Schools should teach computational thinking earlier

We agree with Jeannette Wing, head of Carnegie Mellon’s computer science department, in regard to her article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which calls for a national priority to be put on teaching computer science. We should start teaching the foundations and thinking patterns of computer programming in high school, middle school, and even elementary school.

Teaching the foundations of programming early is a good way to create both jobs and technologically savvy citizens. Programming teaches a person to think algorithmically and to apply that thinking in real-world situations. These include everything from finding all of the divisors of a number to creating a language processing system like Apple’s Siri.

The nature of computational and algorithmic thinking — two cornerstones of programming — allows it to be easily integrated into school curricula. At some level, children already think computationally and algorithmically. If a child has a particular way of sorting and putting away Legos so they can be found more easily, that child is using computational thinking. Schools teach this sort of thinking on a basic level, but by integrating it even more into lesson plans, math problem sets, and activities, students can gain even greater flexibility and confidence in developing new solutions to emerging social problems.

Schools could implement changes to curricula simply by gearing more lessons towards computational thinking. Teachers could present problems to students (like reordering the school’s lunch line to maximize efficiency, or developing a system to sort the tallest to shortest student in class) to bolster thinking processes.

As our society becomes increasingly reliant on computing and programming, our schools should take steps to prepare students for the digital age.