Computational Thinking For All

Two years ago, Kenwood Elementary elementary in Champaign, IL teamed up several Colleges at the University of Illinois and the local social think tank, CTRL-Shift.  At the basis of this collaboration is the idea that teaching all students the skills of computational thinking is an exercise in social justice and community empowerment in line with our school’s technology vision statement:

Through an immersive technology learning environment, Kenwood students will transcend simple usership to become digital producers, empowering themselves and others in their community through their critical thinking, academic and intellectual risk taking, collaboration and refined sense of digital citizenship.

We want our students “doing” and “creating”.  Compuational thinking opportunities are now woven into the fabric of students’ days.  We see technology as a tool, much like a pencil or a calculator, that should be at arms length whenever a student needs it to accelerate their learning and feed their curiousity.  The thinking, as well as the changes in learning and pedagogy,  that come as a result of the use of these tools is the focus at Kenwood.  Our teachers are moving from being the “sage on the stage” to classroom facilitators.  Students and teachers alike are becoming more and more collaborative.  Computational thinking and problem solving is becoming more explicit and powerful and we are all taking academic and intellectual risks.  In short, we are creating a culture of change at Kenwood.  We are not afraid to fail, reflect and iterate.

Our technology focus does not stop with students and teachers.  We are focusing on our families as a whole and offering “Demystifying Technology” experiences to groups of around 20 families each quarter.  These are one or two day long workshops, jointly run by our faculty and Dr. Martin Wolkse from the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences (GSLIS). This training seeks to provide positive technology experiences, while empowering participants and showing them that everyone brings something to the learning environment.  Activities include deconstructing and reconstructing computers, learning about security, operating systems, networking and troubleshooting.  When families leave, they get to take the computer they were working on home.  

Many schools offer computer science and computational thinking to AP students or gifted and talented students.  Many more provide these experiences through after school clubs.  At Kenwood, we believe that every single student in our school deserves these experiences and we are working to integrate them into the core curriculum.  We have lots of work ahead of us, but it is exciting work!