Selecting Appropriate Tools for Computational Thinking

Educator selects computational tools which provide the appropriate support to meet computational thinking learning goals for diverse students.
Made by Digital Promise Computational Thinking

About this Micro-credential

Key Method

The educator guides students in using tools which support their engagement with computational problems while avoiding tools that are unnecessarily complex.

Method Components

Aligning computational tools with student abilities

Any tool for computational thinking, whether it is a programming language, a block-based interface, a simulation controlled with sliders and buttons, or even a game that can be played in real life, has implications for how much complexity to reveal to the end user and how much to hide. Often, this results in a trade-off between power and ease of use: the simpler a tool is, the fewer opportunities there are for users to get stuck or lost. One design goal for tools meant for computational thinking is “low floor, high ceiling,” meaning both beginners and advanced users can use the tools effectively.

When using computers as tools in the classroom, it is important to know the skills your students bring to the task, to choose appropriate computational tools, and to support students when they need help. If students have had a computer science course (or if you have time to focus on programming within your own subject area course), tools that involve programming can be extremely powerful. In many cases, however, tools which involve limited programming, or non-programming interfaces, will be more appropriate. In many cases, students will have very different skill levels (some students may be more skilled than you). With the right classroom structures, this variety of skill levels can be an opportunity. Some of the structures that can be helpful in supporting students with different skill levels to access computational tools are allowing students to work in groups, recognizing students when they have expertise, directing others to them for help, and encouraging students to seek help from each other and from online sources rather than waiting until you are free to help.

Aligning computational tools with learning goals

It is also important to make sure computational tools are well-aligned with learning goals. There is sometimes tension between the design of consumer software and the needs of educators: consumer and office software is generally made to help users accomplish tasks as easily as possible. However, if a computational tool automatically solves precisely the problem which the educator wants students to understand and explore, it may not be the right fit for the task. In other cases, computational tools are designed specifically for education, but are not well-suited for computational thinking because they do not expose the complexity of a problem in a way that allows students to interact with it. For example, a computational tool may provide students repeated practice solving word problems, but if it does not also allow students to explore an environment in which to create and share new word problems, it may not be well-suited for learning with computational thinking.

Suggested Implementation

  1. As with other aspects of the learning environment, such as classroom layout, lesson plans, student roles, and assessment practices, the educator is responsible for designing student interactions with computers so that they provide valuable learning opportunities. As a first step in this micro-credential, decide the context in which students will use computers for computational thinking. The micro-credentials in the “Key Elements of Computational Thinking” stack address the core ideas of computational thinking, and each contains a suggested implementation of lessons using computers for computational thinking. Any of them would be suitable for use with this micro-credential.
  2. Before teaching the lesson, carefully read the submission instructions and consider what evidence you will need to gather for your submission. If necessary, make arrangements to videotape the lesson or ask a colleague to observe and take notes. You may also want to plan to take notes immediately after the lesson to help you remember the details.
  3. Choose at least three students to focus on for this lesson and complete the questions in Part 1. In selecting students, try to reflect the diversity within your teaching environment.

Research & Resources

Supporting Research

Aligning computational tools with student development

  • Kelleher, C., & Pausch, R. (2005). Lowering the barriers to programming: A taxonomy of programming environments and languages for novice programmers. ACM Computing Surveys (CSUR), 37(2), 83-137.
  • National Research Council. (2011). Report of a workshop on the pedagogical aspects of computational thinking. National Academies Press.
  • Blikstein, P. (2015). Computationally enhanced toolkits for children: historical review and a framework for future design. Foundations and Trends in Human–Computer Interaction, 9(1), 1-68.

Aligning computational tools with learning goals


Submission Requirements

Submission Guidelines & Evaluation Criteria

To earn the micro-credential, you must earn a ‘passing’ evaluation for Parts 1 and 3, and a ‘Yes’ for each component of Part 2. In the assessment of this micro-credential, an educator will teach a lesson in which students use a computer to engage in computational thinking. The educator will submit a portfolio of artifacts documenting at least three different student interactions with the tool, and analyze the effectiveness of the tool for those students.

Part 1. Overview Questions

(400-word limit total)

Please answer the following questions:

  • Describe three students you focused on as you engaged with selecting appropriate tools for computational thinking. Why did you choose these students? What are their skills, interests, aspirations, concerns, and needs? Which of these assets might support their identities as learners of computational thinking?
  • Describe the computational tool your students used in this lesson, and the rationale for selecting it. What will it allow students to do? Did the tool have limitations? If so, how will did you support students so that the tool’s limitations are not barriers to learning? Discuss the specific support each of your selected students needed.

Part 2. Work Examples / Artifacts

To earn this micro-credential, please submit the following:

1) Student artifacts

Submit a portfolio that documents three students’ use of a tool for computational thinking. The portfolio should include artifacts from all three students (one artifact per student); the artifacts may feature use of different computational tools. These artifacts may include screenshots, video of student interactions, your notes or those of another colleague, student work, student reflections, etc.

2) Analysis of student artifacts

(800-word limit total)

As you answer the following questions, refer to specific evidence from the artifact(s) submitted.

Note: please remove all personal identifiers from student work before submitting.

  • Aligning computational tools with student abilities
    • How did each student’s skill level affect the way he or she used the tool for computational thinking?
  • Aligning computational tools with learning goals
    • How did the design of the tool help or hinder each student’s process of learning the lesson’s key themes or questions?

Part 3. Educator Reflection

(300-word limit)

If you were able to re-design this computational tool to improve its effectiveness for learning with computational thinking, how would you change it? Refer to specific features of the tool you would add, change, or remove, and connect your proposed changes to specific examples from your students’ interaction with the tool. Explain how the proposed changes might have made it more effective for those students learning with computational thinking.

Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under:
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


Download to access the requirements and scoring guide for this micro-credential.
How to prepare for and earn this micro-credential - in a downloadable PDF document

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