Epistemological, Psychological, Neurosciences, and Cognitive Essence of Computational Thinking
The construct of computational thinking (CT) was popularized a decade ago as an “attitude and skillset” for everyone. However, since it is equated with thinking by computer scientists, the teaching of these skills poses many challenges at K-12 because of their reliance on the use of electronic computers and programming concepts that are often found too abstract and difficult by young students. This article links CT – i.e., thinking generated and facilitated by a computational device – to our typical fundamental cognitive processes by using a model of mind that is aligned with research in cognitive psychology and neuroscience and supported by a decade of empirical data on teaching and learning. Our model indicates that associative and distributive aspects of information storage, retrieval, and processing by a computational mind is the very essence of thinking, particularly deductive and inductive reasoning. We all employ these cognitive processes but not everyone uses them as iteratively, consistently, frequently, and methodologically as scientists. Some scientists have even employed electronic computing tools to boost deductive and inductive uses of their computational minds to expedite the cycle of conceptual change in their work. In this article, we offer a theoretical framework that not only describes the essence of computational thinking but also links it to scientific thinking. We recommend teaching students cognitive habits of conceptual change and reasoning prior to teaching them skills of using electronic devices. Empirical data from a five-year study involving 300 teachers and thousands of students suggests that such an approach helps improve students’ critical thinking skills as well as their motivation and readiness to learn electronic CT skills.