Computational Thinking and Socratic Learning

Two Great Tastes That Go Great Together

Beau Johnson
Dec 3, 2020 · 3 min read

In an increasingly digital universe, 21st Century Literacy will require not only the ease of expression across multiple forms of media but also the ability to use the available media to solve larger and more complex problems. It is this latter issue that requires more focused attention in Education. The value of critical thinking has been heralded for years, and been the focus of multiple strains of curricular reform — but it remains tangential to the standards-based, didactic Education system. With the rise of utilitarian technology and the general societal fluency with evolving technology, the role of computational thinking in the modern classroom makes sense.

Computational Thinking is the thought processes involved in formulating a problem and expressing its solution in a way that a computer - human or machine- can effectively carry out. Computational Thinking is what comes before any computing technology — thought of by a human, knowing full well the power of automation.

Wing, J. M. (2006). Computational thinking. Communications of the ACM, 49(3), 33–35.

Strip away the preconceptions that may cling to the “computational” term and what is left is a systematic process of analysis, experiential problem solving, and reflection. These skills are the basis for learning as espoused by Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, and even Socrates. What computational thinking adds is the understanding that there is a wealth of knowledge in the digital world and part of learning is understanding how to use the environmental tools (computers) to access and utilize that knowledge.

How do we use the computational universe to achieve things we want: to take our human objectives and automate achieving them?

Stephen Wolfram,

Computational thinking lends itself to STEM subjects, but it is not merely a lens through which one engages math or the sciences — it is a way of approaching problems. Computational Thinking can also be used to explore the humanities and the arts — it is truly a cross-curricular analysis skill. The parallels between Computational Thinking and the philosophical knowledge-seeking questions of Socratic Learning are the strongest example of how, when used in concert, a truly 21st Century approach to critical thinking can be incorporated into a classroom.

Beau Johnson, 2020

If we look past the artificial boundaries of class topics and content — the synthesis of Computational Thinking and Socratic Learning allows for more specific, inquiry-based analysis of cross-curricular topics that can be mapped across the subject standards. By teaching students (and teachers) the importance of “Why?” and by giving them the systems to seek out that knowledge, the results- regardless of specific content — reflect the interests of the student and allow for more personalized learning experiences based on the process and the content of their output.

Thinking together not only binds us, but also allows us to explore unknown, perhaps unknowable, territory with joy, curiosity and confidence. Through asking children what they in some sense already know through their intuitive knowledge and putting thinking itself into question, we can help them become more aware of themselves as thinking beings.

daVenza Tillmanns, M. (2019). Socratic Wisdom & The Knowledge of Children.

The world the next generations are inheriting requires them to be proficient in utilizing the tools around them to be proactive problem solvers and more holistic critical thinkers. Using the systemic approach of Computational Thinking and Socratic Learning, students are learning how to engage the world on their own terms to make it their own.

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