Investigating Sequencing as a Means to Computational Thinking in Young Children



computational thinking, early childhood education, unplugged activities, sequencing


Within the field of K-2 CS education, unplugged computational thinking (CT) activities have been suggested as beneficial for younger students and shown to impact young students’ skills and motivation to learn about CS. This study sought to examine how children demonstrate CT competencies in unplugged sequencing tasks and how children use manipulatives to solve unplugged sequencing tasks. This case study approach examined two unplugged sequencing tasks for six children ranging from ages four to seven (pre-kindergarten to 2nd grade). Children showed evidence of several CT competencies during the sequencing tasks: (1) pattern recognition, (2) algorithms and procedures, (3) problem decomposition, and (4) debugging. The strategies and use of manipulatives to showcase CT competencies seemed to evolve in complexity based on age and developmental levels. Taking into account children’s abilities to demonstrate CT competencies, this study suggests that sequencing is a developmentally appropriate entry point for young children to begin engaging in other CT competencies. In addition, these unplugged sequencing tasks can also be easily integrated into other activities commonly experienced in early childhood classrooms.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Kristina M. Tank, Iowa State University

Dr. Kristina M. Tank is an Associate Professor in the School of Education at Iowa State University. Her research interests include integrated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), elementary and early childhood science and engineering, professional development for pre-service and in-service science teachers, STEM and literacy, and STEM and Computational Thinking.



Angeli, C., Voogt, J., Fluck, A., Webb, M., Cox, M., Malyn-Smith, J., & Zagami, J. (2016). A K-6 computational thinking curriculum framework: Implications for teacher knowledge. Educational Technology & Society, 19(3), 47-57.

Bell, T., Alexander, J., Freeman, I., & Grimley, M. (2009). Computer science unplugged: School students doing real computing without computers. Journal of Applied Computing and Information Technology, 13(1), 20-29.

Bers, M. U., Flannery, L., Kazakoff, E. R., & Sullivan, A. (2014). Computational thinking and tinkering: Exploration of an early childhood robotics curriculum. Computers & Education, 72, 145-157.

Bers, M. U., & Sullivan, A. (2019). Computer science education in early childhood: The case of ScratchJr. Journal of Information Technology Education. Innovations in Practice, 18, 113-138.

Brackmann, C. P., Román-González, M., Robles, G., Moreno-León, J., Casali, A., & Barone, D. (2017). Development of computational thinking skills through unplugged activities in primary school. Workshop in Primary and Secondary Computing Education (WiPSCE ’17), 65-72.

Brennan, K., & Resnick, M. (2012). New frameworks for studying and assessing the development of computational thinking. Proceedings of the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, 1, 13-17.

Bruner, J. S. (1960). The process of education. Harvard University Press.

Buitrago Flórez, F., Casallas, R., Hernández, M., Reyes, A., Restrepo, S., & Danies, G. (2017, August). Changing a generation’s way of thinking: Teaching computational thinking through programming. Review of Educational Research, 87(4), 834–860.

Dasgupta, A., & Rynearson, A. M., & Purzer, S., & Ehsan, H., & Cardella, M. E. (2017, June 24-28). Computational thinking in K-2 classrooms: Evidence from student artifacts (fundamental) [Paper presentation]. 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, OH, United States.

del Olmo-Muñoz, J., Cózar-Gutiérrez, R., & González-Calero, J. A. (2020). Computational thinking through unplugged activities in early years of primary education. Computers & Education, 150, 1-19.

Dong, Y., Catete, V., Jocius, R., Lytle, N., Barnes, T., Albert, J., Joshi, D., Robinson, R., & Andrews, A. (2019). PRADA: A practical model for integrating computational thinking in K-12 education. Proceedings of the 50th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, 906-912.

Ehsan, H., Rehmat, A. P., & Cardella, M. E. (2021). Computational thinking embedded in engineering design: Capturing computational thinking of children in an informal engineering design activity. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 31(3), 441-464.

Faber, H. H., Wierdsma, M. D. M., Doornbos, R. P., van der Ven, J. S., & de Vette, K. (2017). Teaching computational thinking to primary school students via unplugged programming lessons. Journal of the European Teacher Education Network, 12, 13-24.

Flannery, L. P., Silverman, B., Kazakoff, E. R., Bers, M. U., Bontá, P., & Resnick, M. (2013). Designing ScratchJr: Support for early childhood learning through computer programming. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children, 1-10.

Gao, X., & Hew, K. F. (2022). Toward a 5E-based flipped classroom model for teaching computational thinking in elementary school: Effects on student computational thinking and problem-solving performance. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 60(2), 512-543.

Gerosa, A., Koleszar, V., Tejera, G., Gómez-Sena, L., & Carboni, A. (2021). Cognitive abilities and computational thinking at age 5: Evidence for associations to sequencing and symbolic number comparison. Computers and Education Open, 2, 1-9.

Goldin, G. A. (2000). A scientific perspective on structured, task-based interviews in mathematics education research. In A. E. Kelly & R. A. Lesh (Eds.) Handbook of research design in mathematics and science education, (1st ed., pp. 517-545). Routledge.

ISTE & CSTA. (2011). Operational definition of computational thinking for K-12 education.

Jacob, S. R., & Warschauer, M. (2018). Computational Thinking and Literacy. Journal of Computer Science Integration, 1(1), 1-19.

K-12 Computer Science Framework Steering Committee. (2016). K-12 computer science framework. ACM.

Maher, C. A., & Sigley, R. (2020). Task-based interviews in mathematics education (S. Lerman, Ed.). In S. Lerman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of mathematics education (pp. 821-824). Springer.

Peppler, K. A., & Warschauer, M. (2011). Uncovering literacies, disrupting stereotypes: Examining the (dis)abilities of a child learning to computer program and read. International Journal of Learning and Media, 3(3), 15-41.

Relkin, E. (2018). Assessing young children's computational thinking abilities (Publication No. 10813994) [Master’s thesis, Tufts University]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

Resnick, M. (2007). All I really need to know (about creative thinking) I learned (by studying how children learn) in kindergarten. Proceedings of the 6th ACM SIGCHI Conference on Creativity & Cognition, 1-6.

Rodriguez, B., Kennicutt, S., Rader, C., & Camp, T. (2017). Assessing computational thinking in CS unplugged activities. Proceedings of the 2017 ACM SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, 501-506.

Rompapas, D., Steven, Y., & Chan, J. (2021). A hybrid approach to teaching computational thinking at a K-1 and K-2 level. Proceedings of the 5th APSCE International Computational Thinking and STEM in Education Conference 2021, 26-31.

Saldaña, J. (2015). The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers (3rd ed.). SAGE Publications.

Sullivan, A., & Bers, M. U. (2013). Gender differences in kindergarteners’ robotics and programming achievement. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 23, 691-702.

Sung, Y.-T., Chang, K.-E., & Liu, T.-C. (2016). The effects of integrating mobile devices with teaching and learning on students' learning performance: A meta-analysis and research synthesis. Computers & Education, 94, 252-275.

Author 2020.

Twigg, S., Blair, L., & Winter, E. (2019). Using children's literature to introduce computing principles and concepts in primary schools: Work in progress. Proceedings of the 14th Workshop in Primary and Secondary Computing Education, 1-4.

Vahrenhold, J., Cutts, Q., & Falkner, K. (2019). Schools (K-12). In S. A. Fincher & A. V. Robins (Eds.), The cambridge handbook of computing education research (1st ed., pp. 547-584). Cambridge University Press.

Wing, J. M. (2006). Computational thinking. Communications of the ACM, 49(3), 33-35.

Yadav, A., Hong, H., & Stephenson, C. (2016). Computational thinking for all: Pedagogical approaches to embedding 21st century problem solving in K-12 classrooms. TechTrends, 60, 565-568.

Yin, R. K. (2018). Case study research and applications: Design and methods (6th ed.). SAGE Publications.


2024-05-27 — Updated on 2024-05-27

How to Cite

Tank, K. M., Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A., Moore, T. J., Yang, S., Wafula, Z., Kim, J., Fagundes, B., & Chu, L. (2024). Investigating Sequencing as a Means to Computational Thinking in Young Children. International Journal of Computer Science Education in Schools, 6(3), 67–77.