Computational Thinking vs. Computational Fluency

The history of the the term "computational thinking"

The notion of teaching problem solving skills to younger children is a well established idea that dates back to the 1980s. However it gained popularity in the 2000s when Jeannette Wing's seminal paper suggested that in addition "to reading, writing, and arithmetic, we should add computational thinking to every child's analytical ability".

As popularity of computational thinking grew within the context of education, governments globally started to propose computing in compulsory education. Today, organizations such as the OECD and UNESCO recognize that computational thinking and coding as essential competencies.

Children and computational thinking

Computational thinking can be considered a general problem solving framework involving knowledge, skills, approaches and coding. These include the core logical concepts of sequences, loops, conditionals, operators, variables, triggers, events and parallelism.

Historically, young children who are still developing fine motor skills limited their ability to interact with computers, and their ability to learn to code at a young age. This limitation is now removed with touch screens and and object-oriented "drag-and-drop" coding interfaces, opening the opportunity for parents to engage their younger children in coding concepts and computational thinking much earlier than previously thought possible. In fact, researches have fold that coding apps and toys, can be a tool to introduce children to coding activities even before entering formal schooling age.

Computational fluency

New ideas and concepts are always emerging as researchers spend time studying the impact of learning to code on children. Many researchers now claim that coding in early childhood should not be considered as a set of technical skills buy a new type of literacy and self-expression, which students need to function effectively today. What is needed more than ever is the ability to use technology to solve problems.

While computation thinking is important prerequisite, more has to be taught for children to use these concepts to real solve problems. To illustrate this in terms of language literacy, teaching only computational thinking would be like only giving children crossword puzzles to solve and expecting them to become fluent writers.

How should we teach children how to code?

In many introductory coding activities, students are asked to code step by step the movements to navigate a character through a maze toward a goal. This approach is designed to help students learn basic concepts, but it does not allow them to express themselves creatively, developing imagination, curiosity, and a long-term engagement with coding.

Ultimately we have all the tools we need to effectively teach children computational thinking and fluency today. It is all down to creating well-designed tasks that allow children to think creative freedom and promote problem solving.


The Logic Coders is a coding school for kids aged 6-16 in Singapore

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