example is the activity ‘Guess my birthdate’ which is enjoyed by students across all classes with a  goal of guessing  a number between 1 to 31. 

This activity is conducted with a student as a robot answering the questions with a “yes” or a “no” and a group of students in the guessing team  who ask the questions until they guess the birthdate. The learnings are that there are multiple solutions to solve this problem and some solutions are better than the others and how a systematic approach helps eliminate numbers with each question. Teachers have shared how this activity helps overcome the fear of math and helps reinforce math concepts. This game is a simple example of a binary search process. CT includes not only such a methodology for problem solving but also ways of comparing solutions and evaluating them.

Schools and parents can access our CT curriculum and use the teaching aids shared therein to help children learn CT.

ACM India’s CSpathshala initiative

Tamil Nadu state education department has adopted CT as part of the math curriculum across 40,000 schools. Additionally, 400,000 students from 750 schools in 11 states in India are learning CT through activities as part of CSpathshala, Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) India’s education initiative.  CSpathshala has adopted the unplugged activity-based approach to teach CT without the use of computers. We want to convey that computing concepts and fundamentals do not depend on a particular technology or software or programming languages.

How do we excite students about computing?- The Bebras Challenge

Bebras (​www.bebras.org​) is an international student Computational Thinking Challenge organised in over 60 countries to motivate students to learn CT and is an excellent vehicle to spread the message about the need to incorporate computational thinking in the school curriculum. It is designed to get students all over the world excited about computing and learn about computational thinking and problem solving skills. The free Bebras India Challenge 2021 will be held from 15th-27th November, 2021. For more details, check the Upcoming Events section.

Book on Computational Thinking

Computational Thinking: A Primer for Programmers and Data Scientists is a great book written by G Venkatesh and Madhavan Mukund, and can be ordered here on our website. It is accessible to high school students who are interested in the subject.

GenWise Residential Program, Dec 2021

With the COVID situation showing significant improvement, we will be running a 2-week residential program from Dec 18-30, 2021. Our residential programs are much more than the ‘academic enrichment component’ the courses represent. The benefits of attending a GenWise Residential Program are highlighted here. The recommended duration is 2 weeks, though participants are free to choose either week. 2 course options are offered each week. Early bird offers are available for registrations completed before Nov 15, 2021.

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Upcoming External Events

The below events are free to attend unless otherwise specified.

  1. Science of Pistol Shooting- This week’s edition of ‘Talk to a Scientist’ features Kashish Methwani- a national-level pistol shooter and science student! He will talk about the science behind pistol shooting, and how understanding science can better sport performance. This interactive session is targeted at children from ages 6-16 . On Sat, Oct 23, 2021 at 5 PM IST Register here.

  2. The Importance of Non-Cognitive Skills in Talent Development

    This is the inaugural expert talk of the Gifted India Network by Dr. Paula Olszewski-Kubelius, Head of the Center for Talent Development, Northwestern University on Fri, Oct 29 at 6 PM IST.

    3 types of questions spring to mind when we think about developing children's talents-

    1. Is giftedness natural ability or achievement or both? Can you start gifted and become 'un gifted'?

    2. How does one translate potential into achievement? What is the process of talent development?

    3. I am providing my child opportunities I never had- but she doesn't focus, she gets anxious... What's going on?

    This session will address all 3 questions and particularly the importance of psychosocial skills in talent development.

    A  large component of developing talent into high achievement in school  and productive careers in adulthood are psychosocial skills such as  optimism, effort, resiliency, openness to feedback and challenge. In  this session we will discuss how parents can cultivate these skills in  their children so as to maximize their talents and abilities.

    The details of the talk and the registration form are available here.  The talk is relevant to both parents and educators.

  3. Bebras India Challenge 2021, (www.bebras.in) is organized by CSpathshala. Nearly 1.8 lac students from 647 schools participated in this challenge in 2019 and even in 2020, during the pandemic, 1 lac students participated.

    Bebras challenges are made of a set of short problems called Bebras tasks. The tasks are fun, engaging and based on problems that Computer Scientists enjoy solving and require logical thinking and can be solved without prior knowledge of computational thinking. ​The aim is to solve as many as you can in the allotted time. See a sample task in the flyer below.

    Bebras India Challenge 2021 will be held from 15th-27th November, 2021!  It's free and will be open for age groups 8-18, classes 3rd to 12th, offered in English, Gujarati, Marathi, Kannada, Odia, Tamil and Telugu. Registration is through schools only. Register your school on : https://iur.ls/bebrasindia . If you are a parent and your school hasn’t invited your child to take part in this, please forward this information to theml and request them to register.