This weekend, I found myself doing quite a bit of research on Computational Thinking, as well as speaking to teachers who use it in their classrooms. I realized that the concept I had of it, was very wrong, in that, I thought it applied to only certain subject areas, like Math and Computer Science. And you might be thinking the same thing too. So I’m going to share what I learnt about it, which basically boils down to this: even in everyday life, we employ computational thinking whether we’re aware of it or not. The key for us now, as educators and parents, is to ensure that from a very young age, we can help our children to develop this critical 21st Century skill.


Computational thinking is employed, every time we solve problems in a logical manner. It helps us to first deconstruct a problem, then recognize a pattern, subtract unnecessary data and finally, set out the steps to arrive at a solution. Think you don’t use it? Well, if you’ve ever followed a recipe, structured your morning routine or followed the rules of a game have. And guess what? You can help your students and children use it too. 


If you check online, computational thinking will be broken down into 4 stages:


  1. Decomposition
  2. Pattern Recognition
  3. Abstraction
  4. Algorithm


These are big words but essentially, very basic concepts:


Decomposition is breaking a problem down into more manageable chunks. We decide how many parts the problem has, how we’re going to work through it and then:

We look for a pattern. After we deconstruct the problem, we get a chance to analyze the smaller tasks better, seeing which ones are similar and which ones really don’t belong. It’s like sorting a box of Lego by color/ by shape. During this phase, we also consider times in the past, when we’ve solved issues like this before. Pattern recognition is like our brain working in Google search mode. We input a task and that little arrow (our synapses) begins spinning, trying to pull data from the different parts of our brain that recognize the input.


Once the “search” is over, we’re able to figure out what we really need to get the job done. At this stage, we get rid of the irrelevant details. To continue with the Google search analogy, this stage is like when the search engine highlights only the key words in the results. All else is of little consequence, you zone in and focus during this stage.


The last step is when we develop an ‘algorithm’. A term borrowed from Computer Science, this is basically the stage at which we ‘input’ a clear and precise set of instructions in a logical sequence. These steps should lead to a successful ‘output’, i.e., the solution to the problem. But of course, just like with an actual algorithm, we need to ‘write the code’ with care and attention to detail. If not, flawed input will ultimately lead to flawed output.


This may all still sound confusing to you, but as I said, you do it naturally. To illustrate, let’s work with the structuring of your morning routine example:


You broke it down into the necessary parts (decomposition) : Your problem is reaching to work late. But you absolutely have to get up, shower, dress and eat before you leave your house.


So you decide to order everything you do and how long you do it for. You might even compare your routine to a friend’s, who lives close by and is never late for work (eye roll here if you want). So basically, at this stage, you establish a pattern/order and you also compare patterns.


You get rid of the irrelevant details (abstraction): So, you factor in showering as part of your morning routine. Did you get down to the nitty-gritty of deciding what soap/ body wash to use when planning your schedule? Unlikely. And if you’re an educator, your eyes are most likely still semi-closed when you step into your shower. You reach for what’s there and hope it’s not shaving cream. Point is, your main thing was that you had to shower and that’s what was on your schedule.


You develop an algorithm: When your alarm goes off at 5 (no snoozing), you need to be in the shower by 5:15, you need to be dressed by 5:45, you need to have breakfast and be done by 6:15, you need to brush your teeth and leave the house by 6:30. All of this might mean, you have to write a separate algorithm for the night before that involves prepping your meals and packing your bags. Either way, if you stick to your algorithm of leaving the house by 6:30, you beat traffic, pick up coffee (hehe) and get to work early: punctuality problem? Solved.


I hope that makes it a bit easier for you, because once it’s easier for you, you can make it easier for your children/ students. 


Twinkl, an educational website, has some excellent resources on Computational thinking and how you can make it simple for even the youngest of children/ students. For example, they suggest that:


At the Decomposition stage, you have the:


  • Write shopping lists for the ingredients they need to make a yummy sandwich.
  • Pack their bags the night before, for the next day’s classes using a schedule/timetable.


At the Pattern Recognition stage:


  • Let them do word search puzzles.
  • Count in 2’s, 5’s etc.
  • Learn the chorus of a song they like.
  • Sort objects by shape or colour.


At the Abstraction stage:


  • Build a model of their home with Lego.
  • Retell a story.
  • Draw a self-portrait.


At the Algorithm stage:


  • Come up with choreography to a song they like.
  • Write a recipe.
  • Do dot-to-dot activities.

During the course of the week, we’ll continue to share all we can on Computational Thinking. We’ll also examine how it ties into the 4C’s of the P21 Framework and therefore, contributes to the development of essential, dare we say, indispensable 21st Century skills. 


Stay tuned for more because we’ve got an informative week ahead, planned just for you! And you guessed it, we’ve mapped it out using Computational Thinking 😄!!