Computers can be used to help solve problems. However, before a problem can be tackled, the problem itself - and the ways in which it could be solved - needs to be understood.
Computational thinking helps with this. It allows us to take a complex problem, understand what the problem is and develop possible solutions. These solutions can then be presented in a way that a computer, a human, or both, can understand.
Three important elements of computational thinking are:
A complex problem is one that, at first glance, does not have an obvious, immediate solution.
Computational thinking involves taking that complex problem and breaking it down into a series of small, more manageable problems. Each of these smaller problems can then be looked at individually.
Next, simple steps to solve each of the smaller problems can be designed. Finally, these simple steps are used to program a computer to help solve the complex problem in the best way.
Thinking computationally is not programming. It is not even thinking like a computer, as computers do not, and cannot, think.
Simply put, programming tells a computer what to do and how to do it. Computational thinking enables you to work out exactly what to tell the computer to do.
For example, if you agree to meet your friends somewhere you have never been before, you would probably plan your route before you step out of your house. You might consider the routes available and which route is ‘best’ - this might be the route that is the shortest, the quickest, or the one which goes past your favourite shop on the way. You would then follow the step-by-step directions to get there.
In this case, the planning part is like computational thinking, and following the directions is like programming.
Being able to turn a complex problem into one that can be easily understood is a skill that is extremely useful.