Computational thinking is a problem-solving method that gives students skills they can apply in various ways and in different subject matters. Students use data to identify components and patterns in a problem, and break the larger problem down into digestible parts. The method comes in handy when writing code.
“Computational thinking has been described as a ‘Swiss Army Knife for solving problems,'” Wendt said. In short, it teaches students to think the way a computer programmer would think by formulating a specific thought process for expressing solutions to problems.
“By giving students this toolbox, we prepare them for not only understanding and handling STEM, but also give them an entry point for enjoying–or even loving–it,” he said.
In 2006, Wendt visited schools in Sweden and talked with children between the ages of 8 and 10 about how technology and engineering are for everyone–especially girls.
“The purpose was not to convince every girl to be a coder, it was to remove any barriers they might have in their minds about computer science–or any STEM career–being an option for them,” Wendt said.
Research shows that young girls can become discouraged and move away from STEM subjects as early as elementary school, and being proactive can help reverse that trend.
“We need strong female role models at an early age, innovative literature and tools, and encouragement to help girls explore science and technology on their own–these are some of the keys to getting girls into coding and STEM,” Wendt said.
Until fairly recently, technology role models have been mostly men, and while more women are moving into high-profile technology positions, progress is slow.
“Programs like Girls Who Code do a fantastic job of introducing young women to technology and dispelling myths of an industry that’s been historically dominated by males,” Wendt said. “However, they still face an uphill battle because they don’t work with the girls until they are in 6th grade at the earliest. We need to focus on making STEM accessible and engaging from day one.”
This means moving away from static science and math activities and integrating things like physical movement and virtual reality, he said, citing research from Clemson University indicating that combining movement with computer programming helps young girls build computational thinking skills.
“We need to inspire young girls, and create new pathways to success that include new ways of thinking,” he said.