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Ed Tech Thoughts on the Space Coast
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Ed Tech Thoughts on the Space Coast

Inspiring Computational Thought

One of the relatively new educational buzzwords that I learned in my work with in 2013 was COMPUTATIONAL THINKING. Although's main goal was to expose more children to computer science (particularly girls and minorities), computational thinking is really the part of computer science that benefits all students even if they don't choose to continue with a computer science career or hobby.

So what is computational thinking? In general, it is a bit like thinking about how you think – particularly how you think about solving a problem – my cohort of educators called it METACOGNITION – and this is like METACOGNITION 2.0!

A superb resource for understanding computational thinking was published in 2016 by the renown computer scientist and mathematician: Stephen Wolfram's Wired essay How to Teach Computational Thinking

Computational thinking is really about thinking. It’s about formulating ideas in a structured way, that, conveniently enough, can in the modern world be communicated to a computer, which can then do interesting things.

Stephen Wolfram

Wolfram also believes that computational thinking is going to continue to grow in importance – to the point that everyone will ultimately need to use this approach for everyday life. Home automation, transportation, manufacturing, farming, project management are just a few examples of how we are structuring our activities using computers using artificial intelligence. Again from Stephen Wolfram's Wired essay How to Teach Computational Thinking:

…“computational thinking”… is about formulating things with enough clarity, and in a systematic enough way, that one can tell a computer how to do them. Programming — and programming education — have traditionally been about telling a computer at a low level what to do. But thanks to all the technology … one doesn’t have to do that any more. One can express things at a much higher level — so one can concentrate on computational thinking, not mere programming. Yes, there’s certainly a need for some number of software engineers in the world who can write low-level programs in languages like C++ or Java or JavaScript — and can handle the details of loops and declarations. But that number is tiny compared to the number of people who need to be able to think computationally…

Stephen Wolfram

In an age of automation, the automators will be the ones with the highest paying jobs.… except maybe for politicians, lawyers and entertainers.

What Are We Doing to Inspire Students to Problem Solve in a Computational Fashion

(or "Why I chose to create a Drone Obstacle Course Challenge")

What I am trying to accomplish with this student STEAM activity:
  • Engagement - Drones are one of the most fascinating categories of technology and robotics right now.
  • Three Dimensional Literacy - After becoming fairly competent in planar (two dimensional X-Y axis) digital design, I still remember the stretching of my abstract thought when going to three dimensional design.
  • Students Want Relevant Math - A recent survey found that students want more "out-of-the-box, creative, relevant" math activities in secondary schools.
  • Students need to exercise creativity and hone design skills - There should be a design component that the students get to create and build something.
  • STEAM relies on quantification and measurement – Science and Engineering requires this and students are not measuring enough stuff themselves!

What You Need

If you want to give your students the Drone Obstacle Course, feel free to borrow my activity guidelines and even modify them. I would love you to share this with your colleagues and give me some feedback!
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First Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
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