Exploring Computational Thinking

Computational thinking involves problem-solving skills and techniques like decomposition, pattern recognition, pattern generalization, and algorithm design. It’s a critical 21st century skill, but how are educators effectively incorporating computational thinking in the K-12 curriculum? A recent study analyzes current trends in empirical research on developing computational thinking through programming, and discusses implications for research and instruction.

The review covers 27 studies, nine of which were carried out with K-12 students. The analysis reveals that younger students were generally taught “low-floor” (i.e., easy to pick up), “high-ceiling” (i.e., allowing for sophisticated creations) programming languages like Scratch and Logo. Students were typically learning programming as part of a broader strategy for learning other content, like language arts and mathematics. For example, Scratch was useful in language arts as a medium for students to exercise their composition and literacy skills, while also introducing computational thinking and coding.

Most of the K-12 studies were conducted as part of after-school activities, rather than integrated into the classroom. From the available evidence, however, it seems that solving an authentic problem is the core of developing computational thinking. Students were most intellectually engaged when they were working to build programs that mattered to them in some way.

The review of available literature exposed a real gap in the research on developing computational thinking for K-12 students. The study highlights that there is a definite need to explore how educators can implement computational thinking curriculum as part of the regular classroom environment, and calls for more intervention studies centered on computational practices in the K-12 classroom.

Lye, S. Y., & Koh, J. H. L. (2014). Review on teaching and learning of computational thinking through programming: What is next for K-12? Computers in Human Behavior, 41, 51-61.