When educators consider the term computational thinking (CT), they often think of math or coding. But if you ask Daniel Fung, assistant director and English teacher at Sham Tseng Catholic School in Hong Kong, he will tell you that computational thinking is an entire pedagogy geared towards teaching lifelong problem-solving skills.
Fung adopted the prime study programme CoolThink@JC to teach CT to his students and fellow teachers. Recently, EdSurge spoke with Fung about how he uses this program to guide students through a new approach to learning and thinking.
EdSurge: How did you get involved in CoolThink@JC?
Fun: I became an English teacher eight years ago. I started coding in my second year, after visiting professors in Edinburgh who introduced me to micro:bit as a platform for teaching a second language. My interest in learning to code inspired me to watch instructional videos online. I realized that my fourth, fifth and sixth graders could benefit from learning to code.
While teaching English and working as a vice principal, I received a flyer from CoolThink@JC. I saw this as an opportunity to refine my school’s curriculum.
What does a comprehensive computational thinking program look like to you?
The CT program is not just about coding, but rather about pedagogy and mindset. Knowing how to code on different platforms is not the objective of our school, nor of the CoolThink@JC program. We want students to approach thinking differently. We stopped providing step-by-step instructions to students and started giving them a more problem-solving approach.
We want to go beyond coding and embed computational thinking into students’ daily lives. We teach our students the procedures as a way to become more efficient; students learn that every thought and action has an impact. CT is a life skill – a way to approach all things academic and beyond.
How has your experience as a CoolThink@JC Fellow shaped your professional development and your approach to pedagogy?
For me, it’s a new way of thinking. I accept it as a program and educational change for our students and want to use it to help make my school systems more effective. For example, we used it to redesign a very archaic method of planning teachers and lessons. We started to approach operations and school systems through CT. It made my school and I more systems-oriented.
When I facilitate professional development, I place teachers in groups and design activities that guide them through analyzing a problem for different solutions. I try to change their way of thinking and the way they apply computational thinking throughout their teaching and daily life. We spend little time talking and more time asking teachers to solve problems. We show teachers how this type of thinking is used and implemented.
Some educational systems need a change of mentality. Instead of focusing primarily on learning, how about playing and exploring? When we first work with teachers in CT Education, we ask them to create an app and appreciate their excitement when they first create one. We really need to get educators to embrace the game, rather than worry about particular outcomes.
Teachers often think that CT is limited to math or technology lessons. I am an English teacher; I see value in improving the skills of every CT educator. It’s not just about coding, but rather a way of thinking and problem solving that will benefit students and educators.
All educators should see and experience CT training. We need to encourage teachers to share their knowledge and experiences in computational thinking with other teachers. We also need universities to adopt this as part of teacher training. We need leaders who are practitioners, instructional leaders who integrate coding and CT.
Can you describe some of the learning outcomes you have observed with your students since adopting this program?
There are tangible results, such as the types of products and projects that students produce. For example, when students participate, we often award them points or credits. It gets quite complicated and time consuming. Our students used micro:bit to create a way to automatically calculate scores. They fixed an issue they encountered and helped improve the class system on their own.
Another example is when students noticed that people at home left their refrigerator doors open, which resulted in temperature loss and wasted energy. They used micro:bits and sensors to warn people to close their refrigerator doors. This is a great example of students using computational thinking to improve the daily lives of others.
And there are also intangible results. Thanks to CT, students begin to ask fewer questions and become more independent. They find solutions by using their resources, asking the right questions, researching and experimenting.
Traditionally, students in Hong Kong have been quite passive. Our classrooms were once dominated by rows. However, once we visited Edinburgh, we noticed the students were sitting more collaboratively. Computational thinking helps us address these types of challenges. Initially, students use CT to solve problems that we provide to them. Eventually, they move on to identifying problems and creating solutions with less instructional guidance.
I think CT promotes entrepreneurship, a way to change and improve the world. The nature of work is changing. Our students will continue to face new global challenges, and CT is the way to meet them.