Computational Thinking Across Disciplines

| By Rinat Levy-Cohen


Have you ever heard about computational thinking? You probably have if you are a computer science or maker teacher. In a nutshell, it is the thought process involved in solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior. Most teachers I speak with think that computational thinking comes handy when learning how to program or to control digital circuits and robots. But computational thinking can actually be useful in various disciplines and later in life. It’s a lifelong skill worthwhile teaching across disciplines.


Incorporating computational thinking into, for example, the humanities may seem difficult at first. So I have collected a number of wonderful projects developed by schools and educators across the globe.


Sample Units


Excel Public Charter School adopted computational thinking into their seventh grade humanities curriculum. Students learn how to break down a complicated problem into small components. Students for example, analyze the American criminal justice system by identifying problems in the system and suggesting how to improve it.


Green Dot Public Schools developed a number of projects for their social studies curriculum. For example, in an Ancient Civilizations project students learn how to filter out unimportant details (i.e., abstraction) by creating a civilization and observing how choices they make (e.g., where to place natural resources, animals, and vegetation) impacts its development. In another project, The Scramble for Africa, students take on roles of major European countries while interacting with a simulation of the colonization of Africa. Students develop pattern recognition as they plan where to claim territory and keeping track of competing countries’ moves.   


You can use computational thinking to boost your art curriculum. A teacher in Ontario developed a project in which students learn about art (Kandinsky and Miro), coding, and computational thinking. Using Keynote students create their version of a Kandinsky and learn how to animate it. In the process, students learn how to sequence, test, and debug their work.


Music education can also benefit from thinking computationally. Google for Education developed a project in which students improve the quality of music they hear. Students examine aspects of music (e.g., melody and rhythm), learn how to recognize patterns, collect data, and change algorithms to improve the quality of the music generate by Pencil Code.


Are you new to computational thinking and afraid to take the first step? Collaborate with your colleagues. NGSS standards for elementary students, for example, include learning how to organize simple data sets to reveal patterns that suggest relationships and to problem solve using authentic data. Find out when the school science teacher teaches these skills and plan your curriculum accordingly. Your students can apply those skills to problem solve concerns they have ranging from women in makerspaces to endangered species.


If you want to learn more about computational thinking, Google for Education provides resources (e.g., lesson plans and demonstrations). You can also take their free online course for teachers and administrators. You will learn how to adopt CT into your school and/or classroom. You can also check out ISTE’s toolkit for a collection of CT resources.