Computing in the Classroom: Computational Thinking

What is computational thinking?

In the National Curriculum, the description of the new computing curriculum includes the following:

A high-quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world.

All teachers will have used computational thinking in their classrooms, all of us use it in everyday life. The tricky part is largely understanding and using the terminology.

We’ve done a couple of webinars recently on computing. In both we spoke about the need for teachers to be supported in understanding what computational thinking is and how to include it when teaching computing and other areas of the curriculum. Our next webinar on computing is going to be looking at teaching literacy and numeracy through coding.

Coding, a new part of the computing curriculum, is really a practical application in which to apply computational thinking. What is a challenge to schools currently, is how to both cover the statutory requirements of coding, and apply computational thinking across the curriculum. As with my recommendations for web 2.0 tools, I would suggest starting with one thing.

You could take one key concept from the computing curriculum e.g algorithms, and decide on the links you can draw in the core subjects. Perhaps this is done school wide over a few weeks and then you all feedback to inform how to continue.

So what does computational thinking look like? It’s finding patterns, classifying, problem solving, working with instructions and procedures.

Below are some ideas we’ve talked about in the webinars to begin thinking about how to relate computational thinking to coding – and how straightforward it can be!


1. Variables

  • Design a game where the variable is the scoring in a game e.g. if the ball lands in the red hoop = 5 points, if the ball lands in the blue hoop = 10 points. Add in a time factor.

2. Algorithms

  • Investigate the effect of different instructions of routes inside school from point A to point B. Write instructions for others to follow. Extend to routes from home to school.
  • Create mazes using a given criteria e.g. the correct route must have 6 right turns.

3. Decomposition

  • Solve problems by breaking them down into smaller parts – decomposition. Take the idea the travelling salesman problem explained here in Wikipedia and create a similar problem based around the community and known sites.
  • KS2 students could write multi step word problems in pairs with a slightly wrong answer given. Other pairs work out at which points it could have gone wrong.



This article by Jeanette Wing from 2006 is a great read on what computational thinking is. Wing believes that it is fundamental to thinking, needs to be for everyone, and understood that it is not about programming, but about conceptualizing.

A software engineer at Google has written up this idea about simulating a computer using different members of the class to represent different components.

Next time – we’ll look at some different parts of Discovery Education Coding.

We’d love to hear of any offline activities that have worked in your classrooms. Please use the comment box below to let us know!


One Comment;

  1. Julia Elfred said:

    I have done this fantastic offline / unplugged activity with year 2 students: “The Sandwich Bot”. Materials: bread, jam, knife, butter, means of filming the process. Explain to the children that they are going to program you (the sandwich bot) to make a jam sandwich. The important thing is to follow the children’s instructions completely: if they say put the butter on the bread then pick up the whole butter pack and put it on the bread etc. They soon get to understand that their instructions need to be precise. It’s even better if you can film it and watch it back, pausing to analyse what went wrong and where the “bugs” were in the program.