Information Age Education
   Issue Number 12
February, 2009   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. For more information, see the end of this newsletter.

The newsletter’s goal is to help improve education. Please help build circulation to this free newsletter by publicizing it to your colleagues, students, and others you think will benefit from the newsletter.

“My familiarity with various software programs is part of my intelligence if I have access to those tools.” (David Perkins, 1992.)

"The most dangerous experiment we can conduct with our children is to keep schooling the same at a time when every other aspect of our society is dramatically changing." (Chris Dede, written statement to the PCAST panel, 1997.) Read about Dede at

Looking Back

HistoryComputer literacy and computational thinking were mentioned in the IAE Newsletter #8 and #9. Computer literacy became a well-known term after Art Luehrmann discussed in a 1972 article and the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences discussed in a 1972 report. Luehrmann’s fun and delightful article is available at

In both 1972 documents, there is an emphasis on students learning to make use of a computer to help solve problems and accomplish tasks. There is an emphasis on learning how to tell a computer what to do by learning how to write computer programs.

The result was a substantial growth in teaching various types of computer literacy courses at the precollege level. Many of these courses involved students learning how to program in BASIC or Logo. However, eventually this computer programming orientation of computer literacy courses nearly died out. It was replaced by students learning to make use of a search engine on the Web, email in the Internet, a word processor, computer-assisted instruction, and computer games.

Looking at More Current Times

CurrentJeannette Wing was the Head of the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon when the following article was published:

Wing, Jeannette M. (March, 2006). Computational thinking. Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery. Retrieved 2/9/2009:

Since then, Jeannette Wing has become the Head of the Computer & Information Science & Engineering Directorate at the National Science Foundation. Her work there is giving a huge push to computational thinking.

In some sense, computational thinking is an updated version of the idea of computer literacy. Quoted from the Website of the Center for Computational Thinking at Carnegie Mellon:
  • Computational thinking is a way of solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science.
  • Computational thinking means creating and making use of different levels of abstraction, to understand and solve problems more effectively.
  • Computational thinking is about the automation of these abstractions.
  • Our vision is that computational thinking is for everyone, not just computer scientists.

 Looking into the Future

The FutureIn my opinion, the concepts of both computer literacy and computational thinking are too narrow. Spend some time studying the following diagram. It is adapted from the “Person Plus” work of David Perkins. See

Problem-Solving Team Diagram

The basic idea is that humans develop and learn to use tools that extend their physical and mental capabilities. These tools help them solve problems and accomplish tasks. Many of these problems and tasks could not be done without the tools.

Many tools are aids to both physical and mental performance. Many tools include a broad range of information and communication capabilities. So when you hear the term computational thinking, think more broadly than just computers and computer science.

Thus, we need students to learn “Tool Literacy” and “Tool Thinking.” This should be occurring in a hands-on teaching and learning environment that includes authentic content, authentic instruction, and authentic assessment.

About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. IAE is a project of the Science Factory, a 501(c)(3) science and technology museum located in Eugene, Oregon. Current IAE activities include a Wiki with address, a Website containing free books and articles at,  and the free newsletter you are now reading.

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