It’s common to hear success stories of kids who are taught a skill or subject early in their development (such as learning a musical instrument or another language), and are now reaping the benefits. It’s no different with STEAM skills like computational thinking. Not only is it a useful approach to problem-solving for STEAM and coding, it can be applied to complex problems in all walks of life.
What is computational thinking?
Computers can help us to solve complex problems. However, the problem itself and ways it could be solved need to be understood by humans.
Computational thinking is the process where we take a complex problem, understand it and develop potential solutions, so we know what to tell a computer to do.
In this process, there are four cornerstones that must be applied – and in specific order:
- 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
- Algorithms – developing a step-by-step solution to the problem, or the rules to follow to solve the problem
Click here to dive deeper into the principles of computational thinking.
Why is computational thinking important early on in education?
Problem-solving is a part of life – something none of us can avoid! As computational thinking is used to solve complicated problems, the more we adopt it, the more equipped we are when a bigger challenge comes around.
Exercising computational thinking early on gives children the time to hone this skill for later life. The key is to start off small. They will learn to scrutinize basic problems in school and at home (such as how to understand and learn their times tables or cook a meal), and come up with appropriate solutions.
Fast-forward ten or fifteen years, and they’ll be taking problem-solving in their stride, applying the same strategies to a college coding project or a professional challenge like delivering a plan on budget.
How does computational thinking set us up for STEAM and coding success?
Computational thinking and coding go hand-in-hand – they’re both methodical frameworks involving trial and error. By practicing one, you can understand more about the other!
The coding process prompts students to consider all four cornerstones – breaking up the task into smaller components, reviewing similarities and differences in behaviors, focusing on specific required commands and actions, and building the code – step by step – so the technology performs the intended task.
As for STEAM learning, computational thinking is really beneficial on a practical level. A huge part of STEAM lessons is creation – of a product, a solution, a model, etc. Things can get hectic and messy, and computational thinking helps provide clarity. It gets students to consider the actions needed to achieve the end creation, the essential components of their design, the behavioral patterns of the tools they’re working with, and how everything needs to function as a whole. And when students hit a roadblock with their project, it provides an excellent framework to overcome it.
Want to hear other teachers’ thoughts on computational thinking? Check out what State College Area School District STEM teachers Kristen Albright and Tara Pollick had to say in our webinar, ‘Sparking Joy with Computational Thinking’.
SAM Labs can help you and your students achieve STEAM and coding success! Our solutions cover grades K-8, and we provide year-round support. Book a demo to learn more! If you’re an existing customer and need assistance, visit our Support Center.
Rosie is a writer and storyteller with a passion for tech and learning, with nearly a decade’s experience writing for small tech startups and large brands alike. In her free time she enjoys walks with her pet greyhound Boris, singing in a jazz quartet and making new music.