Mindfulness & Computing
Computational thinking skills are at the heart of the new computing curriculum in UK. It’s a powerful way of solving problems. It will now be a tool in the problem solving toolset that pupils leave school with. It will equip them to not only understand the digital world, but will also compliment their understanding of mindfulness and the human world.
Computational thinking or ‘computer-like’ thinking is to use computational or computational like models where pupils act out computation in different situations. When computers ‘think’, it is similar to being in a state of mindfulness because
- They have to ensure they’re in the present moment or else the model breaks.
- They have to be aware of every step they take in the series or else the same problems arise.
A programming lesson where children are asked to write the complete instructions for making a jam sandwich for a robot to carry out. They will naturally carry out the task themselves trying to note down everything they do as part of the process. This is a mindful activity and is a metaphor for children to understand how computers think.
Computational thinking makes for a much more interesting subject than if computing were just about programming – it is much more than that! These skills are not in themselves unique and as explained above are transferable to mindfulness teaching.
Computational thinking skills can most definitively be brought into life problems just as mindful skills can – indeed both are incredibly comparable. Computation is something you could argue monks and nuns have been attempting to achieve for thousands of years.
‘Algorithmic thinking’ is at the heart of this. The core idea is that the solution to a problem isn’t just getting an answer; it is the algorithm – the process. Just because you have completed a Rubik’s cube, doesn’t mean you have solved it. Just because you have got angry at someone doesn’t mean you have solved your friendship issue and nor is the solution to life the number 42. – It’s about viewing, editing ‘debugging’ and improving the processes.
The teaching of algorithms has already been happening in primary schools for years. When we learn how to do addition or multiplication we are just learning an algorithm. Once you have an algorithm for doing multiplication you can multiply any numbers together as long as we carefully follow the steps. We aren’t always good at doing that which is why many of us find maths hard. Of course following instructions precisely is exactly what computers are good at, and that is why computational thinking is linked to computing, but it can transform the way we think about human work too.
Computational thinkers gain an understanding of the world about them that makes them able to model things from a variety of perspectives and this compliments mindful activity. Mindful activity should also help produce better computational thinkers. There are all sorts of activities that may be viewed as computational processes, eating a tangerine, cleaning your teeth, washing up, drinking a cup of tea and dare I say even meditation. Instructive in different ways, computational thinking will be usable for children throughout their lives.
Mindfulness & ICT teaching can work together.
There is no question that ICT hardware such as interactive whiteboards, mobile technology or software such as educational games can help improve pupils’ learning if used creatively and intelligently.
The aim of any 2015 ICT teaching is surely to produce pupils who are confident, safe, healthy & ethical learners who can access and use ICT as an essential life skill which enhances their ability to communicate, create and collaborate.
There also needs to be an understanding that technology is everywhere and has the potential to positively change children’s lives. However, we should also recognise the amount of time children spend in front of screens and the potential harm this could cause them. We have a commitment to ensure children leave school with the skills to adapt and use technology successfully & should ensure this through both traditional ICT lessons and the promotion of ‘unplugged computing’.
Unplugged computing allows children to learn all about the ICT curriculum through offline games & problem solving activities which behave as computers would traditionally. Children will carry out true ICT learning without needing to use computers.
In terms of mindfulness & Buddhist principles, ICT lessons provide children with opportunities to understand globalisation and the interconnected nature of our modern world through positive & contextualised use of the internet.
Through learning about e-safety and through our topics on social networking for children children are provided a real context in which to practice our child friendly 5 precepts and see how they should still apply to the online world.
The Five Precepts
- I will try not to harm anyone or anything in our school.
- I will try to be caring towards the people I share the school with.
- I will try to keep healthy and keep my mind calm.
- I will ask when I want to borrow something and share.
- I will try to be truthful and use mindful speech.
This includes looking after our equipment and sharing it, caring for the online community and being mindful in the way we speak online, thinking about copyright issues and plagiarism and thinking about how we can healthily and constructively use technology for good. Through programming, algorithms and instructional writing children can see the relationships between computational thinking and the act of Right Mindfulness – Concentrating on what is at the forefront of your mind, the present moment, and acknowledging its relationship to loving kindness & compassion.