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Communications of the ACM


From Computational Thinking to Computational Participation in K-12 Education

Makey Makey workshop

Students in a Makey Makey workshop conducted by volunteers from Robogals Wellesley.

Credit: Robogals Wellesley

Computational thinking has become a battle cry for coding in K–12 education. It is echoed in statewide efforts to develop standards, in changes to teacher certification and graduation requirements, and in new curriculum designs.1 The annual Hour of Code has introduced millions of kids to coding inspired by Apple cofounder Steve Jobs who said, "everyone should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think." Computational thinking has garnered much attention but people seldom recognize that the goal is to bring programming back into the classroom.

In the 1980s many schools featured Basic, Logo, or Pascal programming computer labs. Students typically received weekly introductory programming instruction.6 These exercises were often of limited complexity, disconnected from classroom work, and lacking in relevance. They did not deliver on promises. By the mid-1990s most schools had turned away from programming. Pre-assembled multimedia packages burned onto glossy CD-ROMs took over. Toiling over syntax typos and debugging problems were no longer classroom activities.


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