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What Is Computational Thinking?

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Dan Garcia's picture


Computational Thinking (CT) has been articulated as a “fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists.” Almost all agree with the lofty goals of the initiative, to teach humanity the ability to see the world through the sharpened eyes of a computer scientist. However, what does it really mean to be a computational thinker? While it is helpful to see examples that show we’re already engaged in CT (e.g., using a backpack is pre-fetching and caching), it is perhaps more valuable to see everyday situations that are transformed when viewed through a computational thinker’s trained eyes (e.g., writing dates as YYYY-MM-DD so they’ll sort correctly). We hope to present enough examples to satisfy a growing chorus of those who need more grounding, using a unique delivery format.


Daniel D. Garcia
Daniel D. Garcia

Colleen M. Lewis Colleen M. Lewis

John P. Dougherty John P. Dougherty

Matthew C. Jadud Matthew C. Jadud
JokesCategorysort descendingAuthor
When putting songs on your iPod from iTunes, and you have two playlists which include the same song, you know & appreciate why only one copy of the song gets moved to your iPod, because the playlists are just "references" (indirection/pointers)datastructuresDan Garcia
You arrive late to security at the airport, see a long queue and convince them all that they should reorganize as a stack so you can make your connection. (Stacks vs Queues)datastructuresDan Garcia
You understand why the inspired supermarket milk fridges have open backs so they can load milk from the BACK of the fridge not the front, and also why you should reach to the BACK of the column of milks to get the freshest carton? (Stacks vs Queues)datastructuresDan Garcia
You do not stack your clean dishes, you queue them; same for clean clothes.datastructuresJohn P. Dougherty
You force your software calculator to use RPN. (Stacks)datastructuresMatthew C. Judd
You think it's odd that the trees that grow in nature are upside-down.datastructuresRobert McCartney
If you've ever converted money in a foreign country and realized you could make money (ala Arbitrage) if you could just find a loop in which one dollar from some starting currency, converted through other currencies and returning gives you more than one dollar. (Graphs, Loops, Pumping Lemma)datastructuresDan Garcia
You think an "honest try" might be a type of tree.datastructuresColleen Lewis
You think having a heap of clothes on the floor doesn't sound unorganized.datastructuresColleen Lewis
If you have ever referred to the person behind you in line as myNext or cdr.datastructuresColleen Lewis
You're at the Olympics waiting for the Marathon runners to run in the stadium, and you've been waiting for 2, 3, 4, 5 hours and nobody has returned, and you know that writing a program to automatically figure out whether they are JUST ABOUT to return or whether they're NEVER going to return is impossible... (halting problem)theoryDan Garcia
You're at the Olympics and are impressed with how the 100 m sprinters finish their race faster and faster each year, and wonder out loud whether there is some minimum time that any human could ever run 100 m. (Theory, Lower Bounds)theoryDan Garcia
You discover an old unlabeled mix tape with songs from 1970, 1980 and 1990 and want to know when the tape was made. You know that the EARLIEST it could be is right AFTER the OLDEST song on the tape (Theory, Lower Bounds)theoryDan Garcia
You're a fan of the codebreaking game Mastermind and understand that there is a guessing algorithm that can guarantee that it can be solved in a fixed number of guesses (currently it's 5). (Worst Case Analysis, Minimax)algorithms/recursionDan Garcia
You realize that if someone says "ohyay" in piglatin to you, you can't figure out whether they meant "oh" or "yoh." (Many to one Mapping)algorithms/recursionDan Garcia
If you've ever decided between two recipes based on whether one was faster, had less cooking time and more prep, or just produced tastier results. (Algorithms)algorithms/recursionDan Garcia
You are thankful "99 bottles of beer on the wall" is sung iteratively instead of recursively. (Interation vs Recursion)algorithms/recursionCollen Lewis
You listened to the Pete Seeger song "Where have all the Flowers Gone" (at http://www.arlo.net/resources/lyrics/flowers-gone.shtml ) or the Traditional "There's a Hole in the Bucket" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There%27s_a_hole_in_the_bucket) and thought, "hey wait a minute, that could go on forever!" (Infinite Loops)algorithms/recursionDan Garcia
You can always solve the "guess the 1-100 number, tell me whether I'm high or low" in 7 guesses or fewer. (Binary Search)algorithms/recursionDan Garcia
You can always win an "eenie meenie minie moe" choice by quickly scanning the number playing (call that n), doing 16 (the number of 'beats' in the rhyme) mod n, and starting at the right place. Works every time!algorithms/recursionDan Garcia