IN CLASSROOMS around the world children are learning to code, building their own games and websites, even password encryption devices.
In the process of designing a simple video game or web application children are developing critical skills in problem solving that can be used across all subject areas, if only teachers knew how.
“We know that coding changes the way your brain is wired, the way you think, the way you see the world and engage with technology,” says Teaching Solutions director and education specialist Karen Cornelius.
“There is a lot that we are asking of teachers now, especially those who are not digital natives, to bring to the curriculum.”
Two years ago Cornelius accepted a position in Thailand, helping the teachers at an international school develop their use of digital technologies.
It was something of a career-change for Cornelius, who has a lifetime of experience implementing curriculums in South Australia as a ministerial advisor and district superintendent.
On reflection she says “there is a lot that we are asking of teachers now, especially those who are not digital natives, to bring to the curriculum.
“There is a real risk that teachers who don’t know much about this - because it’s not in their life experience – will grab at tools that they think will help them and potentially those things will be a bit like using a calculator without understanding maths.”
She says teaching children to code without teaching them how to think computationally is like teaching a child words in a new language without giving them the context in which to communicate.
“The code is just the tool… without giving them the context in which to use it, it’s just learning for the sake of learning,” she says.
Put simply, computational thinking is the process of approaching open-ended problems with multiple solutions, and can be broken down into four steps.
Children who are taught computational thinking learn to break problems into parts, organise data logically, interpret patterns and design algorithms.
On returning to South Australia, Cornelius started Teaching Solutions with her business partner Aidan Cornelius-Bell. It is an independent publishing company specialising in teaching resources.
Drawing on her background in curriculum integration and his skills in software development they are developing an online resource for teachers that demystifies computational thinking and gives teachers the tools they need to apply it in the classroom.
“Absolutely every learning area has opportunities to highlight this kind of thinking, from the arts to all of the sciences, computational thinking is absolutely embedded in it,” she says.
The app includes detailed lesson plans explicitly linked to the outcomes of the Australian Curriculum with rubric skills assessment requirements that teachers can use as a scaffold for marking.
“We’ll be looking at some of the things teachers generally do in the classroom such as reading a story to the class, and what they can do to help kids to think computationally,
“They might be comparing characters or comparing possibilities and looking at patterns in novels,” she said.
“Whenever they’re stuck, they can pull out their phone and the app will step them through the lesson plan in a really practical way that will lead even the most reluctant digital user into a rich experience for the kids.
In Australia, a recent review of the national curriculum added several new teaching areas to the curriculum including coding as new subject for 2016.
“Internationally people are saying we should have four Rs not three - Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Computational Thinking - the problem is there isn’t an R in computational thinking, but I am sure we can get creative,” said Cornelius.
“It’s what every young person who goes through our education system needs to come out with, and we are charged with how to do that,” she said.