Teacher’s Corner: Computational skills important for children

Published 10:11 pm Friday, January 5, 2018

Teacher’s Corner by Mark Nechanicky

About twice a month, Lakeview students meet for 20 minutes with their “Lakeview family.” Each family consists of about two dozen students, four from each grade — kindergarten through fifth. 

Mark Nechanicky

Last month, their challenge was to create the tallest free-standing structure that could support one marshmallow using 20 dry spaghetti noodles, 1 yard of masking tape and 1 yard of string in 18 minutes. Research from Tom Wujec has shown that kindergartners outperform business majors, CEOs and lawyers on this task. The key to the kindergartners’ success is an integral part of innovation — creativity. Kindergartners are more willing to build prototypes that fail — and try again over and over as they learn from their mistakes.

Innovation and problem solving skills are required for success across many sectors of our economy. Our students will have opportunities for yet to be created careers — and to be prepared for these careers our students need computational thinking skills.

Computational thinking consists of four parts:  breaking down a problem, searching for patterns, abstraction and the steps for the solution. Students learn through computational thinking that complex open-ended problems can be solved with machines and by working together with others.

Also in December, students across the district participated in the “Hour of Code.” The goal is to have students experience the computational thinking required to write computer instructions. For some, this experience can spark an interest in coding that can launch a lifelong career. According to code.org, this past year there were 499,853 open computing jobs in the United States, but only 42,969 computer science graduates. Experiences like the spaghetti challenge and Hour of Code can open doors of opportunities for the students in our community.

Mark Nechanicky is a fourth-grade teacher at Lakeview Elementary School and one of 25 teachers in the Minnesota Coding in the Classroom Leadership Cohort.