Remixing Work, Deconstructing Learning, Abstracting Thought: How Computational Thinking Altered a Language Arts Classroom
I walked into a computer lab at The College of New Jersey with cynical thoughts about whether or not the journalism summer camp project that three professors—Ursula Wolz, Kim Pearson, and Monisha Pulimood—had created would work. What I saw in that room changed my life as a teacher and is a memory I draw on even now in times of doubt.
Spread throughout the room before me were my eighth grade students, completely engaged and engrossed in the process of researching and writing, working together as teams and giving each other feedback that was meaningful and respectful. I was dumbfounded. These were the same students who, only a few weeks ago, had complained and moaned at the mention of writing a complete sentence. They were excited and better yet, they were learning. What was the magic that made my students embrace the writing process that we had been molding and shaping in class with such enthusiasm in the middle of summer? It was Scratch, a programming language designed for use by children, and I knew right then that I had to have it in my classroom.
When I started my career as an English teacher I never would have imagined that I would be researching computer science and the ways that it relates to my classroom. Through this process I have learned that in order for my students to succeed in a world that has digital literacy as a prerequisite, they must be able to create tools for themselves instead of just using the tools that have been created by others. Jeannette Wing recognizes this reality in her Viewpoint, 2006 .pdf article,
Computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing, and arithmetic, we should add computational thinking to every child’s analytical ability. Just as the printing press facilitated the spread of the three Rs, what is appropriately incestuous about this vision is that computing and computers facilitate the spread of computational thinking.
I can think of no better environment in which to teach children how to create in the digital age than the Language Arts classroom. As we teach children to write, we teach them to invent, to craft, to mold their own realities. The times and tools that we use have changed and will undoubtedly change again, but the process remains the same. If we embrace this new fundamental as Wing wants us to, we have the potential to open channels of authentic learning in the digital age for our students.