Why it’s Critical to Teach Children Computational Thinking (CT) Early
Today, children and adults alike interact with technology more than ever. Just think: how many children under 10 do you know that have their own phone or tablet?
(For us, it’s “plenty.”)
Now, how many children could explain the technology inside those devices?
Understanding how technology works, even at a basic level, gives children advantages. We’ve personally seen how making real-world connections enhances classroom engagement. Experts agree that learning to code is key to computer literacy – a big goal of many learning initiatives. This means it’s important to teach coding and computational thinking to children as early as possible.
The best place to start? Math, science, and engineering classrooms.
Computational Thinking and Child Development
Of course, computer literacy doesn’t mean teaching first graders how to code Java. The key to learning code is “computational thinking,” a term popularized by Jeannette Wing, VP of research at Microsoft. Here’s how Google Education defines it:
Computational Thinking (CT) is a problem solving process that includes a number of characteristics and dispositions. CT is essential to the development of computer applications, but it can also be used to support problem solving across all disciplines, including the humanities, math, and science. Students who learn CT across the curriculum can begin to see a relationship between academic subjects, as well as between life inside and outside of the classroom.
Computational thinking requires skills like logic, problem-solving, creative thinking, and organization. These are precisely the skills that give students the foundation they need to understand technology. Learning to code teaches these skills.
Of course, it’s not enough to encourage children to think computationally. Educators should incorporate computational thinking skills into formal math and science lessons. This takes them from abstract concepts to concrete developmental skills.
Bringing Code to the Classroom Through CT
So how can educators bring code into the classroom? How can they use coding lessons to teach computational thinking and computer literacy?
To be honest, we remember a time when terms like “computer literacy” felt confusing and scary. “Do we have to know how to code?” we thought. “What if I have not clue what all those ones and zeros mean?”
The good news is “code” is much simpler and accessible than what you see on TV.
“Code” is simply a set of instructions for a computer. With the right framework, learning (then teaching) these instructions becomes simple.
For example, nearly every one of our 150+ lessons uses coding in some way. But we’ve designed these lessons in a way that does most of the heavy lifting for you. You may edit some values and manipulate the code, but it will be in a controlled environment. It’s a safe, fun, and approachable way to become familiar with coding.
Along the way, students learn how computers think. This helps them structure their Lessons in a logical, organized way. As they practice problem-solving and creative thinking, they’re developing key skills.
Another way computational thinking benefits students? The actual process of creating. Coding requires the following:
- Analyzing results and identifying mistakes
Sound familiar? Compare that to the scientific method:
It’s the same principles, reinforced!
If children learn to approach problems in this way, they’ll be more prepared to internalize these skills. This helps them fix their own errors (or bugs) in every subject.
As students get older and begin coding, computational thinking skills pay off. Suddenly, lessons performed in grade school help them understand real programming languages.
Start Early to Maximize CT Benefits
Computer literacy is no longer an advantage for students in the twenty-first century – it’s required.
And it starts early. As soon as children start school, they should be learning and practicing skills in STEM contexts. This will give them the foundation they need to learn code later.