Picture this; you’re asked to design something, anything, that incorporates Computational Thinking and Physics. You approach a table and you see the following:
Your first thought may be the same as mine …”Ummm…ok.”
Now, I’ve been a high school teacher for eight years, teaching all levels of Physics. I’ve been exposed to a wide number of activities. At this particular moment, though, it wasn’t about me. As a teacher, I was grouped with two students and, together, we had the opportunity to decide what we should do with given materials.
One student had the idea to investigate how different objects roll. We rolled with that. Our task then became determining what would be different about the objects. We added water to one coffee can to increase mass, changed the texture on the outside to alter frictional force, and found a volleyball to look at shape. In order to ensure the consistency of rolling, we made a ramp out of the tables.
The students may not have been aware of this fact , but what we arrived at was a way to investigate rotational kinetic energy and moment of inertia of various objects. Simply by allowing the students to do this themselves got them excited and pushed them into determining their own methods, finding their own patterns in data, and pushing them towards understanding.
While the conversation with the students did not focus around the ideas of Computational Thinking, many of the aspects were there, including:
- thinking in levels – breaking a larger problem into a smaller problems
- creating and obtaining data to determine patterns that exist with physical phenomena
- building and actively modifying a model to fit appropriate needs
- investigating relationships within a system
As a classroom teacher, I enjoyed the openness of the maker space ideas. I enjoyed the opportunity to engage students in Computational Thinking practices, as well as pushing them past their initial thoughts and feelings to create something we could use and examine. I felt as though I was helping students reach a greater understanding of something, even if they may not have realized it. I believe building Computational Thinking skills is important for young people, greatly exceeding the need to remember physics content. I will continue to investigate and incorporate these ideals in my own classroom.