Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Encouraging Computational Thinking In Kindergarten

Young children are capable of engaging in rich computational thinking activities in the classroom. In emergent programs, the questions and wonderings children have about the world around them can easily be embedded into unplugged coding activities. Activities that incorporate computational thinking are often misinterpreted as 'more screen time' for young children, when in fact, all of the activities I use in my classroom to encourage computational thinking are screen-free without the need for computers or tablets.

Computational thinking is a foundation of computer science, and intricately related to many of the big math ideas and practices found in early childhood curriculum. It involves many concepts and approaches.

There are many different elements of computational thinking including:
  • using logic to predict and analyze when engaging in problem-solving
  • making judgments when faced with problems in order to evaluate what is happening and consider how to move forward
  • creating and following algorithms (or steps of action) in order to move through the problem solving process
  • using patterns in his/her work to find and use similarities efficiently 
  • deconstructing larger problems or actions into smaller, more manageable parts
  • filtering out information that isn't directly related to the problem or an efficient way of solving it

The computational thinker:
  •  tinkers with loose parts and other open-ended materials
  • designs innovative projects and follows through on creating them in some capacity
  • debugs by finding errors in his/her work and correcting them in order to move a project forward
  • perseveres and continues with projects even when they are challenging
  • collaborates with others as part of a team for the betterment of a project 
'Hour of Code' is December 9 to the 15 this year. Hour of Code originally started as a project to inspire people everywhere to spend one hour coding, in order to show that anyone, anywhere can code. It has become a world wide celebration of computational thinking and coding, and many global classrooms participate. 

Looking to engage children with computational thinking in your classroom? Here are some ideas to get you started. 

1. Use a read aloud to introduce the concept to children. Computational thinking can seem abstract, especially out of context. The book 'Think Like a Coder' introduces computational thinking to everyday activities that children experience including cooking, building, and even exploring the outdoors.
2. Look for everyday activities that naturally engage children in inquiry, problem solving, and computational thinking. Building with wooden blocks is a great start! Help children articulate the steps they took to build their structure, and ask them how they problem solved when difficulties arose with their creation (e.g., how they fixed a tower that kept falling over).

3. Provide STEM challenges to children. Ask them to use specific materials to achieve a certain goal, and encourage them to articulate the steps and criteria they used in order to be successful. In this photo a child turns a geoboard into a marble run maze. 


4. Introduce the idea of coding using arrow coding cards and positional language. Children can easily explore pathways by creating them using different building materials (e.g., blocks, legos, magnetic tiles) and then exploring direction of movement.


 5. Transfer coding into algorithms by helping children create and follow specific sequences of actions. Here children create and follow an 'exercise code' where they must look at each line of code in the script, and follow the movements precisely.


Computational thinking is a versatile, foundational approach to learning that helps engage children in rich mathematical activities. As Hour of Code approaches be sure to check out my twitter and instagram @McLennan1977 for more ideas on how to bring computational thinking and coding to your early years and primary classroom. 

Let's connect! Have a great idea to share? Leave it below in the comment section or tweet me and use the hashtags #kindercoding #joyfulmath #HourofCode and #MTBoS!

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