Friday, January 10, 2014

Exploring Computational Thinking with Pegman

Now that my students have had some hands-on practice with computational thinking (CT), I wanted them to see how it is used in real-life to solve real problems in the computing world.  I showed them this great video about how Google uses CT with Google Earth.

We talked about how all the aspects of CT were used to solve the problem with pegman, or in the words of one of my third graders, "Pegman is so dumb that he can only land in fields."  I wanted to see my students apply CT vocabulary to a new situation, not just one that they did themselves hands-on.  In other words, I am looking for transfer of learning to novel situations to be sure that 'they really know what they are talking about.'

Here are some student responses:

"In Google, they use CT like decomposition which is breaking down big problems and making them smaller.  Another aspect of CT is algorithms which is a step by step strategy.  Another is pattern recognition which is identifying patterns and similarities.  In Google, they had a troubling situation with pegman.  When you dropped pegman into a place, he tends to land in random places like an alley. Google struggled for a little bit until the Google Street View Engineer asked himself this question:  "What do people do when they physically go places?"  He said that they take pictures and sometimes people post them.  So he put those photos in places so that when you went to Washington, you would see the White House etc.  In the end, we realize that computational thinking is more like painting and when we complete this painting, it turns out to be something beautiful!"

"These are aspects of CT  - decomposition, pattern recognition and algorithm.  Google once had a problem with pegman.  Whenever he was placed in the center of a city, he lands somewhere random!  Not something good.  So they basically got a ton of pictures and made pegman land where there is a majority of pictures.  So coding is more like art than math because you can create things other than numbers.  It's kind of like thinking of "code" to solve things."

"At Google Earth when the yellow pegman landed in random places, I thought, "Hey!  Maybe we can label the landmarks!"  But that was a lot of labeling.  So I kept the thought to myself.  But they found a good solution to their problem.  They found pics online!  Now that's what I call computational thinking!"

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