When Phil Windley pointed me to Jeannette Wing’s manifesto on computational thinking, she had me at hello. The intellectual tools of computer science, she argues — including the ability to work at multiple levels of abstraction, to automate repetitive processes, and to make and use state machines — are really “a universally applicable attitude and skill set that everyone, not just computer scientists, would be eager to learn and use.”

In 2007 I interviewed Jeannette Wing for my Innovators show. Since then she has moved from Carnegie Mellon to the National Science Foundation, where she is — among other activities — working to define, promote, and bootstrap the teaching of computational thinking.

On this week’s show I spoke with Joan Peckman, a University of Rhode Island professor of computer science who’s on leave to work with the NSF on that mission.

Toward the end of the podcast, she relates this delightful anecdote:

At the first CSTB workshop on computational thinking for everyone, someone from the University of Indiana showed a video on how he was teaching science. We all looked at it and thought: “But it’s also computational thinking!”

In the course of teaching elementary school students about honey bees, he took them out on the playground and asked them to act out what the honey bees did: leaving the hive, finding the pollen, giving directions to the other bees. Then he brought them back into the classroom, went to a whiteboard, and engaged them in activites that I would identify as modeling, debugging, and drawing finite state diagrams. He didn’t call them that, but that’s what they were.

Yes he was teaching them science, but the way he was analyzing the subject, and engaging them in analysis, clearly involved a set of computational constructs.

In my own recent writing and speaking, I’ve suggested that feed syndication and lightweight service composition are aspects of computational thinking that we ought to formulate as basic principles and teach in middle school or even grade school.

We tried, but failed, to come up with a phrase that embellishes computational thinking with connotations of flow, orchestration, and connectedness. Syndication-oriented architecture. gets partway there, but will never fly in the mainstream. Maybe connected thinking? But you don’t want to leave out what computational connotes. Perhaps computational and connected thinking? Nah, too wordy. I’d love to hear suggestions for a tagline that concisely captures both aspects.

For more background on computational thinking, here are Joan Peckham’s show notes:

The CSTB (Computer Science and Telecommunications Board) of the National Academy of Sciences is holding Computational Thinking for Everyone: A Workshop Series in 2009. Monitor their website for developments and reports: http://sites.nationalacademies.org/cstb/CurrentProjects/CSTB_043590

Previously awarded CPATH projects (only some of which address computational thinking directly … although the current solicitation requires it):

2007 award portfolio – http://www.nsf.gov/cise/funding/CPATH2007awardsfinal.pdf

2008 award portfolio – http://www.nsf.gov/cise/funding/CPATH2008awardsfinal.pdf

Computer Science Unplugged (http://csunplugged.org/) site has a wealth of classroom ready activities.

Rebooting Computing Summit in January 2009 (http://www.rebootingcomputing.org/). Several working groups emerged from this meeting. Some of the groups were concerned with computing education, and in defining and better communicating computing to others.

The Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) has a web repository with K-12 computer science teaching and learning materials: http://csta.acm.org/WebRepository/WebRepository.html

The Carnegie Mellon University Center for Computational Thinking site has materials and resources: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~CompThink/. [ed: Sponsored, I'm pleased to say, by Microsoft Research.]