The Power of Data: How to Use Computational Thinking to Engage Students

By Pedro Delgado, 15 years teaching experience, 7th grade science and computer science 1 and 2 at Young Women’s STEAM Research & Preparatory Academy, Ignite My Future in School Learning Leader

In the modern workforce, professionals use a variety of skills to solve problems. It’s uncommon that a task would be siloed to one specific subject – instead, we tend to take a transdisciplinary approach, using skills from various areas.

This is why more educators are working to incorporate computational thinking – the thought processes involved in expressing solutions as computational steps or algorithms that can be carried out by a computer in the anywhere classroom.

Computational thinking strategies equip students with problem-solving skills, such as analyzing data, in order to make inferences and break problems down into manageable pieces. This transdisciplinary mode of instruction ensures learners are prepared to tackle real-world problems both today and in their future careers.

Ignite My Future in School, a program from Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and Discovery Education, provides no-cost transdisciplinary resources designed to equip students with the foundations of computational thinking.

Through a series of blogs, we’re going to leverage resources from Ignite My Future in School to explore how computational thinking relates to modern issues, and how to use it to engage students and equip them with skills for future success.

In this post, we’ll examine the role and importance of collecting and analyzing data and how it applies to crises like the COVID-19 outbreak.

Let’s review the seven computational thinking strategies:

  • Collect Data: Determine sources from which you will collect data, and decide which qualitative and quantitative data to collect.
  • Analyze Data: Produce and evaluate charts, and use appropriate statistical methods to test a hypothesis.
  • Find Patterns: Identify patterns to make predictions, create rules and solve other problems.
  • Decompose Problems: Take large complicated problems, and break them down into manageable pieces.
  • Abstract: Identify similarities and remove details to create a solution that works for many different problems.
  • Build Models: Test, tweak and refine an object before building it in real life using design software to predict outcomes.
  • Develop Algorithms: Create solutions using step-by-step instructions that operate like a road map for performing a task.

Collecting and Analyzing Data During COVID-19

Data becomes especially crucial when the world is dealing with a crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), healthcare organizations and researchers are working tirelessly to understand the COVID-19 virus, and come up with sound solutions for combatting it.

Rather than exclude what’s happening around us, let’s work to include real-world examples as we teach students. For example, in “Outbreak”, a computational thinking activity from Ignite My Future, students learn how scientists use computational thinking skills to combat virus outbreaks.

Students are presented with an outbreak scenario, and act as public health analysts to determine a solution.

During this lesson, students utilize the computational thinking strategy of collecting data to construct questions relating to the spread of the virus outbreak, and learn the difference between qualitative and quantitative data, and why each form of data is valuable to the research process. They’ll analyze data to understand how viruses spread, and use the information they collected to create a flowchart designed to identify and stop a spreading virus.

You can find the full Outbreak lesson plan here.

Trusted data is invaluable.

Computational thinking goes way beyond computers. Without the computational thinking skills of collecting and analyzing data, we wouldn’t be able to find reliable, research-based solutions to our problems. By introducing students to these concepts early, we are preparing them for bright futures where they can combine creativity with computational skills for ultimate innovation and success.

Virtual TECHademy

If you would like to learn more about incorporating computational thinking skills into student learning, join us for a Virtual TECHademy, a 3-hour immersive virtual Professional Learning session focusing on engaging students in real world problem solving. All educators welcome to join and will receive a digital swag bag and transdisciplinary resources and strategies designed to effectively engage with the foundations of computational thinking across subject areas. Register today!

Explore more resources from Ignite My Future in School in Discovery Education Experience!