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Benefits of Explicitly Teaching Computational Thinking

Benefits of Explicitly Teaching Computational Thinking

Districts with computer science and coding programs are seeing positive impacts on student learning and behavior. Researchers believe it is due to the explicit teaching of computational thinking skills through STEAM and coding.

As the world changes, education adapts. In this post-pandemic era, school district areas of concern  include student learning gaps in core subject areas, social emotional growth, 21st century skills, and college and career readiness, just to name a few. And the data is clear: what most districts are currently doing is not closing gaps as quickly as most educators would like.

Cornerstones and Early Adoption

Computational Thinking: Why Early Adoption Makes All the Difference defines the cornerstones of computational thinking including:

  • Decomposition: breaking down a complex problem or system into smaller, more manageable parts
  • Pattern recognition: looking for similarities among and within problems
  • Abstraction: focusing on the important information only, ignoring irrelevant detail
  • Algorithm:s developing a step-by-step solution to the problem, or the rules to follow to solve the problem

As shown in the article Computational Thinking in K–12: A Review of the State of the Field, researchers have found that these processes can aid students’ understanding of many academic domains such as mathematics, science and language.

Students practicing computational thinking skills through coding

The Benefits of Explicitly Teaching Computational Thinking

Explicitly teaching computational thinking through STEAM and coding allows for students to clearly understand the components and more easily apply them to other areas of school and life. 

Results from 34 studies showed that computational thinking and academic achievement were positively correlated as shown in Computational Thinking – The K-12 Educational Technology Handbook. Integrating computational thinking into traditional core and elective subject areas can help students to make important cross-curricular connections, improve their academic performance, and develop important skills for creating solutions in the wide variety of vocations in which they will one day engage.

Learning computational thinking can also benefit students both economically. Each year there are far more computing jobs added than there are computer science graduates, with significant job growth projected for the foreseeable future as shown in the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018. Explicitly teaching computational thinking and computer science skills better prepares students for college and careers.

Studies including The Effect of Year-long Training on Elementary Teacher Self-efficacy and Beliefs About Teaching Computing and Engineering and Computational Thinking for Teacher Education have also linked a host of academic benefits to learning computational thinking, including improvement in student engagement, motivation, confidence, problem-solving, communication, and STEM learning and performance. These academic benefits are becoming increasingly valuable in a post-pandemic world.

Computational Thinking Doesn’t Need to Be One More Thing

With research showing positive academic outcomes, why don’t all districts implement STEAM and coding for all grade levels? Of course, time is a factor. Educators don’t have time in their school day to add “one more thing”. Also, using precious instructional minutes on something they may not be confident teaching is a risk many are not willing to take.

However, there are STEAM and coding solutions available that provide  confidence in teaching and integrate into core subjects with ease. What to look for in a STEAM and coding solution and how to best incorporate it into your environment is a great place to start when you are ready. Feeling supported will assure confident implementation as well.

Two amazing educators from State College Area School District, Kristen Albright and Tara Pollick, presented a webinar, “Sparking Joy with Computational Thinking” and shared student work that aligns with the cornerstones of computational thinking. They taught the STEAM lesson, “The Lighthouse“, that includes coding and can be incorporated into a science block due to its foundation in science standards.

During this SAM Labs STEAM lesson for Grade 4, students gained understanding of how light reflects off objects and enters the eye allowing objects to be seen. Students also integrated and exhibited learning by building and programming a ‘lighthouse’ to test how light is reflected.

Computational thinking is taught effortlessly through this student-centered lesson.

SAM Labs Sparking Joy Presentation (1)

See how easy it is to integrate STEAM, coding, and computational thinking with our sample lesson content.