Distinguished Lecture - Code as a Metaphor for Computational Thinking

Location: 2150 Torgersen Hall
Date: Friday, February 24, 2012
Time:  11:15am-12:30pm
This talk is open to the general public.

Slides: PDF

Video: Link

Owen Astrachan



From an educational standpoint Computer Science has embraced the phrase 'Computational Thinking' as part of defining what our students should do. The National Academies and the National Research Council call for standards based on Computational Thinking. The National Science Foundation has required that Computational Thinking be addressed in many grants and programs.

What is Computational Thinking? It may be that we cannot define it precisely, but just as Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward said of pornography we "know it when we see it".

In this talk I will use code as a metaphor for explaining efforts to make sure that computational thinking is infusing education in K-12, colleges, and universities. I will talk about the code of software and the code of law-and-protocols and how they can be viewed and used together in courses, programs, and projects both at local and national levels.

I will explain using concrete examples and stories why this metaphor can be empowering both to us and to our students.


Owen Astrachan is the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Computer Science and Professor of the Practice at Duke where he has taught for more than twenty years. He taught mathematics and computer science in high school for seven years and earned an AB in mathematics from Dartmouth and MAT, MS, and PhD degrees from Duke. Professor Astrachan builds curricula and approaches to teaching computer science. This includes an NSF-sponsored, apprentice-learning approach between Duke, Appalachian State, and North Carolina Central and an NSF CAREER Award to incorporate Design Patterns in courses. He was involved early in AP Computer Science: as teacher, as member of the development committee, and as the Chief Reader. He is the PI on the CS Principles project to create a broader, more accessible AP course in computer science. In 1995 he received Duke's Robert B. Cox Distingished Teaching in Science Award, in 1998 he received the Outstanding Instructor Award while on sabbatical at the University of British Columbia, in 2002 he received Duke's Richard K. Lublin award for "ability to engender genuine intellectual excitement, ability to engender curiosity, knowledge of field and ability to communicate that knowledge", and in 2007 he was an inaugural recipient of the NSF/CISE Distinguished Education Fellow award.