Wolfram Language for Teaching Computational Thinking to K-12 Learners

Wolfram Language for Teaching Computational Thinking to K-12 Learners

Alyson Gamble (Wolfram Research, Champaign, IL, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 9
DOI: 10.4018/IJPOP.2017010103
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Abstract

Computational thinking is a necessary skill, but developing it among young learners can be a difficult process. Wolfram Research, known in part for its accessible Wolfram Language and complex computational tool Mathematica, has recently developed new initiatives for introducing computational thinking to novice learners. These tools help make computational thinking accessible to students across the K12 curriculum.
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Background

In 1962, envisioning how machine automation would impact the world, Alan Perlis asserted that programming should be part of a liberal education (Guzdial, 2008, p. 25). Steve Jobs, who many considered a visionary in the digital world, said as much when asked in an interview what he did or used programming for when he was an adolescent: “(You use) it to be a mirror of your thought processes. To learn how to think. I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer. To learn how to think” (Jobs, 1995).

Programming, or coding as some in curriculum design now prefer to call it, is one way to develop and utilize computational thinking, but programming it is not the only purpose of computational thinking, and should arguably be introduced before learners understand basic computational thought processes (Fletcher & Lu, 2009, p. 24; Grover & Pea, 2013, p. 40). Computational thinking, or problem solving by framing questions in a way that can be communicated to a computer, is essentially “thinking like a computer scientist when confronted with a problem” (Grover & Pea, 2013, p. 39). A computational thinker can efficiently and systematically process information and tasks (Fletcher & Lu, 2009, p.23). Computational thinking is not just applicable to computer science; it allows for innovation in other fields, including business and the fine arts (Grover & Pea, 2013, p. 39).

Bringing computational thinking to K-12 education was originally suggested in the early 1980s by Seymour Papert, leading to a significant pedagogical foundation, but it has not become a required piece of many country’s curriculum (Grover & Pea, 2013, p. 38). With packed schedules, K-12 educators often lack the time to integrate what some consider a completely new concept. Additionally, there is some misunderstanding about computational thinking itself and how it differs from other science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) thinking and frameworks. Computational thinking is distinct from other STEM frameworks because it relies on information processes. In part because computational thinking has been associated with academic computer science departments rather than K-12 classrooms, the majority of research done on computational thinking has been conducted in undergraduate environments (Grover & Pea, 2013). Nonetheless, it has considerable potential to loosely integrate all of those subjects and more, as a foundational subject in a forward-thinking curriculum.

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