Programming: for the mindset, not just the job market

In the time since I’ve started this blog, teaching kids to code has gotten really…well, trendy. Yet, from what I’ve seen and heard, probing into the reasons people think we should teach programming are connected to the future of the job market.

But there’s a lot more to it than that. Getting students programming, when done well, helps them develop computational thinking, a set of skills and approaches that are relevant to just about any field of study or career. Computational thinking as a mindset is the ability to look at a problem and say, “I have the tools to solve this: I can break it into steps, and I can compare them to problems I know how to solve. I can evaluate my process, and I can find and fix errors. I can persevere when it’s tough. I can work with others who have different ideas, and I know that the best work often comes from collaborating with them.” In a nutshell, it’s the stuff math teachers are referring to when they say, “Look, even if you never solve a system of two equations again, the way of thinking you’re learning from algebra is useful later in life.”

Furthermore, though, and perhaps more importantly, that mindset is not just relevant to other content areas – it can be taught and/or reinforced there too. Based on that belief, two fellow members of the Minnesota Coding in the Classroom Cohort and I gave a presentation today at the MN STEM Network Conference entitled Computational Thinking as a Habit of Mind. And since I had intended to make #tooltimetuesday a regular feature on this blog a hundred million years ago, I thought I’d pass along the resource list we shared with attendees. It contains instructions for the four unplugged (meaning computer-free) activities we did as part of our session, a Padlet containing a graphic that breaks down computational thinking and participants’ thoughts on where those elements appear in their career or content area, and a list of further sources to explore.

If you check it out, note that it’s intended to be a living document – feel free to add resources of your own, favorite computational thinking activities, or ideas for how to adapt activities to be relevant to your content area! Alternatively, leave some love in the comment section: which aspects of computational thinking do you see in your own life or line of work?

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