Computational Thinking in 1st Grade

  • Learning
Jacob Goren, Technology Integrator

Recently, I read an article that described the difference between coding, computer science, and computational thinking. Coding, it stated, is learning how to give instructions to a computer for it to follow. Computer science is learning about computers and the algorithms you put into them, the hardware that makes them work and how they affect society. Computational thinking is a mindset – a way of thinking about problem-solving, system creation and human behavior. While computational thought uses the study of computer science as a lens to gain most insights, these skills are necessary for everyone, not only those destined to work in the world of technology.

Teaching computational thinking is precisely what we aim to do at Avenues.

We hope to create thinkers who understand how to use their empathy skills to solve problems in creative and innovative ways. We work toward growing minds that understand how to express themselves in a variety of ways on a plethora of subjects. As Avenues president Jeff Clark often states, “We aim to prepare future world-wise leaders uniquely equipped to understand and solve global-scale problems.” By teaching computational thinking starting at an early age, we are hoping to do just this.

While there are many examples of even our youngest students beginning to think in computational ways, one of the best examples we currently have is our 1st grade students, who are using ScratchJR to create story projects in World Course.

Over the past few months, the 1st graders have “interned” at various businesses in the Chelsea area to learn about how the various employees at the company each help to keep the business functioning and thriving. Students have conducted interviews at businesses such as Blade, the High Line Hotel and Parsec Media. They’ve asked probing questions such as “How does your work support the company?” and “How does the company support our community?”

In planning an exhibition of this project, our mission as faculty was to challenge our students to showcase their learning in a new and exciting way, one that allows them to display as much of their learning and learning process as possible. We also wanted to do this on a platform that strengthened our students’ critical thinking skills and required creativity. This is when we immediately thought of ScratchJR.

ScratchJR, the popular programming language Scratch’s offering for a younger audience, asks students to use block-based code to create short animations using objects called “sprites.” The program’s greatest strength is in the blank canvas, giving students the complete freedom and flexibility to create animations of their own choosing. Even better, ScratchJR is the platform 1st graders already use to practice their coding skills in our creative computing course.

Students planned and then created a ScratchJR story that showcased what they learned at their business while using animation to show how they learned it. Students planned scenes that showed their interviews, creating code with conditionals that enabled their sprites to have back-and-forth conversations. They coded scenes showing themselves walking around taking pictures, using loops to make their code more efficient. They created scenes that accurately depicted the businesses they visited using photos they’d taken themselves.

Most importantly, the students practiced computational thinking. They used their problem-solving, sequencing, debugging and critical-thinking skills to represent their learning in a new and challenging way, and they even had fun while doing it!


  • 1st Grade
  • creative computing
  • Lower Division
  • STEM