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New frameworks for studying and assessing the development of computational thinking

Abstract

Computational thinking is a phrase that has received considerable attention over the past several
years – but there is little agreement about what computational thinking encompasses, and even
less agreement about strategies for assessing the development of computational thinking in
young people. We are interested in the ways that design-based learning activities – in particular,
programming interactive media – support the development of computational thinking in young
people. Over the past several years, we have developed a computational thinking framework that
emerged from our studies of the activities of interactive media designers. Our context is Scratch
– a programming environment that enables young people to create their own interactive stories,
games, and simulations, and then share those creations in an online community with other young
programmers from around the world.
The first part of the paper describes the key dimensions of our computational thinking
framework: computational concepts (the concepts designers engage with as they program, such
as iteration, parallelism, etc.), computational practices (the practices designers develop as they
engage with the concepts, such as debugging projects or remixing others’ work), and
computational perspectives (the perspectives designers form about the world around them and
about themselves). The second part of the paper describes our evolving approach to assessing
these dimensions, including project portfolio analysis, artifact-based interviews, and design
scenarios. We end with a set of suggestions for assessing the learning that takes place when
young people engage in programming.