Session 4 – Computational Thinking

Brennan and Reswick (2012)

Brennan and Reswick (2012) believe that programming with Scratch allows users to engage in active conversations about computational thinking. This was evident in Year 1 whilst my partner and I were creating out Scratch project; we actively engaged in conversations with one another about what we were doing, why we were doing it and how we were going to do it. We also discussed how we would overcome the problems that occurred. What my partner and I engaged in was ‘computational thinking practices’ which enabled us to create and design our game.

We were incremental and iterative by conversing with one another about what we wanted to include in our game, trying it out, and then adding further elements to it as we went along. We also tested and debugged our game many times; we had to find the root of the problem to be able to fix it and this consisted of taking apart the sequence and putting it back together in different ways we assumed would work until we were able to figure it out. I believe testing and debugging a Scratch project will also allow children to use this approach in other aspects of their school, and external school, life; children will start to think computationally about a problem and try to solve it in a similar way they would solve a problem on Scratch. My partner and I reused and remixed code we had seen Miles use for a game he had shown us during a lecture. This allowed us to build upon that sequence and develop it into something of our own. We also abstracted and modularized our code for particular sprites by separating the code into different parts so it would be easier to debug the script and so it was also easier for Miles and ourselves to read.

Therefore it may be effective to plan for children to work with a partner when they create their first major Scratch project in school. This enables children to bounce off each other and create something greater than what they could be able to create individually. Moreover, it allows children to engage in computational discussion with a partner who is engaging in the same experience.

Furthermore, I think Scrape is a good tool to use for assessing what a child has used, or not used, whilst making a project in Scratch. This enables the assessor to be able to identify areas of strength and areas which can be developed to help the learner improve their project, and more importantly, their computational thinking. If this can be used in schools, I don’t know, but it would be a beneficial tool to use.

I think I would find assessing children’s computational thinking whilst working on a Scratch project quite difficult, as realistically a teacher will be unable to listen to, and observe every conversation and action the learners are taking part in. For example, a child may create an amazing project but may not have contributed in any of the computational thinking discussions or been a part of the debugging process. Selby (2013) also believes that without a common definition of computational thinking, it will be difficult to assess appropriately; therefore if it is not included in the curriculum, it should be agreed on by all staff teaching computing in a school.

However, I believe Scratch to be an excellent programme for developing computational thinking in young people. Not only do people develop computational thinking for developing interactive media, they will be able to use these skills and transfer them to various other programming (and non-programming) contexts. Moreover, the attitudes and skills children acquire whilst engaging in computational thinking include making mistakes, perseverance, imagination, collaboration, pattern recognition, decomposition, algorithm design, and abstraction and generalisation (Briggs, 2013); these can also all be transferable to other various contexts.

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During this session we also looked at how a marble run can be used to support the learning and understanding of algorithms. We were given three challenges to complete with our groups. We used different computational thinking skills to complete these tasks, including: discussing with our group how we were going to create the marble run, trying it out and changing things if we needed to, and trying it out again. We also ‘debugged’ our marble runs if they were not working by trying to find the problem and then finding a solution. I believe this activity to be great to do with children in a primary school as it starts them off with the skills needed to be a computational thinker when creating a project on Scratch, for example.

CHALLENGE 1 – create a marble run that has 2 inputs and 1 output.

CHALLENGE 2 – create a marble run that has 1 input and 2 outputs.

CHALLENGE 3 – create a marble run which resembles the pattern shown on the interactive whiteboard.

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