#whatisschool – Computational Thinking

What is Computational Thinking?

There are a number of definitions out there on what computational thinking is. I like this definition by Cummins in his book:


Computational thinking is defined by Cummins as a process that “encourages students to explore solutions to problems that remain unsolved. (It) inspires innovation and supports problem-solving skills”.

We often confuse Computational Thinking and Computer Science as one in the same, however, they both differ yet can enhance each others concepts as well. In my book – Computational thinking, I explain the difference between these two concepts:

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We are seeing a shift in how society engages with the digital elements. The way we think and operate is very different now to how our parents functioned on a daily basis growing up. The skills required in the future are in essence still a little unknown, but what we do know is people do and will need to be confident at interacting with digital components in society. Just look at how we get our news, how we deliver content to our students and how we socialise online.

Computational thinking is a grounded skill that has many small components. This image from Barefoot Computing in the UK is a clear why of seeing how Computational Thinking is broken down.


When we break it down into concepts and approaches, we can see that as educators, many of these skills are already a part of our planning and teaching. By acknowledging their place in the digital world we can start to bring some common approaches to how this looks in our classroom.

Before we become overwhelmed with what digital tools we need, I am a strong believer in the unplugged world. In early years classrooms, starting with unplugged can give the children a much better understanding of what it ‘feels’ like to explore these concepts. you can read my previous posts to explore ideas but a few to get you started:

  1. Cooking (procedural text writing)
  2. Daily timetables and instructions for lessons
  3. Building lego models as a barrier game
  4. Collaborative painting

Just to name a few!

Ensuring students are using the correct vocabulary is also essential. Starting from early years with exposing them to the terminology which will support the concepts of computational thinking is important. Don’t be afraid to use what we often think of as the ‘big’ words; Algorithm, debug, evaluate, plan, program, logic, sequence, loop, pattern, decompose, code, engineer, build…..the children will pick up on these very early on. Ensuring each lesson or concept begins with introducing the language can make for a much smoother understanding in the long term.

There are some wonderful picture books on the market to engage children in computational thinking. Starting with a story can be the start to some incredible ideas. Some of my favourites are: