Teaching Computational Thinking to Third-Graders

From the Paideia School Newsletter, March 2009:

Computational Thinking is a new way of solving problems that derives from computer science. It involves approaching problems in a systematic, step-by-step manner, and building up solutions to complex problems from smaller pieces. Nowadays, computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just computer scientists. Many educators argue that it should be part of every child’s education along with reading, writing and arithmetic.

Assisted by Georgia Tech computer science professor Dr. Ashwin Ram, a group of students in Kelly and Tony’s 3rd grade class at The Paideia School explored computational thinking over a four-week affinities session. The students built familiar computer games, including Etch-A-Sketch, Pong, and Tennis, and shared them with each other on a web site. They built the games not only from scratch but in Scratch, a new tool from MIT that is designed to enable young children design and build interactive computer programs.

In teams of two, the students played with algorithmic concepts including scripts, conditionals, and loops. They customized the look-and-feel of their games, built game characters called sprites, designed behaviors for their sprites, and added sounds for extra effect. They decided how their games would respond to the player and how to keep score. They tested, revised, tested again, revised again.

And when they were done, they shared their games for their classmates and anyone else to enjoy. They received some nice comments! You can try out their games yourself at scratch.mit.edu/users/kellytony.

Says Ashwin: “I received a wonderful set of thank you cards from my affinities group. What a nice surprise. One of the children wrote, “Those weeks were the best weeks of my life.” Wow. It was a great experience. The kids got a lot out of it — they learned something new, grappled with a new way of thinking about problems, and had fun at the same time. I know some of them will want to continue doing this, at least until they find their next passion! And I had a blast as well. Thank you, Kelly and Tony, for giving me this opportunity.”

Ashwin and Preetha Ram are the proud parents of three Paideia students, Naveen (3rd grade), Maya (6th grade), and Nikhil (12th grade). Ashwin can be reached by email (ashwin AT cc.gatech.edu), Twitter (@ashwinram), and LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/ashwinram). Scratch is freely available at scratch.mit.edu.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Andres Monroy-Hernandez on January 27, 2010 at 1:06 am

    Thanks for sharing. I loved the quote from that kid! We’re actually writing an NSF proposal this week about computational thinking…


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