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In education, computational thinking (CT) is a set of problem-solving methods that involve expressing problems and their solutions in ways that a computer could also execute.. It involves the mental skills and practices for 1) designing computations that get computers to do jobs for us, and 2) explaining and interpreting the world as a complex of information processes. Those ideas range from basic CT for beginners to advanced CT for experts.
The history of computational thinking dates back at least to the 1950s but most ideas are much older. Computational thinking involves ideas like abstraction, data representation, and logically organizing data, which are also prevalent in other kinds of thinking, such as scientific thinking, engineering thinking, systems thinking, design thinking, model-based thinking, and the like. Neither the idea nor the term are recent: Preceded by terms like algorithmizing, procedural thinking, algorithmic thinking, and computational literacy by computing pioneers like Alan Perlis and Donald Knuth, the term computational thinking was first used by Seymour Papert in 1980 and again in 1996. Computational thinking can be used to algorithmically solve complicated problems of scale, and is often used to realize large improvements in efficiency.
The phrase computational thinking was brought to the forefront of the computer science education community in 2006 as a result of an ACM Communications essay on the subject by Jeannette Wing. The essay suggested that thinking computationally was a fundamental skill for everyone, not just computer scientists, and argued for the importance of integrating computational ideas into other subjects in school. The continuum of computational thinking questions in education ranges from K-9 computing for children to professional and continuing education, where the challenge is how to communicate deep principles, maxims, and ways of thinking between experts.
The characteristics that define computational thinking are decomposition, pattern recognition / data representation, generalization/abstraction, and algorithms. By decomposing a problem, identifying the variables involved using data representation, and creating algorithms, a generic solution results. The generic solution is a generalization or abstraction that can be used to solve a multitude of variations of the initial problem.
Another characterization of computational thinking is the "three As" iterative process based on three stages:
- Abstraction: Problem formulation;
- Automation: Solution expression;
- Analyses: Solution execution and evaluation.
Connection to the "four Cs"
The four Cs of 21st century learning are communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity. The fifth C could be computational thinking which entails the capability to resolve problems algorithmically and logically. It includes tools that produce models and visualise data. Computational thinking is applicable across subjects beyond science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) which include the social sciences and language arts. Students can engage in activities where they identify patterns in grammar as well as sentence structure and use models for studying relationships.
Since its inception, the 4 Cs have gradually gained acceptance as vital elements of many school syllabi. This development triggered a modification in platforms and directions such as inquiry, project-based, and more profound learning across all K-12 levels. Many countries have introduced computer thinking to all students. The United Kingdom has CT in its national curriculum since 2012. Singapore calls CT as “national capability”. Other nations like Australia, China, Korea, and New Zealand embarked on massive efforts to introduce computational thinking in schools. In the United States, President Barack Obama created this program, Computer Science for All to empower this generation of students in America with the proper computer science proficiency required to flourish in a digital economy. Computational thinking means thinking or solving problems like computer scientists. CT refers to thought processes required in understanding problems and formulating solutions. CT involves logic, assessment, patterns, automation, and generalisation. Career readiness can be integrated into learning and teaching environments in multiple ways.
In K-12 education
Similar to Seymour Papert, Alan Perlis, and Marvin Minsky before, Jeannette Wing envisioned computational thinking becoming an essential part of every child's education. However, integrating computational thinking into the K-12 curriculum and computer science education has faced several challenges including the agreement on the definition of computational thinking, how to assess children's development in it, and how to distinguish it from other similar "thinking" like systems thinking, design thinking, and engineering thinking. Currently, computational thinking is broadly defined as a set of cognitive skills and problem solving processes that include (but are not limited to) the following characteristics (but there are arguments that few, if any, of them belong to computing specifically, instead of being principles in many fields of science and engineering)
- Using abstractions and pattern recognition to represent the problem in new and different ways
- Logically organizing and analyzing data
- Breaking the problem down into smaller parts
- Approaching the problem using programmatic thinking techniques such as iteration, symbolic representation, and logical operations
- Reformulating the problem into a series of ordered steps (algorithmic thinking)
- Identifying, analyzing, and implementing possible solutions with the goal of achieving the most efficient and effective combination of steps and resources
- Generalizing this problem-solving process to a wide variety of problems
Current integration computational thinking into the K-12 curriculum comes in two forms: in computer science classes directly or through the use and measure of computational thinking techniques in other subjects. Teachers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) focused classrooms that include computational thinking, allow students to practice problem-solving skills such as trial and error. Valerie Barr and Chris Stephenson describe computational thinking patterns across disciplines in a 2011 ACM Inroads article However Conrad Wolfram has argued that computational thinking should be taught as a distinct subject.
Center for Computational Thinking
Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has a Center for Computational Thinking. The Center's major activity is conducting PROBEs or PROBlem-oriented Explorations. These PROBEs are experiments that apply novel computing concepts to problems to show the value of computational thinking. A PROBE experiment is generally a collaboration between a computer scientist and an expert in the field to be studied. The experiment typically runs for a year. In general, a PROBE will seek to find a solution for a broadly applicable problem and avoid narrowly focused issues. Some examples of PROBE experiments are optimal kidney transplant logistics and how to create drugs that do not breed drug-resistant viruses. 
Computational thinking resources
There are a handful of on-line institutions which provide curriculum, and other related resources to build and strengthen pre-college students with computational thinking, analysis and problem-solving. One prominent one is the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy. It offers training sessions for both pre-college students, as well as teachers. CMU's programs exercise instructional scaffolding methods via engineering process. There is also another online site named legoengineering.com. offering similar resources.
As far as a physical facility, in Central New Jersey, there is a small institution, named Storming Robots, offering technology programs to Grade 4 to 12 with an emphasis on algorithmic and computational thinking via robotics projects throughout the school year. Students may follow its road map starting from Grade 4 until they graduate to college.
Designed to increase the use of computational thinking, computationalthinking.org was launched to provide problem-solving resources to various sectors in an effort to increase the use of computational thinking. The resources include ready-made courses and materials for professionals, colleges, schools, and students. The services also include advising policymakers and governments on education reform and curriculum development.
A comprehensive college textbook From Computing To Computational Thinking by Dr. Paul S. Wang can help define and illustrate computational thinking and teach its application in other disciplines as well as in daily life. The book's associated website  offers teaching, learning and hands-on resources.
The concept of computational thinking has been criticized as too vague, as it's rarely made clear how it is different from other forms of thought. That inclination among computer scientist has been called "computational chauvinism." Some computer scientists worry about the promotion of computational thinking as a substitute for a broader computer science education, as computational thinking represents just one small part of the field. Others worry that the emphasis on Computational Thinking encourages computer scientists to think too narrowly about the problems they can solve, thus avoiding the social, ethical and environmental implications of the technology they create.
A recent paper argues that the term "Computational Thinking" (CT) should be used mainly as a shorthand to convey the educational value of Computer Science, hence the need of teaching it in school. The strategic goal is to have Computer Science recognized in school as an autonomous scientific subject more than trying to identify "body of knowledge" or "assessment methods" for CT. Particularly important is to stress the fact that the scientific novelty associated to CT is the shift from the "problem solving" of Mathematics to the "having problem solved" of Computer Science. Without the "effective agent", who automatically executes the instructions received to solve the problem, there would be no Computer Science, but just Mathematics. Another criticism of the same paper is that focusing on "problem solving" is too narrow, since "solving a problem is just an instance of a situation where one wants to reach a specified goal". The paper therefore generalizes the original definitions by Cuny, Snyder, and Wing and Aho as it follows: "Computational thinking is the thought processes involved in modeling a situation and specifying the ways an information-processing agent can effectively operate within it to reach an externally specified (set of) goal(s).”
- Wing, Jeannette (2014). "Computational Thinking Benefits Society". 40th Anniversary Blog of Social Issues in Computing.
- Denning, P.J. and Tedre, M. Computational Thinking. The MIT Press, 2019.
- Tedre, Matti; Denning, Peter (2016). "The Long Quest for Computational Thinking" (PDF). Proceedings of the 16th Koli Calling Conference on Computing Education Research.
- Denning, Peter J., 1942- (2019). Computational thinking. Tedre, Matti. Cambridge. ISBN 9780262353410. OCLC 1082364202.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Papert, Seymour. Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. Basic Books, Inc., 1980.
- Papert, Seymour (1996). "An exploration in the space of mathematics educations". International Journal of Computers for Mathematical Learning. 1. doi:10.1007/BF00191473.
- Computational thinking:
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- Center for Computational thinking at Carnegie Mellon cmu.edu8
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- on YouTube, TED talk 2010-11-15
- What is Computational Thinking? CS4FN at CS4FN
- The Sacramento Regional CPATH Team has created a Think CT website with information on CT developed by this NSF-funded project. Archived 31 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine
- A short introduction to Computational Thinking by the Open University
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- "The 5th 'C' of 21st Century Skills? Try Computational Thinking (Not Coding) - EdSurge News". EdSurge. 25 February 2018. Retrieved 11 June 2018.
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- Grover, Shuchi; Pea, Roy (2013). "Computational Thinking in K–12 A Review of the State of the Field". Educational Researcher. 42. doi:10.3102/0013189x12463051.
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CT is a problem solving process...
- Barr, David; Harrison, John; Leslie, Conery (1 March 2011). "Computational Thinking: A Digital Age Skill for Everyone". Learning & Leading with Technology. 38 (6): 20–23. ISSN 0278-9175.
- Computational thinking is the code to success Conrad Wolfram, The Times Educational Supplement
- PROBE Experiments
- "LEGO Engineering". Retrieved 30 December 2013.
- "Roadmap for learning path". Retrieved 30 December 2013.
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- "computize.org". Retrieved 12 February 2020.
- Jones, Elizabeth. "The Trouble with Computational Thinking" (PDF). ACM. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- Denning, Peter J.; Tedre, Matti; Yongpradit, Pat (21 February 2017). "Misconceptions about computer science". Communications of the ACM. 60 (3): 31–33. doi:10.1145/3041047.
- Denning, Peter J. (1 June 2009). "Beyond computational thinking". Communications of the ACM. 52 (6): 28. doi:10.1145/1516046.1516054. hdl:10945/35494.
- Easterbrook, Steve (2014). "From Computational Thinking to Systems Thinking: A conceptual toolkit for sustainability computing". Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference ICT for Sustainability. doi:10.2991/ict4s-14.2014.28. ISBN 978-94-62520-22-6.
- Nardelli, Enrico (February 2019). "Do we really need Computational Thinking?". Communications of the ACM. 62 (2): 32–35. doi:10.1145/3231587.
- Wing, Jeannette M. (March 2011). "Research Notebook: Computational Thinking—What and Why?". The LINK. The Magazine of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science. Carnegie Mellon University, School of Computer Science. Retrieved 1 March 2019.
- Aho, Alfred V. (January 2011). "Computation and computational thinking". Ubiquity. 2011 (January). doi:10.1145/1922681.1922682.
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