Problem-Solving as a Skill for Life
by Megan Young
Being a part of CTS’s Computational Thinking Equity Project (CTEP) as a mentor has allowed me to work with a group of diverse leaders, educators, and researchers who are passionate about teaching others and learning how they can improve the quality of education for students underrepresented in STEM fields. As a mentor and an aspiring math teacher, this mentorship program has been transformative for how I view education and student learning. I have come to realize that student success in math and computer science is heavily reliant on developing computational thinking skills early on which involves decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, and algorithms. This method of thinking extends beyond the classroom and is even used in our day-to-day activities like brushing our teeth or baking a cake. The most important thing I would want my students to take away from a class is not the quadratic formula, for instance, but rather a way of thinking that allows them to reason and problem solve in life. As one of my math professors used to say, “Math is the only subject in school that really teaches you how to think.”
CTEP has equipped me with the training, resources, and support to carry out my vision as a social justice-oriented educator who focuses on developing student critical thinking and problem resolving skills, designing instructional plans that will best meet students’ academic needs, and building student self-esteem and love of learning. In our biweekly Computational Thinking Vertical Learning Communities, we discuss how we can build student computational thinking by engaging in sample activities ourselves. One of the first activities we wrestled with was trying to figure out how many total squares can be made on a chessboard. I initially naively answered 64 squares since that was what was visually defined on the chessboard, but my peers recognized additional possibilities, such as creating a 2×2 or 3×3 square containing multiple smaller squares. This required us to further engage in the problem using computational thinking, as we had to decompose the chessboard into different sized squares and identify patterns created that could help us quickly count up the squares. Most recently in my classroom, my students were struggling to understand a mathematics lesson that teaches radians of a unit circle by recognizing patterns and repetition of numbers. Thus, brain teasers like this chessboard problem build student reasoning and pattern recognition skills that can be used to introduce math topics such as the unit circle that require similar skills.
Overall, it has been a great joy and honor to be involved in CTEP. I have seen how my own thinking has been challenged and how I have grown as an educator in a short amount of time. I am excited to continue this journey with computational thinking and helping to prepare students for success in STEM fields.
Megan Young is a fourth-year undergraduate student at UCLA studying Mathematics for Teaching and specializing in Computing, and is a STEM mentor with CTS’s Computational Thinking Equity Project (CTEP). She is also in the Joint Math Education Program, an accelerated credential/master’s pathway under UCLA TEP. Through her program, Megan has already begun to student teach at Augustus Hawkins High School. Megan really values conversations, relationships, and working with children, so she is excited to pursue a career in teaching and be involved with computational thinking research., 05 Jun 2023.