Computational thinking and spreadsheets

One way you can “get into” computational thinking is through spreadsheets. Taking a practical view of what “computational thinking” means (see What is Computational Thinking?), I’d say that spreadsheets definitely fit the bill. In order to try to solve a problem using a spreadsheet, which is a tool for modelling or simulation, you have to do the following things:

Data Model Template, by Ivan Walsh

  • Work out what it is you are trying to find out
  • Frame the problem in terms a computer (spreadsheet) will understand
  • Work out what the influential changeable elements are (ie the variables)
  • Decide what operation/s is/are required, ie what algorithm is/are needed
  • Design the spreadsheet
  • Construct it, automating as much of it as possible, especially the error-checking
  • Test it
  • Decide on the best (eg most efficient) solution

As a bonus, if you use Excel then you will automatically have the built-in programming language, Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). In a forthcoming post I will relate what the benefits of VBA are. In another post or two I will give examples of spreadsheets I’ve created that exemplify computational thinking.

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