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Introducing Computational Thinking Into Your School

Some initial thoughts and proposals:

We are failing our students. The great majority of our high school students in Australia are leaving school without any significant awareness that the world of employment has changed, especially in the area of 21st Century Skills and STEMx[1] careers.

Computational Thinking[2] is now being recognized as that vital, to future employment and career success, that it is being called the 4th R.

iStock_000003912674Medium 4th r

Some of the more significant statistics are detailed in the presentation ‘Computational Thinking in the Senior School: new Traffic on an old Road’[3].

Statistics from the US Labour department indicate a huge lack of qualified IT graduates and far too many students still enrolling in courses, such as in the Social Sciences, where there are predicted to be far fewer job opportunities.
The USA has accepted these very dramatic, and significant findings and is already taking major steps to address the issue. Despite this they are still expecting 1 million more IT jobs than qualified students by 2020.

The statistics in Australia appear similar:
“In 2011 ACS Statistical Compendium forecast 14,000 jobs in 2012 with an additional 21,000 roles in 2013. ABS data from February 2012 confirmed this prediction to be highly accurate. The 2012 ACS Statistical Compendium projects an increase in ICT professional and technical employment of 12,300 in the year to February 2013 with further growth anticipated to 2015, depending on macro-economic conditions.

According to the latest data there continues to be skills shortages across the ICT sector. With only 4,547 ICT graduates expected in 2012 and an additional 12,300 ICT roles expected, the shortfall in young people starting and completing ICT courses continues to be a major risk to both the ICT sector and to the nation’s economy.

“The disconnect between the 31 per cent growth in ICT industry employment since 2003 and the 53 per cent decline in domestic ICT graduates over the same period, is a stark underscoring of a broken supply/demand equation. In the US, commencements in undergraduate computer science programs rose 9.6 per cent in the 2011-12 school year and if Australia hopes to compete on the international stage more must be done to increase the engagement of students in ICT.”

“One important addition to this year’s compendium is the latest data on how business in Australia are taking part in the digital economy. Of particular interest is that, according to the latest ABS data available, as many as 60 per cent of Australian businesses have no online presence, and only one in four are using the internet to receive orders.

“Underlining the need of Australian businesses for professional ICT is the fact that one in five businesses are relying on non-IT specialists for IT support, while 13.4 per cent have no IT support at all.”[4]

“There are a number of factors at play when it comes to ICT salaries in Australia including the continued emergence of the Digital Economy, specific skill shortages and the roll out of the National Broadband Network. While it would be expected that mining-related roles continue to show the fastest increase, wage trends underline the demand for ICT professionals in areas as diverse as defence, energy and transportation.

“There are two key takeaways from these findings, the first is that ICT continues to provide strong, stable and well remunerated career paths for professionals. The second is that to help meet the continued business and government demand for suitable ICT professionals – more must be done to engage young people in ICT.”[5]

“Findings indicate a range of student misperceptions about the study of ICT; some are related to gender; others to age; others to school ICSEA rank; or a combination of these. There is considerable scope, particularly in early high school, to take advantage of students’ interest in computers; to develop an interest in studying ICT; and to challenge misperceptions about ICT careers. A range of initiatives and interventions can be developed and implemented by professional  bodies, educators and other stakeholders to target these opportunities.”[6]

“A key  conclusion …is that the quantity of engaged,  capable and  indeed gifted  students choosing to study ICT at
university needs to be increased significantly if the requirements of employers, engaged in a global recruitment of
talent, are to be met by Australian ICT graduates.”

The current situation has been recognized nationally by the creation of the new ACARA Digital Technologies curriculum. However, this is at best not likely to be implemented in most schools until 2016 at the earliest, especially as the State Ministers of Education has not as yet signed off on this implementation. Unless your school is already embracing the new curriculum path[8], you and your school can lead the way and be innovative in recognizing the value of this new curriculum and related initiatives.

You and your school can start raising awareness and involvement, while at the same time broadening and enhancing the career potential of your students.

Until the integration of the Digital Technologies curriculum across Years 1 to 9, and the changes it will induce in Years 10-12, there are still many options that could be considered.

Below is a short list of some of the ways in which a school might begin to introduce Computational Thinking into the school environment and reduce the serious deficit that Australia currently has.


Ideas for Introducing Computational Thinking in 2014/15:
1. After-school IT Clubs:

  • Robotics Club – offer several levels/age groups, such as Years 3-6; Years 7-9 and years 10-12;
  • ‘Maker’[9]  Club – with Raspberry Pi & Arduino devices
  • Game Design Club – create games – use tools like Scratch, Tynker, Stencyl, and GameMaker. Also develop new gesture based games and activities with LeapMotion type interfaces.

2. Coding Classes:

Invite professional IT staff to conduct before school Coding classes – this has proven to be very popular in some schools[10]. The IT professionals visit the school on their way into work 1 or 2 days a week.

3. Excellence Expos:

Special days, perhaps once per term where the students involved in the various IT Clubs are able to showcase their work and allow the rest of the school to get a taste for these IT clubs.

4. Specific Class Projects:

These might be individual teacher driven or suggested by the eLearning Coordinator or similar administrative roles, and other relevant teaching staff. Some support could be offered to encourage teachers to take up the many ‘real-world project based’ opportunities that IT presents.

5. School based Computational Thinking Competitions:

Conduct quarterly competitions in appropriate year level divisions, that encourage the participation in the various IT clubs. These internal competitions would then also act as ideal preparation for the many external IT competitions and Summer Camps that are offered nationally.

6. Genius Bar:

As most schools are introducing some form of BYOD/BYOT, these schools could benefit significantly from a student run Helpdesk. Many schools have utilised this concept effectively. Student involvement in this Helpdesk and leadership roles within the other proposed clubs should help develop students able to be good mentors for the effective continuation of these activities.

For more ideas along these lines see the Scoop.it site ‘Computational Thinking In Digital Technologieshttp://www.scoop.it/t/computational-thinking-in-digital-technologies

These are just a few suggestions that may be worth consideration and implementation in 2014 and/or 2015 with appropriate funding and support, and that don’t require any subject changes or new course selections.

These activities may still prove beneficial even after the full implementation of the ACARA Curriculum.

Based on the statistical and anecdotal evidence , as well as the wisdom of a great many leading Educators such as Gary Stager and Alan November, it appears past time that the great majority of schools in Australia  address the serious deficit that has been allowed to remain in most schools IT curriculum for some years now.

I would suggest that school leaders begins the process to rectify this anomaly, and at the same time ne pro-active and forward thinking Curriculum-wise for the long term benefit of their students and parents.



Paul Herring

M.Sc (Physics)., B.Sc., Dip. Tchg., MACS (Snr) CP, Cert IV (TAE40110)


[1] Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics  (STEMx)  And the  x = Computer Science (CS), Computational Thinking (CT), Inquiry (I), Creativity & Innovation (CI), Global Fluency (GF), Collaboration ( C ), …and other emerging disciplines & 21st century skills.
Also seehttp://www.guide2digitallearning.com/blog_jim_vanides/stem_dead_long_live_stemx

[2] “Computational Thinking (CT)  is a problem-solving process that includes (but is not limited to)  the following characteristics:

  • Formulating problems in a way that enables us to use a computer and other tools to help solve them.
  • Logically organizing and analyzing data
  • Representing data through abstractions such as models and simulations
  • Automating solutions through algorithmic thinking (a series of ordered steps)
  • Identifying, analyzing, and implementing possible solutions with the goal of achieving the most efficient and effective combination of steps and resources
  • Generalizing and transferring this problem solving process to a wide variety of problems” – From International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) & Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), USA

[3] http://www.slideshare.net/StrategicITbyPFH/elh-school-tech-2013-computational-thinking

[4] http://www.acs.org.au/news-and-media/news-and-media-releases/2012/acs-statistical-compendium-2012

[5] https://www.acs.org.au/news-and-media/news-and-media-releases/2012/ict-salaries-continue-to-grow

[6] http://www.acs.org.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/19025/ACS-Report-into-Teenagers-and-ICT-University-of-Canberra-2013.pdf

[7] http://www.acs.org.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/18291/ACS-submission-to-the-ACARA-Draft-Curriculum-May-2013-FINAL.pdf

[8] Some schools, such as The Hutchins School in Tasmania, are already well down this path and implementing new directions and initiatives to embrace this coming tsunami of change.

[9] The ‘maker movement’ is the very fast growing trend where people are employing do-it-yourself (DIY) and do-it-with-others ( DIWO) techniques and processes to develop unique technology products. Generally, DIY and DIWO enables individuals to create sophisticated devices and gadgets, such as printers, robotics and electronic devices, using diagrammed, textual and or video demonstration. With all the resources now available over the Internet, virtually anyone can create simple devices, which in some cases are widely adopted by users.  Most of the products created under the maker movement are open source, as anyone can access and create them using available documentation and manuals.

[10]  Coding in Schools is an initiative for bringing professional programmers into schools to teach and inspire the next generation of programmers – http://www.codinginschools.org/



  1. Pingback: Introducing Computational Thinking Into Your Sc... - July 11, 2014

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