KS3 Computing/Computational Thinking

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Auguste Rodin-The Thinker-Legion of Honor-Lincoln Park-San Francisco

Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes -- Hal Abelson & Edsger Dijkstra

Computational Thinking challenges us by asking not only how computers can help us learn but also how they can help us learn to think.


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Computational thinking is an approach to problem solving, one that underpins the art of programming. However it is also a general life skill, one that can be used to breakdown and solve complex problems, both computer related and non-computer related problems.
Key terms we use when talking about computation thinking / problem solving are:

  • Logical Reasoning
  • Abstraction
  • Decomposition
  • Algorithms
  • Pattern Recognition & Application

Some great definitions at BBC Bitesize and Barefoot Computing

Real life examples

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  • Cooking recipes are just algorithms (often needing parallel processing!)
  • Playing games
  • Card tricks often rely on algorithms to surprise you when your card appears as if by magic
  • Maths & Physics problems can be often be approached using decomposition & algorithms
  • Networks and route planning
    • Finding the shortest route on a map
    • Which route would you take to pick up and drop off several people on a dial-a-ride bus route?
    • Can you plan a day out around London by tube?
    • How do you build the fewest roads around a new town so that people can still get to their houses? (see this activity on CSUnplugged)
  • How can you send a secret to someone on the other side of the world without being eavesdropped?
  • How would you help someone communicate when they have had a stroke and all they can do is blink one eye?

Unplugged / Slow Computing Activities

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You don't need a computer to study Computational Thinking -- in fact there are many activities that have been designed to work without them.

Here's a list of great sources for "unplugged" or "slow computing" activities:

There are also lots of stories that involve characters using computational thinking to navigate their world:

  • Computational Fairy Tales -- a free collection of story blog posts, also available to purchase in book form
  • Lauren Ipsum -- A story about computer science and other improbable things. Sample chapters available for free, book available to purchase.

We have highlighted some of our favourite activities below...

Year 7: Locked-In

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Explore the design of an algorithm to allow someone with locked-in syndrome to communicate.

Locked-in syndrome is a condition resulting from a stroke where a person is totally paralysed. They can see, hear and think but cannot speak. How could a person with Locked-in syndrome write a book?

Available from Teaching London Computing

Time: 20-30 minutes or can be stretched longer if required

Year 8: Muddy City

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Networks are everywhere in modern society: roads, wires, water and gas pipes all connect one place to another. Computers are built of networks at many levels, from the microscopic connections between transistors in a chip to the cables and satellites that link the internet around the world. People who build networks often need to work out the most efficient way to make connections, which can be a difficult problem.

This puzzle shows students the decisions involved in linking a network between houses in a muddy city. It can lead on to a discussion of minimal spanning tree algorithms for optimizing networks.

Available from CS Unplugged

Time: 40-60 minutes

Year 9: Tourist Guide Activity

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Devise a tour that gets a tourist from their hotel to all the city sights and back to their hotel.

This activity is an example of creating an algorithm that is a simple sequence of instructions to do in order. It shows that if we have written down a solution to the problem in the form of an algorithm then we are able to do tours in future just by following the steps, without having to work it out from scratch again. Also if we write down the algorithm we can check that it definitely works by following it step by step on paper.

Available from Teaching London Computing

Time: 15 minutes for basic activity, leads on to the Knight’s Tour Activity