Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Week 12 readings

This week we will be talking about computational thinking. As Jeanette Wing describes it, computational thinking is the “thought process involved in formulating problems and their solutions so that the solutions are represented in a form that can be effectively carried out by an information-processing agent.” I thought this description perfectly defines the scientific practices that we’ve been learning all semester. It applies to the practices because first the students have to identify a problem, identifying necessary parts through the process of “abstraction” where they learn to think like experts in peeling away superficial features to put only relevant and important elements into programming. From that students can try to make a model through programming to make sense of data and then make their own representation from their outputs. I think computational thinking could be a really good complement to science learning, especially in situations such as learning about kinetics or ecological systems as described in the article. Personally the only sort of computer programming I’ve done was AP computer science in high school where we worked with C++, a programming language. It was text-based and very abstract and while it helped us think more logically, it felt like an end to itself instead of a means to help us understand more about other subjects, such as science. In essence it was not very cross-disciplinary. However, I question how to integrate computational thinking into a science classroom. I have not used any of the programs described in the articles, so I don’t know how much of it consists of “true” programming versus plugging in variables and adjusting sliders. I wish the articles had given us an example of computational thinking forming a part of a science classroom in a more practical, day-to-day sense. However, the idea of it is very attractive to me indeed.


  1. I also wish the articles had given better examples of true translation. You have much more experience with computer programming than I do! I definitely think knowing more about it would make me a better scientist because I could look at my data in a different way. So I like the idea of using computational thinking for it's creative, data driven aspects but worry that it might overshadow more hands-on, lab based learning.

  2. I agree that most CS courses don't really directly influence any other disciplines, but as Rebecca said I think the mere process of learning CS lends a different approach to analyzing and manipulating data and solving problems. I would think that there is a way to teach the problem solving process so integral to CS without spending hours fussing over the more specific syntactic aspects of CS.

  3. I agree that syntax can get in the way of integrating CT into science classes, because if CS is completely new to students, then they might get caught up in the details. Some programs like starLOGO have simplified the process so that chunks of code are hidden underneath "blocks" that students can drag around.