Living in the Digital Age has many perks: we have a wealth of information at our fingertips, we can contact almost anyone in the world instantly, and we have the ability to analyze data in transformative ways — especially in the classroom. Whether identifying areas in which a student is struggling or discovering ways to build upon their strengths, educators are increasingly relying on data as a powerful tool to personalize learning for their students. However, it is important to not only use data to improve student learning, but also to teach students how to use data to solve problems beyond the classroom walls.
The next step in preparing students to become successful digital age citizens is teaching them digital age problem solving skills. This means using technology and data to create real solutions to real problems for real people. It combines three key skills and concepts essential to understanding and solving problems in the information age:
●Data literacy is the ability to analyze, interpret, and tell stories using complex sets of data.
●Design thinking is the ability to understand problems and develop creative solutions.
●Computational thinking is the process of breaking down problems and expressing solutions so that humans and computers can understand them.
In many ways, most teachers are taking advantage of technology to promote digital-age problem solving in the classroom. When students are collecting data, outlining their essays, playing games like Oregon Trail, engaging in scientific inquiry, making models, re-enacting stories, examining historical events, or creating bar graphs, they are applying these skills. However, educators are provided few opportunities to engage in professional learning opportunities that can help them learn to apply these skills more effectively and intentionally.
This lack of high quality professional learning around an increasingly important set of skills inspired Mark Samberg, the Technology Innovation Lead at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at NC State University, to develop Computational Thinking and Design:
Getting Started With Digital-Age Problem Solving, a free MOOC (massive open online course) for educators. This new, five unit course from the Friday Institute focuses on helping educators learn how to integrate digital-age problem solving in a practical way into any classroom, regardless of their grade level or subject area.
“The framing of ‘Digital Age Problem Solving’ allows us to naturally and easily integrate some of the trends and emerging concepts in STEM education over the past few years,” said Samberg. “Whether in the humanities or in a STEM field, Digital Age Problem Solving offers us an excellent set of tools to support teachers and students alike in learning to see problems differently.”
In this course, participants are exposed to real practitioners in the fields of architecture, public relations, social sciences, engineering, medicine, and more. They describe how the core concepts introduced in the course are central to their everyday work, and help course participants think about how they might already be using them in their own work. Participants will explore a range of resources to familiarize themselves with these key ideas, as well as build their professional network as they collaborate with colleagues from across the world in building their understanding of the content. Participants also have the opportunity to demonstrate their learning and earn up to 32.5 professional development hours in the process.
“I have been involved in leading elementary computer science curriculum writing committees for the past three years. We have a district initiative for K-12 to have experiences in Computer Science (CS) by the year 2020. This is a home grown approach where teacher committee groups have tried their best to make CS integrated into core content,” said Linda Lyster, a Digital Resource Specialist for the Seminole County Public Schools district. “It has been a growth process. I wish I knew then what I know now about the significance of Computational Thinking. I am always in search of skills and tools that will equip us to refine and enhance what we have created. I can’t wait for the take-aways that this course will provide.”
Every MOOC-Ed developed by the Friday Institute, including Computational Thinking, is free and designed for participants to progress at their own pace. Built on research-based models of effective professional development and online communities of practice, MOOC-Ed courses focus on authentic, project-based learning, and collaboration. Though this course is primarily designed for grade 3-12 teachers, instructional coaches, and instructional technology facilitators, any educator will find that principles of computational thinking are applicable to their curriculum, especially those teaching computer science. Because the course is self-directed, the amount of time spent in the course will vary, but participants should anticipate spending about two hours in the course per week if they are pursuing a certificate of completion.