Sunday, June 16, 2019

Computational Thinker: Unpacking ISTE Student Standard #5

Help your students think like a robot? What is the value in that? Sequential, computational thinking allows students to understand the reasons computers do the things they do. Learning how to think computationally allows users to get the most of their tools. In a tech-rich environment, this looks like teaching students coding, or introducing them to spreadsheet functions to analyze data, or using 3D printers to create models for learning different components in order to answer a bigger problem.

But what does a non-tech classroom look like that teaches computational thinking? I mean, the word "computer" is in the goal?! Believe it or not, it can be done with something as inexpensive as paper, markers, and Solo cups. So let's discuss this unplugged party! One of the goals of computational thinking is to help students think about complex problems in smaller increments.

  • Start with explaining binary code by having students draw their name with each letter's code being represented with a different color. Or, create a necklace using straw pieces that spell out something using the binary code ASCII alphabet. This begins the process of understanding that computers talk to each other based on a certain "code."
  • You don't have to have computers or bots to teach coding. Put different colored dots or Solo cups on the ground and ask your students to get from point A to point B, C, etc by mapping it out. Working in pairs or small groups is great for this endeavor! But how does that relate to your high school English class or your Spanish 2 class? How often do you give your students an assignment and they jump important parts of the process, or miss key moments that foreshadow something that changes the whole direction of the book? When you are teaching directions and common words in a foreign language, what if the students actually mapped it up in the language and learned to code at the same time? 
Does teaching this standard seem like a stretch to you? I hear teachers say all the time, "I love the things I find on Pinterest and see teachers doing on Twitter but I can't figure out how to do the 'fun stuff' and still teach my curriculum too. How are they doing that?" The answer is CREATIVITY. I've seen kids code Dash and Dot robots to a certain location in the classroom, open up an envelope and find the next spelling word to add to their piece of paper. Turn the mundane into a mini-lesson. You don't have to have a robot to do that, use the unplugged version mentioned above!

Are you students studying something in your classroom that happened in Germany? Have students create a "code" with one block equalling X many miles to get from your classroom to the location. Then as a class, go to and have students look at a newspaper during that time period in that area versus your area and then make deductions on the differences of the cultures through the lens of what you are currently discussing in class. Coding is a great way to start the process of setting the plot, setting, and theme.

So some of you have plowed through the above ideas and thought "Yeah, but why add that level of extra work to my lesson plans?" I get it, I struggled with that as well and then I saw the engagement that happened when a teacher didn't just say "Today we are going to read ______, it takes place in ________ in the 20th century." But do it not only for engagement but also because you see the value of those ISTE Standards for Students as a way of making sure your students are prepared for the road ahead of them. Even if your classroom doesn't have ready access to technology or you don't know the first thing about coding a computer.

In 1999 the U.S.Department of Labor said 65% of today's grade-school children will end up in jobs that have not been invented yet. ( Folks, that was 20 years ago! We have to help students think computationally. It isn't about an iPad, Chromebook, laptop, or wearable technology. As Tom Murray said at FETC 2017, "The technology our students are using today is the worst technology they will ever use." We have to prepare them for that unknown to the best of our abilities. We are living in a world of accelerated change!

I personally am greatly intrigued by the idea of enhancing the classroom setting by using voice speakers such as Echo Dots and Google Assistants. I find myself longing for the knowledge of how to code for these devices to better equip classrooms with personalized Alexa Skills and Google Actions. In a very real way, I am seeing how focusing on ISTE Student Standard #5 would have benefited me as a student for my future.
No Tech Low Tech High Tech