Sunday, 9 October 2016

A plea to all teachers exploring new digital technologies for computational thinking

I am fresh back from Ulearn.  My presentation there centred around what I had seen at ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) in Denver this last June, compared to what I see happening in New Zealand and, the truth is, not much difference.
President Obama announced a new digital technologies curriculum in the US in January, and our own Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, announced the same, 6 months later here in NZ.  This is because both governments predict that in the near future there are many employment or commercial opportunities opening up for people with computational thinking skills.
So there has been a frenzy of robotics, coding and programming sales and promotion following up on those announcements, which was very noticeable in Denver but also here at Ulearn16.  There are Spheros and Ollies and Edisons and Little Bits and circuitry and AR (augmented reality) tools and VR (virtual reality) headsets and many other options available for teachers and schools who want to think about how to prepare for their digital technology curricula.
I have been trying to get my head around the difference between computational thinking and digital fluency.  Computational thinking is a way of thinking that can be used to solve problems.  Have a look at this excellent resource from Google. This screenshot from the ISTE video on Computational Thinking sums up the skills needed for computational thinking.
Digital fluency is the idea around the ease of use, speed, accuracy and comprehension of use of digital tools.  I have also been trying to get my head around the similarities and the convergence of the two concepts. You see, I have a fear that the new whizz bang technologies will become the interactive whiteboards of the future - ie not used mainly because the teachers didn't get or search out the professional development on how interactive whiteboards could be used to develop learning and/or did not pass the control of the learning power of the interactive whiteboards on to the learners.  What I mean is that, if teachers and leaders focus on learning how these things work and not letting the learners explore the possibilities in an appropriate context, then the whizz-bang things may be relegated to the back room top shelf where they cannot be destroyed by inquiring fingers.  And, yes, I have already heard of a full set of these devices being purchased and given to one department in a secondary school and stored away by that department because they did not use them.  Where was the planning and the cross-school consultation and decision making there?
So what to do?  According to this article from Beth Holland (Edutopia) the ultimate sign of technology fluency is the "ability to manipulate, transform and move information across various media and platforms" - definition supplied by Shawn McCusker.  This helps me understand the relationship between computational thinking and digital fluency.
So when you get home from Ulearn, loaded up with the Spheros, Ollies etc, give them out to your teachers, ask them to give them out to their students and for the LEARNERS to discover what they are and how they work and how they could be manipulated and transformed and translated into new outputs.  Let the learners inquire.  Report back what you find out about the power of computational thinking in your own professional inquiry and please share the stories.
And, ooops, I nearly forgot, here is a resource that you can use to teach computational thinking without a computer or device.