Computational Thinking What is it?

Jeanette Wing (Carnegie Mellon University, Research Microsoft) is credited with coining the phrase “computational thinking” firmly stating it to be the 4th “R” . While her challenge came in   as is typical of education, we are only now wakening to the call.

The phrase itself is open to misinterpretation so let’s be clear… IF IT IS THE FOURTH ‘R’ THEN SHE IS NOT TALKING ABOUT PERFORMING OPERATIONS ON NUMBERS.

Computational Thinking encompasses but is not limited to the following

  • Recursive Thinking: (the logic of looking across the t table to determine missing elements. Can you predict what will come in the 100th stage of this pattern?)
  •  Reformulating seemingly difficult problems into problems we know how to solve. (Can 5 + 6 help with 35 + 46?)
  •  Decomposition, Reduction, Embedding, Transformation, Simulation (I talk about these all the time in building math concepts)
  • C.T. is being applied when the student develops an appropriate representation or model  (Communication in math and science for sure)
  • C.T. is being applied when one judges a system’s design for its simplicity and elegance. (I hear design technology from science)
  • C.T. is prevention, detection, and recovery from worst-case scenarios through redundancy, damage containment, and error correction. 
  •  C.T. is taking an approach to solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behaviour .

Do you hear themes from science, social studies, mathematics and learning to read and write competently and critically? I do.

You can read Jeanette Wing’s material here: Jeanette Wing pdf copy

But I have found this breakdown written by Paul and Peter a little easier to follow:

I have also included Nora Newcombe’s article for a good read. Nora describes the important role of spatial visual reasoning plays in learning, especially learning math and science Many of the activities that Tim and Mike and I “play” with involve the whole body in moving across tarps and through spaces. Mike uses huge pieces of rope to have kids really experience being the knot.   Picture This Spatial Learning in Math and Science

Another great read for elementary teachers about STEM Science: STEM in the Early Years


Jeanette Wing offered some examples of how computational thinking appears in every day tasks. Click the image above to enlarge it.  You can find one of her presentations by clicking

There is movement across the world to bring computational thinking to the forefront in developing competent, confident learners. The current Maker movement, Tinkering, Maker Spaces, MakerFaires and more.. The focus that draws them all together is one on teaching our students to be careful, reasoned and competent thinkers. We do not all need to end up as computer scientists or engineers but we all need to be able to develop the ability to critically challenge the unending stream of information that bombards us in this age of technology.

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