K– 12 Computational Learning
Enhancing student learning and understanding by combining theories
of learning with the computer’s unique attributes.
IN “CoMPuTaTIoNaL ThINKINg,” 14 Jeannette Wing struck a chord that has resonated strongly (generating positive as well as negative responses) with many
computer scientists and non-comput-er scientists. Wing has subsequently
defined computational thinking as
the process of abstraction, 15 guided
by various engineering-type concerns
including efficiency, correctness, and
several software engineering “-ilities”
(maintainability, usability, modifiability, and so forth). Some have interpreted computational thinking as an
attempt to capture the set of computer
science skills essential to virtually every person in a technological society,
while others view it as a new description of the fundamental discipline
that represents computer science and
its intersection with other fields. The
National Academies report1 captures
both of these views, as well as presenting others.
pHotograpH By roy KaLtscHmIDt, La Wrence BerKeLey nat’L LaB
While we can live with such defini-tions/descriptions in the higher education arena, we struggle with these notions of computational thinking in the
K– 12 arena (note that we primarily consider K– 12 education within the U.S.).
Several concerns spring to mind:
1. Computer science does not appear within the core topics covered in
high school. We would have a tough
time justifying a computer science
course, even the “great ideas” AP Principles course (being developed as part of
Denning4) replacing Algebra 2, Biology,
or American Government. K– 12 education is a zero-sum game. If one wishes
Berkeley public elementary school students on a field trip learn how computers enable
to add a course, one must also propose
a course to be removed.
2. Even as an elective topic, computer science tends to be disproportionately available to those wealthy suburban
schools. Margolis et al. 6 explore this
situation in depth within the urban Los
Angeles school district.
3. Too few K– 12 computing teachers
are available to implement a national-scale computing requirement. CUNY’s
ambitious 10,000 teacher project2 will
not produce sufficient numbers of computing teachers required to instruct all
schoolchildren in the U.S. It would not
even get one qualified teacher into each
of the nation’s 30,000+ high schools
4. It is not clear to us how teachers in
other K– 12 subjects would take advan-
tage of school children who had been
trained in computational thinking.