Playful activities that incorporate computational thinking

Rikke Bergreen Paaskesen,
Curriculum specialist and Educational advisor
Odense, Denmark

Computational thinking is not necessarily something students learn by sitting in front of a computer.

Computational thinking is about learning to identify details needed to solve a problem, and then to break the problem down into small, logical steps to create an algorithm that will effectively solve the problem. An algorithm is a step-by-step process that is written down as a means to guide someone or something to complete a task or solve a problem.

We can draw a direct parallel between computational thinking, algorithms, and everyday learning activities that teachers design for their students, based on everyday activities that students already carry out.  

For example, ask students to analyze the best possible route on a map to get to a certain place at a certain time, or to follow a specific routine of exercises that make up a training program at the gym; or to write a step-by-step recipe for others to use so that they can prepare a meal. 

Computational thinking, therefore, can be taught in an age-appropriate way by asking students to describe, create or write instructions for familiar, relevant events in their everyday lives.

Why teach computational thinking?

But why has it become so important for teachers to teach computational thinking?

Because it is imperative that today’s young people learn to think critically about the digital world that surrounds them. Computational thinking skills form the foundation for grasping more complex concepts related to how computing and other technologies work.

Students need these skills so that they can interact with, and influence the way technology is used to make things happen. Once they begin to grasp this, they can then begin to develop the knowledge and understanding about the consequences, or unintended consequences and ethical implications of technological behavior.

With KUBO, computational thinking comes into full play once students have developed an understanding of the basic principles of coding. The Coding License introduces students to concepts like functions, subroutines, and loops, and then provides creative activities that allow students to exercise computational thinking.

For example in Lesson Plan 3 of The Coding+ License activities, KUBO has a specific routine to complete at the library. First KUBO must get to the lamp and turn it on, then KUBO has to set down chairs at the table, and finally, KUBO must turn on the computers. Students code KUBO to get to the different locations in the right order. They will create three functions so that KUBO can execute each task. Then they must embed the three functions inside a fourth function, which in turn becomes an algorithm; a set of instructions used to fulfill an entire task.

Make it playful

In the Scavenger Hunt, also in Lesson Plan 3,  students are given clues that lead to a destination. With each clue, KUBO  must find different objects. One clue is placed at the Biography section in the library, another clue at the Animals section, and a third at the Geography section. The teacher can then come up with challenges that KUBO must solve at each section, depending on the themes and schemes of work the teacher is currently running. Challenges can be written on a post-it note and placed on the square that KUBO needs to get to. The clues might be about finding a specific country on the globe or writing an essay at one of the tables in the library.

There are lots of openings for the teacher to set the frame to make these activities playful for students and as such to make it playful to learn how to code, combining broader curriculum content with coding content.

Explore the latest Coding License lesson plans and check out the new KUBO Coding+ TagTile sets too. These offer lots of ways to develop computational thinking skills, with new tiles that offer increasingly advanced algorithms using variables of time, distance, speed, and direction.