Lorena Barba’s Keynote: Computational Thinking is Computational Learning

“If you can do mathematics with a dynamic technology instead of with a static one, then perhaps you can do real mathematics instead of denatured mathematics and thereby open the possibility of a Samba School effect.” —Seymour Papert

The term computational thinking was coined by MIT’s Seymour Papert and popularized by Carnegie Mellon’s Jeannette Wing.  In a series of papers and talks Wing, now Corporate Vice President at Microsoft Research, has argued that the approach to problem solving and design which underlies computer science training is a “universally applicable attitude and skill set that everyone, not just computer scientists, should be eager to learn and use.” Wing’s ideas have gained some traction in the educational community, but not as much as I think they deserve.

In a brilliant keynote at SciPy2014 Lorena Barba riffs off Jeannette Wing but also brings us full circle to a number of Papert’s important ideas in educational design. Barba suggests that computational learning is a type of learning and with tools such as IPython Notebook we can finally begin to shape educational experiences in science and mathematics which is truly interactive and based on sharing and collaboration. Barba is first and foremost a scientist. But we look forward to seeing her emerge as a powerful and eloquent voice in education.

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