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Filippo Yacob

Unplugged Activities To Teach Computational Thinking

We’ve already what computational thinking is and why kids should learn coding. So, what activities are best to introduce concepts such as algorithms and debugging to children aged three and four? In this post, the first in a series, we recommend a few of our favourites, suitable for children aged three to four. Find more fun activities in our free ebook: Beginning Computer Programming for Kids.

Unplugged activities

Because computational thinking is a way of thinking – a process by which we can understand a complex problem, and in turn understand the different ways that that problem can be solved – it doesn’t require using computers or screens at all. Instead, we can use a variety of playful ‘offline’ or ‘unplugged’ games and activities to teach children how to use it. (For the record, the notion of ‘unplugged’ activities was popularised by the team at CS Unplugged, whose website is repository of fantastic of free learning activities that take place, of course, off-screen).

Leaving the house routine

Why

Real life routines are a simple and engaging way to introduce algorithms. Leaving the house, because it’s basic and regularly repeated, is a good place to start.

The activity

Begin by familiarising the child with the steps we take when we leave home, along with the terminology for those steps. You can do this by vocalising the process every time you go out.

For example:

First I pick up my keys

Then I pick up my [wallet / purse / rucksack]

Then we walk to the front door

I open the door

You [the child] can walk through the gap

Then I walk through the gap

I close the door behind me

Finally I lock the door

Continue to say these steps aloud until the child knows them. Then try to encourage them to begin saying them at the same time as you. Once they’re doing this comfortably, ask them to begin vocalising the process on their own.

At this point, it’s fun to start start asking them questions: ‘Why we do the process in this order? Can we change any of the steps and still have the same effect?’

Test their hypotheses (eg ‘You can pick up your wallet before your keys’ or ‘You can walk through the door without opening it’).

They’ll soon see which parts of the process – or algorithm – they can adapt and change, and which they can’t. Remember, it’s good to keep a constant dialogue going so that the child is explaining their thinking throughout.

You can also make the algorithm more detailed as the child becomes more confident and familiar with the process. For example: ‘I put my hand on the doorknob; I twist the doorknob; I pull the door towards me.’

Other ideas:

More everyday opportunities to explore algorithms include:

– Getting out of bed

– Getting dressed

– Going to the shops

In fact, any routine that has a clear order of steps that are repeated regularly (daily) can work well.

Look out for more posts in this series coming soon!

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