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How to Get Started with Computer Science

by | Dec 6, 2017 | News

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a conference call about the “CSforAll Summit 2017,” held in St. Louis this October.  Featured on the call was a surprise speaker – former President Barack Obama – who discussed his “Computer Science for All” initiative that helps students of all backgrounds and genders build key computational thinking concepts and foundational coding skills.

Since initiating Computer Science for All, at least 12 states have added computer science standards or initiatives, and interest in related activities like “Hour of Code” and “Computer Science Education Week” has soared.

Challenges to Getting Started

Despite the growing interest in computer science, there’s a hurdle. It’s often hard for educators to know where to start with computer science and coding education—especially for those who don’t have a formal computer science background or training.  If you feel this way, take heart: You can help your students think like computer scientists and build foundational coding skills without prior knowledge of these topics.

Building a Foundation

At Learning.com, we believe the place to start is with computational thinking.  Computational thinking combines critical thinking skills with the power of computing to help students develop habits of mind to think about solving problems like a computer does.  There are six key components:

  • Pattern Recognition – seeking similarities or patterns in a problem
  • Algorithmic Design – creating steps to complete a task or solve a problem
  • Modeling – developing representations of data or ideas related to the problem
  • Decomposition – breaking down a problem down into smaller parts
  • Abstraction – focusing on important ideas and deleting unnecessary ones
  • Assessing – using effective methods to test and evaluate a solution to a problem

Beyond Coding

Once students have computational thinking skills, they’re ready to build foundational coding skills by learning to code. However, these skills also become “habits of mind” that can be applied to build products or solve problems in any field or subject area.

Thinking computationally reinforces core (i.e., non-coding) concepts like the scientific method, hypothesis/conclusion, or writing process, for example. By providing students with a foundation in computational thinking, educators help them create innovative solutions for real-world challenges while simultaneously preparing them to code, too.

To gain a better understanding of computational thinking and get some ideas about how it can be integrated into core content instruction, click here to view an infographic and download your free unplugged computational thinking lessons.

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