From the time we wake up in the morning and make an orange juice with the juicer until we go to sleep programming the alarm clock on our mobile device, we make daily use of the technology. Even so, in the vast majority of cases we are consumer agents, and we do not usually generate new contents. In a society where every day technology is making more progress in all areas, we have to consider how we can be active agents of it. As educators, we also have to teach our students how to become active agents too, so that they can acquire the basic technological skills and competences to be able to develop in their daily lives.
How to introduce technological skills into the school?
The answer is computational thinking, which involves solving problems, designing systems and understanding human behavior using the fundamental concepts of computer science, as stated by its main driver, Jeannete M. Wing. Anyone makes use of these methods and others on a daily basis: when a child goes to school in the morning, he puts into his backpack everything he will need that day, doing pre-fetching – a computer technique consisting of a “pre-load” of the content he will need later – and caching – a process of storing data in a cache, which is a temporary storage area, since he is aware from his experience that this need is imminent. If a child loses something, we suggest that he or she retraces his or her steps, making backtracking, a general algorithm for finding solutions. Any adult also makes use of these methods on a daily basis, often involuntarily – for example, when he or she chooses the fastest queue in the supermarket. In computational thinking, four phases are usually distinguished: decomposition of a complex problem into smaller and more manageable ones; recognition of patterns in the smaller problems to try to solve them in a similar way to others previously solved; abstraction of information to omit the irrelevance of the problem; creation of algorithms to solve the problem. Thus, computational thinking can be considered as a skill as fundamental as reading, writing or arithmetic. The progression in the comprehension of their concepts is similar to that of mathematics: the learning of each concept is based on the comprehension of the previous one, its progression being visible as the child matures, so that its development can and must be promoted from an early age.
Which activities can be done in the classroom?
At the present time we can employ specific materials and tools such as robots to do activities integrated into the development of the usual classroom disciplines, and we have software to learn how to program and analyze simple problems and find a solution. Computational thinking can be introduced into the classroom through various concepts:
• ALGORITHM DESIGN: creation of a series of instructions ordered for one purpose, such as programming a BEE-BOT to move from one place to another.
• ABSTRACTION: allows that, when observing the performance of the PLAY PETs bird, dog and cricket, it is identified that its main function is the movement generated by an engine, which can cause other parts that join it to move and generate different effects.
• PARALLELIZATION: Simultaneous processing of small tasks that make up a larger task; it can be done by proposing a challenge to the group, such as creating a piano with MAKEY MAKEY and bananas, so that each key is distributed in small groups and everyone achieves the common goal.
• SIMULATION OF MODELS: Imitation of real-world processes, which can be done by performing an exercise with LEGO WeDo in which the result of opposing identical or very different forces is observed.
Some of the tangible resources that allow the development of these skills have been created by companies such as LEGO (robots like WeDo, EV3 or Boost), TTS (robots like Bee-Bot), JoyLabz (tools like Makey Makey) or Robotis (automated boxes like PLAY Pedos or PLAY DINOs).
The introduction of computational thinking can then be carried out from many different subjects and making use of different resources and tools such as educational robotics.