Jan 23 2019

5 Ways K–12 Teachers Can Take a New Approach to Computational Thinking

ISTE has created a set of instructions to help K–12 teachers incorporate STEM into their daily curriculum.

New educational guidelines from ISTE stress the importance of contextualizing science, technology, engineering and math skills through everyday classroom activities. 

STEM courses are a central component to K–12 learning, but incorporating STEM into the classroom can be difficult. At one time, educators believed STEM was best taught through classes specific to these subjects. 

However, K–12 teachers and researchers are discovering that mixing STEM instruction with regular coursework gives students a chance to use real-world issues to better absorb the material

This development in computational thinking pedagogy has spurred ISTE to redesign its best practices.

“The ISTE Computational Thinking Competencies are designed to prepare students with the skills needed to solve problems of the future,” said ISTE CEO Richard Culatta as he announced the new guidelines. “The CT Competencies provide a framework to help teachers leverage computational thinking across all areas of the curriculum, not just in CS classes.”

MORE FROM EDTECH: K–12 teachers find creative ways to put computer science into their programs.

5 Roles Educators Play When Teaching Computational Thinking

To help teachers with this multidisciplinary approach, the final draft of ISTE’s STEM teaching guidelines cover the five different roles educators play in the classroom: 

  1. Learner: Teaching computational thinking is as much a learning exercise for educators as it is for their students. Teachers will need to boost their own competencies in data analysis, abstraction and algorithm design. To do so, ISTE recommends teachers reach out to their colleagues and local technology coaches for advice. In addition, they should be practicing ways to incorporate computer science into their lessons by thinking of discipline-specific intersections. 

  2. Equity Leader: All students are capable of becoming computational thinkers, and it is up to educators to give each student that chance in the classroom. Educators can build students’ self-confidence by maintaining communication and encouraging all students to take some control of their own learning. Personalized learning tools provided through one-to-one device programs have proved to be a great help in fostering classroom equity. Another approach is incorporating makerspace tools like littleBits to let students experiment on their own. 

  3. Collaborator: Incorporating projects that facilitate collaboration skills will help students develop new computational ways of thinking, as well as crucial social-emotional learning skills. Many modern classroom designs enhance collaborative learning through flexible classroom furniture, interactive HDTVs and improved Wi-Fi capabilities. 

  4. Designer: One of the best ways to develop computational thinking is through hands-on projects. ISTE encourages teachers to design curricula that put data into students’ hands to create art projects or solve global problems. Introducing mixed reality devices and virtual reality content creation is another way teachers can design a learning environment that encourages creativity and student agency. 

  5. Facilitator: According to ISTE, teachers can facilitate computational thinking through a balance of student empowerment, and formative and alternative assessments. For example, teachers can assign a project that focuses on using foundational STEM skills to approach issues students care about. During this project, teachers can pepper in digital formative assessments to test how students are absorbing computational thinking methods.

To plan a successful computational thinking curriculum, teachers will need to wear each of these hats, according to ISTE. Teachers who have already incorporated these guidelines agree that STEM instruction is necessary to prepare students for the future. “

Regardless of what your content area is, computer science and the use of technology are an integral part of our students’ learning,” Eric Anderson, math instructor at KM Perform, a charter school within the Kettle Moraine School District in Wisconsin, told ISTE. “It may not be the center of your content, but it is helping your content move forward.”

MORE FROM EDTECH: Top tools to teach STEM in K–12.

PeopleImages/Getty Images

Learn from Your Peers

What can you glean about security from other IT pros? Check out new CDW research and insight from our experts.