STEM Education and Computational Thinking

In a global, knowledge-based economy, our standard of living depends on our ability to develop and deliver new products and services. We need to educate a population of innovators who excel in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), as well as the creative arts.

Understanding the principles and power of computation, and having facility with computational thinking, are key elements of a complete STEM education.  Computing surrounds us: on our desktops, in our pockets, in our cars, in our appliances, even in the walls of our homes and offices. And computing touches every field: whether you study astronomy or biology, history or geography, you will use computing to explore, to build models of the world, and to analyze data.

From a purely economic perspective, most job growth in STEM will be computing related, but the U.S. produces far too few computer scientists to satisfy the increasing need. Beyond that, women and ethnic minorities in computing are severely underrepresented. As many have observed, including the National Science Foundation through its computing Education for the 21st Century (CE21) program, one place to begin reversing this trend is in high school, where academic and career decisions take root, and girls and boys often diverge in their studies.

Our courses in computational thinking take a constructivist approach, emphasizing student-centered exploration and creativity, and use embedded computation that comes off the screen and into the world. Our experience indicates that hands-on projects that include physical elements and real-time interactions engage and challenge students in ways that screen and keyboard alone cannot. Furthermore, learners build on a strong foundation of concrete, verifiable interactions. This leads to deep understanding and robust mental models in a way that memorizing abstract rules and procedures does not.

© 2012 Computing Explorations, LLC