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Editorial

Coding, and Computer Science, and Computational Thinking—Oh My!

The first time I studied anything related to computer science was in high school—a BASIC programming class that was quite dry with little connection to how the programming language was used in the “real world.” Times have changed! Today, even preschoolers are learning computational thinking in active, engaging, and age-appropriate ways that help them see the many ways thinking like a computer scientist makes a difference in their daily lives (for example, see this article previously featured in CSL).

An internet search will reveal various educational products—even toys—designed specifically for young learners to use in home and school settings. Importantly, however, the skills and understanding related to coding, computational thinking, and computer science can be introduced at this early age without making an investment in devices and technology. STEM educators have developed creative instructional strategies that engage learners of all ages in growing their thinking skills and conceptual understandings related to these topics.

Why does this matter? Why do we care if young people learn computer science and hone their computational thinking skills? What should all students understand and be able to do by the time they finish high school? The CSforALL movement argues for the importance of empowering all students with the computational thinking skills they need to be creators—not merely consumers—in the digital economy. This makes sense. Shouldn’t we all have the skills necessary to not only use but also understand and be critical consumers of the technologies that pervade all aspects of our lives?

Coding, computer science, and computational thinking are important topics from a STEM workforce perspective as well. Opportunities in computer science and information technology are growing at a faster rate than jobs in many other sectors, within and outside of STEM. As educators, one of the things we care about is ensuring that every young person in our classroom or program is prepared to succeed in the career of their dreams. It’s pretty clear that some level of exposure to and experience with coding, computer science, and computational thinking supports student readiness for all kinds of careers.

However, the pace of change in this field has been rapid, and, frankly, it’s hard for the educational system to keep up. What classes should schools offer and who will teach them? What investment in technology and teacher training is required? And, what will be replaced in an already full curriculum? All of these questions need to be addressed.

Cross-sector partnerships between educators and organizations—exactly the kind of efforts we like to feature in Connected Science Learning—can address some of these challenges. Partnerships that bridge the gap between in- and out-of-school learning often make it easier to pilot new ideas, respond nimbly, and combine expertise. The articles you’ll find in this issue of Connected Science Learning feature informal science educators, university faculty, scientists, engineers, and classroom teachers working together to bring coding, computer science, and computational thinking learning experiences to young people. We hope you’ll find inspiration and ideas for your own work!

Beth Murphy, PhD (bmurphy@nsta.org), is field editor for Connected Science Learning and an independent STEM education consultant with expertise in fostering collaboration between organizations and schools, providing professional learning experiences for educators, and implementing program evaluation that supports practitioners to do their best work. 

Computer Science STEM Informal Education

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