Getting Started

Table of Contents

What is Computational Thinking?  

There are many definitions of Computational thinking. Some define it as the thought processes involved in expressing solutions as computational steps or algorithms that can be carried out by  a computer. (Cuny, Snyder, & Wing, 2010; Aho, 2011; Lee, 2016). 

Others define it as a process of thinking that involves formulating problems, decomposing them, and structuring and communicating solutions so that humans can understand them and machines process them (Waterman et al., 2018). 

These processes are broken down into three subcomponents: 1  

  • CS Concepts: ideas students apply when practicing computing. Computer science concepts provide a framework for what a computer can and cannot do (Abstraction,  Algorithms, Programming, Data, and Networks—and all associated sub-concepts 
  • CS Practices: structure for activities that students engage in (Analyze, Prototype, Communicate—and all associated sub-practices) 
  • CS Perspectives: approaches to teaching the concepts and practices that describe how and why students can learn computer science and computational thinking 

Levels of Integration 


Figure 1: Three types of lessons in integrated units (Adapted from Israel & Lash, 2019)

Figure 1 provides one model of examining the level of integration within integrated CT and disciplinary content. This model shows (a) no integration (defined as lessons taught from  disciplinary curricula that is either teacher developed or developed as part of formal curriculum). These lessons were often “prerequisite” lessons that provided either CT or discipline-specific knowledge that was necessary for future integrated lessons; (b) partial  

integration (defined as lessons where either CT was used to demonstrate disciplinary knowledge (e.g., creating a Scratch program to illustrate a math story problem), or (c) full integration (defined as CT and the content area taught together where the affordances of both were used in tandem; Israel & Lash, 2019).  

Applications of Content Integration


Figure 2: Levels of integration adapted from Vasquez, Sneider, & Comer, 2013 (Israel et al.,  under review) 

Figure 2 showcases an adaptation of Vasquez and colleagues (2013) that elucidates how different methods of integration result in different approaches to curricular outcomes. At one end is disciplinary instruction with no integration. The increasing levels of integration in this figure show how the disciplines can increase in the way that they are linked to each other (Israel et al., under review). It is important to note that Vasquez and colleagues explain that one level of integration is not necessarily “better” than others. Rather, instruction should ideally reflect a range of integrated experiences.  

Range of integrated activities 

CT integration can happen in a variety of ways, as determined by individual student, teacher, and school needs and access to resources. For example, depending on the specific learning goals you are working towards, integration might take place within a plugged activity (i.e., an activity that uses a computational device, such as a computer or robotics) or an unplugged activity (i.e., an activity that is completed using only paper and pencil, or other non computational hands-on materials). Further, there may be times when the content being integrated is disciplinary or multidisciplinary, focusing on developing your students’ emergent  understanding of specific content-area or CT concepts, while at other times activities will be more interdisciplinary. While the decision as to when to implement a plugged or unplugged activity, or a disciplinary or interdisciplinary activity is best determined by individual teacher  discretion and the specific learning goals for the activity, it is important to recognize that full integration provides multiple opportunities for students to engage in a range of all of these types of activities. Below are some resources to help with aligning activities to CS/CT standards and examples of different models and learning trajectories for CT integration. 

Using the Framework

The Framework serves three essential goals: 

  1. To identify and describe core elements (indicators) that will affect CT integration  across elementary school curricula; 
  2. To provide teachers with a tool to help determine an elementary school’s readiness  (or to diagnose strengths and weaknesses) for integrating CT across multiple  subjects; and  
  3. To provide school personnel with a tool that can help them set goals for CT  integration and determine gauge progress toward those goals  

The framework describes six each major focus areas for CT integration, along with the elements (indicators) for effective school-wide CT integration. The self-reflection questions are to guide you in assessing you and your school’s priorities, areas of strength, and areas for growth. These questions ask you to consider each element’s description and to help you think  broadly about you and your school’s current activities related to CT integration. You can use these questions to help you assess how effectively specific elements are (or are not) being  implemented in your school and respond to the rubric associated with each element.

Each of the elements in the framework, described below, is one indicator of an emerging model for effective school-wide CT integration. Whether and to what extent an element is implemented in a school will theoretically affect the overall quality of integration, ultimately impacting student learning, achievement, and application of CT practices and concepts across multiple subjects. 

Every school has its own unique vision, strengths, and areas in need of development, therefore it is unlikely that all elements will be required or even relevant to successful school-wide CT integration. The CT Integration Framework is not meant to be prescriptive, rather it is intended only to provide guidance to schools and teachers as they begin to integrate CT across the curriculum, given their particular goals and circumstances.  

The six focus areas for are: 

  1. Teacher Knowledge, Pedagogical Content Knowledge, and Facility with Tools to  Support Student Learning of CT and Core Subjects 
  2. Teacher Supports  
  3. Curriculum Features and Lesson/Unit Planning 
  4. CT Assessment 
  5. Student Impact 
  6. Families 

Each focus area includes the elements that would be relevant for that category, including  descriptions and examples for each element.  

Steps to consider when using the Framework  

There is no single ‘best way’ to use the framework to guide your schools’ CT integration effort and many of these steps require a collaborative effort between administrators, teachers, and other school staff in order to be achieved. However, the steps below provide practical guidance on how to approach this work, highlighting what efforts can be accomplished by individual stakeholders, as well as jointly by all school staff. More importantly, the steps below provide discussion points that can be used as a starting place for having conversations about the plan for and vision of school-wide CT integration between teachers, administrators, and other school staff. Since the framework is meant to support prioritizing short-, mid-, and long-term goals, these steps should also be repeated at multiple points of the year, such as at the beginning, mid-point, and at the end of the school year to help all stakeholders reflect on their progress, reassess their goals, and plan for the upcoming year. You may need to make adjustments to  the process or timing to meet the unique needs and context of your school.

  • Step 1: Conduct a CT self-assessment using the Framework
    • Administrators:
      • Where is your school now in terms of integrating CT into other subjects?  What, if any, integration has taken place already across your school?  
      • Which elements requiring a collaborative effort among stakeholders are  at the beginning, approaching, and achieving levels?  
      • What, if any, systems does my school need to have in place in order to  support collaborative efforts, such as common planning time or support from outside PD providers? What, if any, systems already exist to  support this?  
    • Teachers:
      • Where are your students now in terms of learning about CT? What, if  any, integration has taken place already in your curriculum?  
      • What role does CT play in the discipline I teach? How can I provide  students with authentic learning experiences that reflect practices that are used in this discipline? 
      • Which of these elements can be achieved by individuals or teams of teachers? Which elements are at the beginning, approaching and  achieving levels?  
  • Step 2: Set goals for CT integration at your school and within your curriculum.
    • Administrators:
      • What is your school’s goal for CT integration? Where and how do you envision it happening?  
      • What is the starting place for my school? What grade levels and content areas do we want to focus on integration efforts first?  
    • Teachers:
      • What are your goals for CT integration within your curriculum? What do you envision integration looking like? 
    • All school staff:  
      • What is the long-term vision for how CT integration will look in your school?  
      • What are the short-, mid-, and long-term (e.g., in 5 years) goals for how  CT integration will look in your school?  
  • Step 3: Determine which elements are a priority to focus on
    • Administrators:  
      • Of the elements that are at the beginning or approaching levels, which are most important for the school as a whole to focus on first?  
      • Which elements are currently not a priority and at what points during the year should they be revisited (i.e., mid-year, end of year, beginning of  next year)?  
    • Teachers:
      • Of the elements that are at the beginning or approaching levels, which am I most comfortable focusing on first?  
      • Which elements do I want to revisit later in the year?  
    • All school staff: 
      • Which of the elements are in alignment with both teachers’ and  administrators’ short-term goals? Which of these elements are in alignment with both teachers’ and administrators’ long-term goals? 
  • Step 4: Develop an action plan to address the elements that are a top priority. We recommend starting with a one-year plan.
    • All school staff: 
      • How will you go about addressing the element?  
      • What is each stakeholder’s role in the integration effort and who is responsible for implementing each element?  
      • What additional school staff needs to become involved in order to  support this work? What, if any, additional outside support is needed to support this work?  
      • What is the timeline for working on elements that are the short-term priority?  
      • How will you know you are making progress on the element? What will you use to measure success? When will you measure success? 
  • Step 5: Assess and take stock of your progress towards addressing priority elements at  regular intervals (e.g., every three months)
    • All school staff:
      • Was your action plan implemented as designed? 
      • What went well? What didn’t go well? What, if anything, needs to be changed? 
      • How much progress have you made towards your goals? Are you on track to meet your goals? 
      • What adjustments to the action plan, if any, are necessary to reach the school’s goals? How will these adjustments be communicated to the staff members that are currently working on these integration efforts?  
  • Step 6: Repeat process: conduct a self-assessment using the CT Framework, revisit priorities and set new goals
    • All school staff: 
      • What are the elements that we have made progress on? 
      • How do we expand the CT integration effort to include more school staff?  How does that impact the elements we will prioritize next?  
      • What are the next element(s) for administrators to focus on? What are the next element(s) for teachers to focus on?  
      • Now having some experience in regard to implementing CT integration, has my vision or goals changed? How, if at all, does this affect the efforts of other stakeholders in working towards achieving school-wide CT  integration?