How computational thinking has changed professional sports

Billy Beane

Billy Beane

Computational thinking is a really valuable approach or our students to problem solve and introduce them to the world of coding, algorithms and computer science.  It is often difficult to find examples of real world computational thinking that engages students.  

Recently I watched the film 'Moneyball' which upon reflection was a great example of computational thinking in action in which all four elements (decomposing, pattern recognition, abstraction and algorithmic design.) were used to achieve a positive outcome.  I hope you find story useful in better understanding computational thinking and also translating that to your students.

Billy Beane was an average baseball player  shipped around America’s Major League competition in the eighties until he realised he could not achieve the heights he dreamed of, and the teams hiring him realised Billy Beane was not going to take them to the ‘Promised Land.’

Post playing career Billy was hired by the Oakland A’s as their general manager to try and bring them a championship.  Five years into the role Billy came to the realisation that he was trying to win an unfair game.  And it was all because the MLB does not have a salary cap for purchasing players.

This was highlighted in 2001 when the New York Yankees faced the Oakland A’s in a regular season game which drew no major significance except for this...

Team Salary Cap Comparison

Team Payroll Comparison

New York Yankee’s: $144 million

Oakland A’s:  $39 million

Beane conceded his Oakland A’s were little more than a talent incubator for wealthier teams to poach and decided in 2002 things must change or else his career as General Manager would yield the same results as his career as a player.

Against 100 years of tradition and thousands of ‘experts’ advice Beane essentially disbanded the Oakland A’s scouting and development group and entrusted it to Paul De Podesta who was a Harvard Economics Graduate student who knew little about baseball but everything about solving data driven challenges.  He was a great computational thinker.

De Podesta’s mantra was that the Oakland A’s would no longer invest in buying players but would invest in buying win shares.  Beane advised De Podesta as to the statistics and data he believed made an indisputable difference to the win loss column they began statistically to break down every player in Baseball to a single  piece of data  identifying  what impact they had upon winning based upon their salary.

De Podesta identified superstars who were phenomenally overpaid, and nobodies who were absolute steals based upon their measly salaries.

De Podesta

De Podesta

De Podesta  and Beane exemplified all four elements of Computational thinking during this process.

  • De Podesta decomposed their current situation, the elements of success in baseball every player in MLB to a series of statistical value.

  • Beane identified statistical patterns, sequences and structures that occurred in winning baseball teams.

  • They abstracted opinion and discounted irrelevant data which that is unproven in influencing wins and losses in baseball.

  • De Podesta created an algorithm for success based upon statistical data and salary which reinvented the Oakland A’s team and still fit well within their salary limit.

Oakland started the season poorly under a cloud of criticism from all corners of the baseball world.  Outwardly it appeared as if Oakland traded or dumped their most treasured players and replaced them with trash.

Amidst early mounting losses and criticism both Beane and De Podesta believed they had done their research and stood by their formula for success.

To cut a long story short the Oakland A’s started to become the team which Beane and Depodesta envisioned even though they were in the eyes of many nothing more than a washed up, rag tag B league team.

They went on the longest winning streak in professional baseball in a century (20 games) and finished atop their division with a win loss record of 103-59.  This was exceptional when considering they had a losing record over the first third of the season.

They did not win the championship in 2002 but the Boston Redsox adopted Beane and DePodesta’s “moneyball”  approach in 2003 and won the ultimate prize in 2004.  

Beane was offered the highest paying contract in sports amangement in 2003 by the Boston Redsox which he turned down. He is still the GM of the Oakland Athletics.

DePodesta has moved around multiple U.S sporting teams and even leagues to share his Computational Thinking  approach to winning and losing which is valued by nearly every major professional sport as an essential element for accountability and success.

Getting a 'Techie Brekkie" up and running at your school

So the concept is simple and definitely not one that I can lay claim to.  Put on a nice breakfast and invite teachers to come and learn short bites of information they can begin using in the classroom the same day.

The 'Techie Brekkie" has become a popular way for ICT, Learning Technologies or whatever you want to call it to claw back some professional learning time from the heavy after school meeting schedule which is mainly dominated by literacy and numeracy.

This presentation below outlines some of the key things you might want to remember when running a techie brekkie that make it different from a traditional professional development session.

I am sure that many of you may have run a session of your own and I would love to add a comment in the section below that might help others even more.  Enjoy.


LEGO updates their robotics lineup for juniors

LEGO have done a great job over the last few years by providing students and teachers with the tools to create some really innovative robotics opportunities in the classroom.

Lego Mindstorms EV3 got an overhaul a few years back which kept it relevant for kids aged 12 and up, but their junior range of robotics known as WE-DO was a little uninspiring for younger kids who expected a little more from a product classified as a robotics tool.

This year at CES LEGO unveiled WE-DO 2.0 which allows for for a far more complex range of programming options, all new teaching resources and connectivity with all major wireless devices such as the iPad.

Best of all it is cheaper and has a LOT less parts than EV3 which is important when this equipment is being shared by hundreds of kids.

We-Do 2.0 now offers a logical programming experience that can be translated to from skills learnt on popular platforms such as scratch and Tynker.

Check out the videos and links below for more information.

LEGO WeDo 2.0 resources

Lego WeDo Bit by Brick programming platform

5 S.TE.M gifts for coders, makers and computational thinkers

With only a few weeks until Christmas many parents may not realise they have a budding Henry Ford in the making who just needs a spark to light a fire to ignite ingenuity and creativity.

Today, we are going look at five gifts that offer your kids to problem solve, code, identify patterns and create algorithms to solve programs.  Whilst I am writing about these at Christmas they would obviously also be great STEM resources for the classroom.

I had one of these Electronic Kits as a boy and I learnt so much about how electronic circuits work and what different components can do.  So much to do here for under $50.00 and they are very durable.  Whilst there are clear instructions to follow it also offers much in the way of problem solving and algorithmic design.

Laser maze encourages kids to think and act sequentially to solve and avoid problems.  Plenty of logic required to compete and it even uses real lasers.  

Okay, I know this one is a pricey option but it clearly ticks every box for quality of product, educational value and awesome fun.  Build an incredible robot using the worlds most proven and versatile toy.  Command your robot by either coding the inbuilt computer which is incredibly versatile or just use the remote control.   Then when you are finished use your imagination to create a robot or machine only limited by your imagination.  These sets are hugely popular in schools and are already highly credentialed for educational value alone.

Camelot Jr.

Basic building blocks are great, but this wooden-block puzzle game helps build even more skills for your budding engineer or architect. It includes 48 interesting challenges at four different skill levels, all with the goal of connecting the prince and princess by building stairs, bridges, and towers according to the "blueprint" laid out in the challenge book.

No, it isn't Wall-E or an expensive super LEGO robot but ReCon is a great little programming rover that uses all the common commands and of real coders.  Easy to pick up, very versatile and won't break the bank.

So there are five options to consider in this space.  If you have any other suggestions please leave us a comment.

5 great sites to get your head around computational thinking

This eBook is a great starting point for teachers looking to get started with computational thinking, coding and robotics. Click image to access.

This eBook is a great starting point for teachers looking to get started with computational thinking, coding and robotics. Click image to access.

This year I have been doing a great deal of research around understanding computational thinking, coding and robotics as it becomes a mandatory element of the Australian Curriculum in 2017.

I really feel this to be a huge step in the right direction for our students as Australia's economy is currently built upon unsustainable mining practices which leaves our best and brightest to head overseas as to pursue successful careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Throughout this process I have struggled at times to find some worthwhile resources for teachers but at the same time uncovered a few diamonds among the rough that I highly recommend.  They are as follows.

Teaching London Computing - Has some fun activities for teachers to pick up and run with straight away that effectively reinforce the concepts of computational thinking and computer science to the average Joe.  Regulatory updated also.

CSER Digital Technologies MOOC.  - This is by far and away the most concise resource I have encountered.  A completely free unit from the University of Adelaide with hundreds of participants sharing ideas and insights.  It will take you a few weeks to get through but incredibly thorough.  It is aimed at an Aussie audience but is by far and away the best I have encountered globally.

CS Unplugged - Tim Bell has put together an incredible collection of activities for budding computer scientists and computational thinkers.  Just one catch though.  You don't use a computer to do any of them which I love.  Excellent for those who are a little scared by screens and keyboards.

Computational Thinking for Educators - Google's free mini course on computational thinking  is short but sweet.  In theory you could polish this off in a few hours but there is much to explore and flesh out beyond that.  A great starting point. - Whilst is probably the largest of all of these resources and definitely a must visit for any budding teacher or student looking for ideas in this space it's purpose is a little less defined than all the others on this list.  Or at least I felt so.  Certainly heaps here for coders in particular but go in with an end goal.

If you are aware of any others I would love to hear your thoughts.


Introducing the 'Geek of the Week' project to engage students with technology.

Next time someone calls you a 'Geek!' go and thank them for it, give them a hug if need be.  Because if we stop and look at many great people who changed our world for the better through innovation and the pursuit of technology, they were in fact 'geeks.'

In the US alone today 51 billionaires would identify as 'geeks' through the wealth theyccumulated from our love affection with technology.

So I thought it was time to stopped hating on them  and actually encouraged our kids to release their inner geek which has resulted in the 'Geek of the Week Project."

The purpose of this project is to offer a gateway for students and teachers to use the language of technology and computational thinking in front of their peers whilst researching some amazing technologies that which either already changed our world for the better or are in the process of doing so.

This project will open your students eyes to jobs and career paths which may have previously been unknown to them and maybe they may find another 'technology hero' to go alongside the Lebron James' and Taylor Swift's.

You can access this project either as a Google Slide or Microsoft PowerPoint and feel free to alter it in any way to meet the needs of your students.  It is completely up to you and your imagination.

I would finally like to thank the team over at Innovative Teaching Ideas for sharing this resource with us again.  You can either access it as the Google slide below or by clicking here to access it as a PowerPoint presentation.

Enjoy and leave a comment if you have anything to add to this.

Hello, World!

Facts & Myths about Computational Thinking in Classrooms

Whenever I speak to teachers about computational thinking it seems to place a layer of tension and confusion upon their shoulders, as most have preconceptions about this new ‘imposition placed upon them’.  They usually to glaze over and seek alternate discussion topics within minutes...

From experience I find most teachers have this attitude to Computational Thinking.

  • “At some point in time I know the curriculum is going to make it mandatory for me to teach this stuff…”

  • “I don’t know a single thing about coding and robotics, and I think they have something to do with computational thinking.  And that stuff is really hard to learn”

  • “I only teach English or (insert topic here) and it’s not really going to affect me so I am pretty sure all those nerdy teachers will deal with it for my school..”

  • “Maybe if we just ignore it… It will go away.”

Recently, I set about  trying to better understand computational thinking myself through research and professional development, before I had too many more conversations with teachers.

I have good news for teachers getting anxious about how they are going to deal with it when it becomes reality for them…  It’s definitely not rocket science, but it is a little different and can be  quite exciting for teachers and students who are prepared to buy in....

Firstly we need to break down these common misconceptions around computational thinking. So let’s look at the facts.

  • Computational Thinking is a strategy for solving problems that can be applied to any field or situation.  Much the same as the concept of De Bono’s six thinking hats or other problem solving models.  

  • Computational Thinking and Computer Science are two completely different things, and you can successfully teach and use computational thinking without ever touching a computer if you chose to.

  • You definitely do not need to make robots, learn a new language  or program a computer to ensure your students understand computational thinking.

  • It’s not going away anytime soon…  In fact it’s on the rise

If you want to get an understanding of what computational thinking is in  under six minutes then watch this clip from Google Computational Thinking experts.  It should be essential viewing for any teacher  before jumping to conclusions.

Essentially there are four parts to computational thinking as aforementioned which can be applied to any problem.

    Decomposition - Breaking a problem into smaller parts so you may divide a task.

    Pattern Recognition - Finding similarities and differences in order to make predictions

    Abstraction - Identifying the general principles that generate the patterns

    Algorithm Design - Developing the step by step instructions to solve problems.

Don’t get me wrong.  Computational Thinking definitely lends itself to computer science and opens the doors to coding and robotics.  You will certainly need to embrace technology if you wish to go any further than teaching and learning the process of Computational Thinking.

Why are we doing all of this?  Haven’t we already got enough in the curriculum?  I hear you say…

Yes the curriculum is overcrowded, but governments around the world see this as an essential skill in the 21st Century workforce.  If you need evidence around it’s place in our  society simply take look at the look at the world's top companies and richest individuals.  You will see the Apple’s and Google’s of the world fill out a large portion of those lists, and all exist on the fundamentals of Computational Thinking.

In essence we need to turn our kids from technology consumers to creators.  And Computational Thinking allows us to make this change.

If you would like to learn all out Computational Thinking for Educators I would strongly recommend you partake in this great free course from Google.  

from my experience Computational Thinking is a worthwhile problem solving skill  for anyone, and certainly something teachers shouldn't fear.
I acknowledge coding and robotics is a long stretch for most to get their head around but it is not an essential part of Computational Thinking and shouldn't put you and your students off from taking the first steps into a new realm of teaching and learning opportunities.

Google Classroom just made specialist teaching easier across multiple schools

The ever evolving and ever improving Google Classroom has just released an update that will bring a smile to teachers and schools who share staff or run cross campus teaching groups.

This update allows a teacher to work with a class of students outside of their base school domain.  So for example if you were a specialist language teacher operating across three different schools you can now manage all of your Google Classroom activity from a single account.  The other option I can see here is that teachers could also enrol for professional development run through Google Classroom from an outside provider.

For this to update to apply your Google Apps for Education administrator will need to add any external teachers to their white list to ensure security for students.  Further information can be found here.