From Geocaching to Computational Thinking

We know that we aren’t exposing students to computer science concepts (computational thinking) early enough to spark their interest in becoming computer scientists. Outstanding educator Pat Phillips found a way to grab the attention of middle school girls and put them on the path to understanding this field. She created a club to build on the craze for geocaching among middle school kids. Then she took the girls far beyond treasure hunting with computer science investigations. This gave her a pool of students who were willing to enroll in her CS classes when they got to high school.

Pat then developed clever curriculum ideas and evangelized them to other high school teachers. They created semester-long units that ditch the mouse and keyboard and provide cutting-edge tools and lessons for Kinect game development with XNA and Microsoft technologies. The team translated powerful XNA code to starter projects on devices that are exciting to students, then designed advanced projects for those students who want to learn more.

One tutorial introduces concepts of skeletal tracking. The curriculum is designed so students don’t get overwhelmed with too much underlying code. They learn a few concepts and then are able to use the code to bring the games in their imaginations to life.  Pat says, “we allow them to step over the muddy parts, where they might get bogged down, to achieve early success. Then they can go back and dig into the mud to learn more.”

The curriculum packages include teacher roadmaps, semester frameworks, daily lesson plans, demonstration projects, video tutorials, lab assignments and solutions, student activities, and assessment tools with keys and examples. You can find these free resources here.

Consensus is growing that the basics of computational thinking are a necessity for those entering today’s workforce in all fields. Learn more about how important this is to the future of our workers:

Computer Science for the Rest of Us, Randall Stross, The New York Times Business Day

The Power of Computing, Sonia Su,  USA Today – College