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Teaching Computational Thinking: In practice

In my previous post we explored what computational thinking is, and why teachers should consider teaching it in their classrooms. I observed then that many teachers will no doubt be teaching this method of problem analysis and solution discovery in their classrooms, some of whom may never have even heard of “computational thinking”. Which serves as a credit to the many teachers who continue to train their students to solve problems, using rigorous methods of examination, discovery and logic.

Nonetheless, I feel we cannot close out the subject of “computational thinking” without a true educational context, and so I have hunted around for decent examples of how students have explicitly employed the computational thinking method.

Oregon Middle School

An ISTE blog recently described a specific school project from an Oregon middle school, designed by teachers to show students the power of data. As Sue Wilson, the district’s curriculum director framed it,

Data is a tool to get people to hear you.

As anyone who has read Freakonomics can attest to, mining vast amounts of data and finding unusual connections between them can have astounding results. In this instance students were asked to mine data they cared about, yielding a number of interesting projects such as the number of female vs. male spectators at female sports events, an argument for gender neutral bathrooms and the size of the eagle population in Alaska, to name a few.

Green Dot

Green Dot is one of the US’s largest non-profit educational organizations, specializing as turnaround strategist for inner-city schools in particular. The organisation is a strong proponent of computational thinking across a wide variety of curricula.

They have also generously provided about 12 lesson plans on their computational thinking site, which in themselves make for very interesting reading. Try computational thinking methods with your students in building a solar system, understanding ancient Greek architecture or getting to grips with the plot of The Lord of the Flies.

This lesson plan from is a simple way to introduce younger students to the principles of computational thinking, starting with a clever thought experiment in the beginning. I won’t spoil the surprise but it’s a nifty way to show students the value of developing algorithms.

The lesson goes on the ask students to reverse engineer a game. They are given the results of the game, and need to work backwards to figure out how the game works. Step-by-step instructions and tips are part of the downloadable lesson plan bundle.


TedEd also has a number of wonderful computational thinking lessons, that interrogate and explain how a computer would approach solving a seemingly complex problem. Check out:

Computing at School

Across the pond, in London, a non-profit organization called CAS (Computing at School) supports a wonderful resource called Teaching London Computing (I never did discover what the name actually means).

But don’t be put off my the bad layout, as you will find a host of printable lesson plans and activities all designed around developing computational thinking across ages and grades. Try this free puzzle booklet for starters.

Professional Development Resources

In the end...

I have spent more time listing resources today, than actually teasing out the how and why of how good computational lesson plans look and work; this is because I was absolutely amazed at how many great lesson plans, and thought starters, are available. I felt it best to put the better ones here for you to explore than limit myself to one or two case studies.

I sincerely look forward to hearing from you, and how you apply computational thinking in your classrooms.

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