How to Assess “Computational Thinking”?

Assessment is one of the hardest things teachers do.  Yes, sometimes we can grade tests and there are right and wrong answers, but often, we’re trying to assess and provide feedback on how a student thinks.  Or we’re assessing the process of how they got from point A to point B.  I like how Dawn address this issue in this post, using a pre-assessment as a starting point.

Standards-based grading helps here a lot, giving some good language for the students to understand where they are: you don’t know this at all, you’re learning, you’ve almost mastered it, you’re a ninja (to simplify).   After going through her papers and assessing them, she came up with a list of things the students need to understand.  She looked at their misconceptions closely and determined what exactly they were.  Such a great idea!  Here are here conclusions:

Some common misconceptions I ran into that I’ll need to watch as we go through the unit:

– Not understanding that one block = one instruction
– Not knowing what variables represent or keeping track of more than one variable
– Changing variables, assigning variables, substituting values in place of variables
– Not understanding what a Repeat block does
– Not understanding “if” and especially nested “if” statements
– Not seeing that instructions are run one at a time, starting at the beginning and following an order of execution
– Not understanding that the instructions inside a Repeat loop can do something different each time depending on values of variables and conditional statements
– Thinking of the narrative of a game instead of rules that are followed

All of the above things are things most of us teaching CS see quite often, but it’s nice to see it in a list like this.  When I go over quizzes and tests, I sometimes make lists like this, of things that hung people up.

More importantly, Dawn addresses the thinking and learning strategies that have gone awry:

– Not actually reading the prompt on an assessment
– Not answering all parts of a question
– Being sad about not understanding a pre-assessment
– Not writing in complete thoughts, let alone complete sentences
– Getting lost and giving up and lacking strategies to understand the text

The one about being sad and the one about getting lost really get to me.   Those are the things that sometimes stop kids in their tracks and keep them from learning the material even when they are capable of doing so.  In Computer Science (and in other STEM fields), that feeling of being lost or sad (after a test or other assessment) often drives people away, especially women, who are more likely to blame themselves rather than appreciate that there’s a learning curve and that they’re at the beginning.

I’m looking forward to seeing more from Dawn on her assessment strategies.   It’s something I think about and work on all the time, especially those thinking pieces.


One Reply to “How to Assess “Computational Thinking”?”

  1. I appreciate your sharing your thoughts with me. I like the dialogue on the thinking strategies and also the emotional / affective part of STEM. Computing is a high frustration activity and the mindset is more important than the technical skill. If only mindset were the easy part to teach!! Keep your eye out for resources on both assessing and teaching mindset and thinking strategies… I would love to see anything that you turn up.

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