Being a Computational Thinker in Kindergarten

For our module this week we examined ISTE Student Standard 5: Computational Thinker “Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions”. Based on this standard I had the following  question: How can Kindergarten students learn to become computational thinkers without using devices (unplugged)?” To help answer this question I wanted to first get a better understanding of computational thinking outside of coding and then how I could apply it to my own classroom.

Deeper Understanding of Computational Thinking

Element #1 Decomposition

Decomposition is the break down of complex problems into smaller and more manageable parts. To help introduce this to students, teachers can have students break down a simple everyday task like brushing their teeth or tying a shoe. The more comfortable students become, you can build up to harder more complex tasks. A good digital tool that has great games for breaking down problems in the site ScratchJr.

Element#2 Pattern Recognition

The second step to computational thinking is pattern recognition. Pattern recognition is finding patterns which can help simplify task. Introducing this skill can simply be done by showing pictures of similar types of food, animals, etc. As a class students can sort out similarities and differences. “The primary goal here is to get them to understand that finding patterns helps simplify tasks because the same problem-solving techniques can be applied when the problems share patterns (pattern recognition is also used in math, music and literature, human intelligence, history, weather, etc.). Valenzuela”

Element#3 Abstraction

Once all of the sorting and patterns can been complete, its time for students to filter out the unneeded information that came from sorting. This enables students to develop their models, equations, an image and/or simulations to represent only the important variables. As the values of variables often change and can be dependent upon another, it’s important for students to be introduced to abstraction in relation to patterns (Valenzuela).

Element# 4 Algorithm Design

Algorithm design is determining appropriate steps to take and organizing them into a series of instructions (a plan) for solving a problem or completing a task correctly. Algorithms are important because they take the knowledge derived from the previous three elements for execution. When teaching algorithms to students have them create small plans using their newly learned computational thinking skills, again using simple functions like brushing teeth, baking a cake, making a sandwich, tying shoelaces. Each algorithm must have a starting point, a finishing point and a set of well-defined instructions in between.

Why Computational Thinking is Important

LEGO Education sees computational thinking as a fundamental skill of analytical thinking that will support students to solve problems through computing and computer applications. Students need to learn not only how to approach and solve problems in general, but to solve them with the added component of mathematical or computing processes. Finding success in these processes will better prepare students to use coding and computing applications in the future (Nash). With computational thinking, students learn how to work together to approach open-ended problems, gain confidence to work with complex problems, and develop grit to continue to work on the problem until a viable solution is found.

Unplugged Computational Thinking in Kindergarten

To help students get a deeper understanding of computational thinking

The video explains the purpose of the task which is to understand the concept of computational thinking. This is an unplugged activity which means that students explore the concept without the use of a computer.

Computational thinking

1) Decompose—What needs to be done to make the monster? Depending on the monster, it may already look like it’s decomposing, but now we need to “decompose” this task! Let’s break it up into smaller tasks, each will seem a little easier on its own. You may want to do this as a class together to get everyone on the same page.


  •  Sort monsters by face shape
  •  Look for similarities in those monsters
  •  Make a list of features to identify
  •  Use identified features to create a new monster
  •  Describe your new monster to your teammates in a step-by-step way and let them try to put it together

2) Patterns—What do those monsters have in common? What are some things that all of the monsters have? What are things that are similar between monsters of certain groups?


  •  All monsters have heads
  •  Zombus Vegitas has a Vegitas mouth (For Kindergarten changing the name for each style of mouth, eyes, head, etc to more simplistic words)

3) Abstraction—What’s different? Take it out. One monster may have Wackus Eyes, while another has Spritem Eyes, but they both have eyes. That means we could say that “This monster has __________ eyes” and later we would be able to fill in the blank based on whatever monster we’ll be drawing.

Example: Create a list of all the different features that the monsters with the details abstracted out of the sentence.

  •  The monster has a head.
  •  The monster has eyes.
  •  The monster has a nose.
  •  The monster has ears.
  •  The monster has a mouth.

4) Algorithm—How can you put this together to make a series of instructions that your classmates can follow? Now, each group should arrange their steps into a list that other groups can use to recreate a monster.

Example: Create a list that you can fill out for your artist.

  •  Draw a Wackum head.
  •  Draw Vegitas eyes.
  •  Draw a Wackum nose.
  •  Draw InHideum ears.*
  •  Draw a Spritem mouth.

Students should test their algorithm to see if it draws the correct picture. Then, let students switch algorithms with another group, and draw the monster based on the algorithm (without seeing the original picture.) Did they create the right monster? Students can play this over and over again, choosing to have classmates recreate monsters that already exist, or describing new ones.


Computational Thinking. (n.d.). Retrieved March 06, 2018, from

ISTE Standards FORSTUDENTS. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19, 2018, from

Nash, J. (2017, April 1). Turn coders into computational thinkers. Retrieved March 06, 2018, from

Valenzuela, J. (2018, February 22). How to develop computational thinkers. Retrieved March 06, 2018, from

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