Code as a Metaphor for Computational Thinking (CS Seminar Lecture Series)

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

From an educational standpoint Computer Science has embraced the phrase 'Computational Thinking' as part of defining what our students should do. The National Academies and the National Research Council call for standards based on Computational Thinking. The National Science Foundation has required that Computational Thinking be addressed in many grants and programs.

What is Computational Thinking? It may be that we cannot define it precisely, but just as Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward said of pornography we "know it when we see it".

In this talk I will use code as a metaphor for explaining efforts to make sure that computational thinking is infusing education in K-12, colleges, and universities. I will talk about the code of software and the code of law-and-protocols and how they can be viewed and used together in courses, programs, and projects both at local and national levels.

I will explain using concrete examples and stories why this metaphor can be empowering both to us and to our students.

BIO: Owen Astrachan is the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Computer Science and Professor of the Practice at Duke where he has taught for more than twenty years. He taught mathematics and computer science in high school for seven years and earned an AB in mathematics from Dartmouth and MAT, MS, and PhD degrees from Duke. Professor Astrachan builds curricula and approaches to teaching computer science. This includes an NSF-sponsored, apprentice-learning approach between Duke, Appalachian State, and North Carolina Central and an NSF CAREER Award to incorporate Design Patterns in courses. He was involved early in AP Computer Science: as teacher, as member of the development committee, and as the Chief Reader. He is the PI on the CS Principles project to create a broader, more accessible AP course in computer science. In 1995 he received Duke's Robert B. Cox Distingished Teaching in Science Award, in 1998 he received the Outstanding Instructor Award while on sabbatical at the University of British Columbia, in 2002 he received Duke's Richard K. Lublin award for "ability to engender genuine intellectual excitement, ability to engender curiosity, knowledge of field and ability to communicate that knowledge", and in 2007 he was an inaugural recipient of the NSF/CISE Distinguished Education Fellow award.

The Computer Science Seminar Lecture Series is a collection of weekly lectures about topics at the forefront of contemporary computer science research, given by speakers knowledgeable in their field of study. These speakers come from a variety of different technical and geographic backgrounds, with many of them traveling from other universities across the globe to come here and share their knowledge. These weekly lectures were recorded with an HD video camera, edited with Apple Final Cut Pro X, and outputted in such a way that the resulting .mp4 video files were economical to store and stream utilizing the university's limited bandwidth and disk space resources.

Computer Science Lecture Series