Computational Thinking: “Decomposing" Problems & Separating Fact from Fiction

By Emily Strickland, 6th grade Math teacher, Beck International Academy, Greenville, South Carolina
Mar 25, 2019 11:25 AM ET
Blog

The human brain is exposed to around 100,500 words per day – 23 words per second according to a University of California-San Diego study. Each day, our brains take in an average of 34 gigabytes of information, enough information to crash a computer within one week.

This information overload especially affects students in school today, who are more connected to the internet than any other generation. According to the Pew Research Center, 95 percent  of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45 percent say they are online “almost constantly.” Although there is a wealth of information available at students’ fingertips, much of it is either unsubstantiated by trustworthy sources or altogether untrue. To prepare their students for the 21st century, educators must arm students with strategies to navigate and process the vast amount of information they consume to help them distinguish fact from fiction.

In my classroom, I use a program called Ignite My Future in School to address this information overload and to help my students become more conscientious about how they evaluate information. This program, a partnership between Tata Consultancy Services and Discovery Education, helps students build critical thinking skills through an approach known as computational thinking. Computational thinking teaches students to break down problems the same way a computer does by collecting and analyzing data, finding patterns, and “decomposing” problems into smaller, digestible pieces to solve them. Students use these techniques both in and out of the classroom to help them recognize valid information.

In one of the foundational lessons about computational thinking, “True or False,” middle schoolers apply computational thinking to fact-finding about urban legends, including Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, and use reputable sources to write newspaper articles about their findings. When students are challenged to break down difficult questions in creative, collaborative ways, they learn the value of approaching information thoughtfully. Students become investigators using scientific procedures to verify these stories online by collecting data, noting their sources, and deciding whether stories are true or false. This activity helps students think critically about complex issues, navigate conflicting ideas and practice collaboration before coming to a shared solution.

Every day, students are encouraged to determine the truth in the information they consume. When our education system teaches students to work together and think critically, it helps them to become informed citizens, investigators and strong decisionmakers who can better make sense of their world.

“Decomposing” problems is one of the many ways computational thinking empowers students to think for themselves.   

For more information on Ignite My Future in School, please visit www.ignitemyfutureinschool.org.