Science 2.0: Developing the Computational Thinker

For the past few issues, we have been focusing on the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards. This month, we look at the Computational Thinker standard. Its performance indicators require students to use technology-assisted methods to explore and find solutions; collect data, use digital tools to analyze them, and represent data in various ways; break problems into parts and develop models to facilitate problem-solving; and understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking (ISTE 2016).

Working with data
Students need to become adept at collecting data, typically during labs in which they may be asked to fill in data tables. In co-author Ben Smith’s class, students would compile their data on spreadsheets, learning how to make calculations, graph and chart data, conduct analyses, and solve problems. Students can share data through a Google Form.

Further, students can learn how asking the right questions will lead to the data they desire. Initially, the questions could involve simple research such as the number of siblings, favorite color, height, or age. Data sets in Google Sheets can be used to analyze the class’s results and help students become more familiar with the data-manipulation tools. Questions on Google Forms can even require data validation, which ensures that each response meets the stated requirements.

Automating calculations in a spreadsheet or Google Sheet can find averages, sums, and data counts. Creating graphs, linear regressions, and histograms can help students make predictions and analyses that accompany each data set. Google Add-ons are tools that provide more functionality to the Sheets app.

Students should be able to use online tools (,, and to import a large data set into a spreadsheet for further analysis. This teaches about the importance of multiple trials involved in collecting large data sets. Teachers may have students work on a part of an experiment and then share their data with the class through a classwide Google Form.

On Google Trends, you can enter search terms that will yield results broken down by searches over time, by region, and by related queries. Students can use the tool to find when the next flu epidemic may be coming based on searched terms. When a second term is added to the query, students can see correlations between data sets. Searching the terms tsunami and earthquake, for instance, reveals a correlation between the two. To evidence their learning, students can first examine online infographics (e.g.,,, and then use online tools to create infographics of their own (e.g.,,

Students can use algorithmic thinking to learn to solve problems that lead to automated solutions. Ask students to map steps they will take in solving the problem. A concept mapping tool (such as LucidChart, MindMaps, or Popplet) allows students to create a flowchart or a decision tree to sequence the events needed to complete the solution. Additionally, has a number of activities that teachers and students can use to learn about algorithmic thinking.

The Computational Thinker can collect, present, and analyze data while working through a strategic solution.

Ben Smith ( is an educational technology program specialist, and Jared Mader ( is the director of educational technology, for the Lincoln Intermediate Unit in New Oxford, Pennsylvania. They conduct teacher workshops on technology in the classroom nationwide.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). 2016. The 2016 ISTE standards for students. Arlington, VA: ISTE.

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the February 2017 issue of The Science Teacher journal from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).

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2 Responses to Science 2.0: Developing the Computational Thinker

  1. Jane Krauss says:

    These are great ideas and resources for developing CT without getting directly involved in computer science. I’d go a step further and suggest that students also try their hand at computer science with SCRATCH and other low-bar programming platforms.

  2. Samantha S. says:

    These are all great ways to meet the Computational Thinker ISTE standard. I am currently going through the program to become certified as a Level 1 Google Instructor and have learned a lot recently about the great programs for teachers that google offers. Google Forms is one of my favorite programs that I’ve learned about so far. After reading this blog, I’ve realized that there are so many sources that can be paired with Google Forms to really hit the data collection domain of the Computational Thinker standard. I teach 6th grade math and would incorporate this standard into one of my favorite lessons. At the end of the year, I pair up with the science teacher to do a joint unit on data collection and display (math) and physics (science). The project we do is called “The Egg Drop Project” where students have to design a carrier that can safely protect an egg that is dropped from the top of a fire truck ladder onto macadam following certain rules and guidelines. Currently, I have the students use paper and pencil to collect data and create graphs to display their data. Next year, I am going to have the students use technology to display their data. I am going to look into some of the programs mentioned in this blog post. Thank you!

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