computational thinking

[NSW] Skills of the Future: Sit the CAT Competition at North Shore

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When people talk about the future, we think of robots, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and self-driving cars. These advanced technologies might seem distant, daunting, or even dystopian — but they will almost certainly become part of our lives in some way or another, whether you’ll be one of the brilliant minds programming them, or simply a member of a society in which their influence and power is unavoidable.

But you can, and should, prepare for this future now. Computational thinking is an increasingly important discipline of study, and is already a part of the NSW curriculum as part of the vital thinking skills required for future academic and career success. And there’s no better way to pique your child’s interest, test their ability and get them started than the Computational and Algorithmic Thinking (CAT) Competition, run by the Australian Mathematics Trust (AMT) and hosted by North Shore Coaching College.

What is computational and algorithmic thinking?

According to the NSW curriculum, computational thinking is a process where a problem is analysed and solved so that a human, machine or computer can effectively implement the solution. It involves using strategies to organise data logically, break down problems into parts, interpret patterns and design and implement algorithms to solve problems. Computational thinking is typically subdivided into four key aspects which are decomposition, abstraction, pattern recognition and algorithms. Algorithmic thinking is therefore a subset of computational thinking, but a vital and often challenging one.

Decomposition involves breaking something down into smaller parts. We often do this when we have a large or difficult task and need to break it into smaller steps in order to make it more manageable. In Year 1, for example, this might involve having students break down the routine of arriving at school. How did they get ready for the day? What transport did they take? What did they do when they arrived at school?

Abstraction is the ability to focus on the key details of a problem and ignore details that are unimportant. This is a vital skill in computational thinking as it can help us avoid getting bogged down by little details of a problem. In Year 2, this might involve students identifying the key skills you need to be a good soccer or football player. Whilst students might think that new soccer boots or fancy equipment make a good player, these details don’t focus on key skills such as passing and shooting. Abstraction removes unnecessary information in order to focus on what is important to solve the problem or answer the question.

Pattern recognition is about looking for trends or similarities which might help us better organise our thinking. Pattern recognition is another key computational thinking skill that many students will already be familiar with, particularly in mathematics. In Year 4, this might involve students creating a T-chart to classify or organise a selection of living and non-living things. Pattern recognition requires students to look for similarities and differences between items in order to compare and group these things in meaningful ways. Exploring mathematical patterns such as the Fibonacci sequence can also be a great way to delve into pattern recognition.

Algorithms or algorithmic design involves creating a set of step-by-step instructions in order to complete a task or solve a problem. Providing a robot with a set of instructions to follow a map is an example of an algorithm. In Year 5, students might create a flowchart or written instructions in order to complete a task such as borrowing a book from the library or separating a mixture. Algorithmic design is the basis of much of today’s Internet, from getting directions on Google Maps to what appears in your Facebook newsfeed. But it’s not just about computers and technology. Algorithmic thinking skills support the development of general reasoning, problem-solving and communication skills by giving students the skills to fluently interpret and design structured procedures and rule systems. Such procedures and rule systems can be found in a wide range of curriculum areas, with complex rule systems frequently found in the syntax of languages, in scientific classification, and in legal reasoning.

Why is computational thinking important? The curriculum spells it out clearly. The problems and challenges that our students may face in the future are yet to be determined. Computational thinking will help students address this uncertainty, encouraging them to become more flexible problem solvers and innovative learners.

What is the Computational and Algorithmic Thinking Competition?

The Computational and Algorithmic Thinking (CAT) competition is a one-hour problem solving competition designed to encourage student curiosity and promote multiple modes of thinking.

Neither teachers nor students will need computer programming ability, but the competition will help identify students’ computer programming potential—something that they might not normally have the opportunity to demonstrate.

The competition is an ideal activity to encourage students to solve real-world problems. It is suitable for all students and the process helps them become more confident as they take on interesting new challenges.

The competition has a mixture of multiple-choice and integer answers and incorporates unique ‘three-stage tasks’ that encourage students to develop informal algorithms and apply them to test data of increasing size or complexity. The original problems are designed to be quick to solve and highly approachable, and range in difficulty from very easy to challenging. Some questions test the ability to perform procedures, others require logical thought, while the more challenging problems require the identification and application of algorithms.

How can I register for CAT?

You can register for CAT right on our North Shore website. The competition will be held at our Chatswood Principal Campus on Friday 26 March and Saturday 27 March 2021. Get in quick; seats are limited! Registration closes at 11:59pm on Friday 12 March 2021.

Register for CAT now

How can I prepare for CAT?

North Shore Coaching College has past AMC, ICAS and other papers that may be purchased to assist your child to prepare for the examination. These past papers provide a valuable opportunity to gain test experience whilst acquainting candidates with the style and content of possible question types. Please visit the North Shore Shop to purchase past papers, and many other educational resources. There are also some free resources provided by the AMT: the Practice Problems Platform and Sandpit.

Purchase Past Papers

How else can I develop and enrich my child’s learning?

Stay tuned to the North Shore news page for updates about more competitions and assessments which play a vital role in our supplementing students’ learning, such as the Australian Mathematics Competition. You can also register your interest for email updates about our competitions.

In the meantime, check out our core term tutoring programs, which are designed to develop all the learning and thinking skills necessary for school and examination success, as well as our myriad of enriching curricular and extracurricular holiday programs.


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