Research into Practice. Computational Thinking: A Literacy for Developing Critical Thought

Computational thinking has been called "a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists" (Wing 2006) and has over the past few years become what many consider a critical literacy as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic (e.g., Gretter and Yadav 2016; Lu and Fletcher 2009; Wing 2006).

Computational thinking is still misunderstood by many in the K-12 world and is often confused with using a computer, computer science, or coding (Yadav, Stephenson, Hong 2017). It is a problem-solving thought process (derived from computer science) that includes concepts and capabilities, such as "logically ordering and analyzing data and creating solutions using a series of ordered steps (or algorithms), and dispositions, such as the ability to confidently deal with complexity and open-ended problems" (Google 2017). While coding is one vehicle to teach and instill computational thinking concepts, it is just that, one method.

The Ready to Code project from ALA and Google has explored what libraries do to promote and introduce computational thinking. Phase One found there is a "critical need for more graduate-level curriculum dedicated to teaching LIS students how to design and implement these innovative programs" (ALA 2017). This led to Ready to Code 2, in which LIS educators are working to transform course offerings for school and youth librarians to prepare them to promote and develop computational thinking. In Phase 3, ALA is partnering with Google to form a group of selected school and public libraries, which will help inform the creation of a coding program toolkit for libraries nationwide.

What is your role in teaching computational thinking? Coding has become a way school librarians introduce computational thinking concepts to students through makerspaces, instruction, and coding clubs. There are a plethora of free or affordable apps and websites that are easy to learn, simple to implement, and expose students to a wide array of coding languages. Amongst these is AppsBar (, which allows students to build their own apps. (, a nonprofit that hosts Hour of Code and provides a platform for learning code. And, CodeAcademy (, which promotes itself as "teaching the world to code" and provides resources to build interactive websites and learn Java and responsive design. Many of these organizations are working to lessen the fears teachers have of computer science and coding. Free lesson plans are readily available, as well as free online courses on teaching elements of computational thinking through coding.

As with information literacy, computational thinking is much more relevant when opportunities for learning are embedded within teachers' content areas. Coding allows for project-based learning using real-time resources. For example, the Digital Public Library of America ( makes their API freely available for coders to use providing access to millions of primary sources. Users can develop code to access a specified search like women in science or civil rights, manipulate and mash a primary source and create a GIF, or organize a school-wide hackathon.

Instilling computational thinking concepts is a way that school librarians can prepare students for complex problem solving, learning, and succeeding in today's technological world.

Works Cited

ALA. "Equipping Librarians to Code." Press release January 1, 2017.

Google. Exploring Computational Thinking. programs/exploring-computational-thinking/ (Accessed June 30, 2017).

Gretter, Sarah, and Aman Yadav. "Computational Thinking and Media Information Literacy: An Integrated Approach to Teaching 21st Century Skills." Tech Trends 60, no. 5 (September 2016): 510-516.

Lu, James J. and George H. L. Fletcher. "Thinking about Computational Thinking." ACM SIGCSE Bulletin 41, no. 1 (March 2009): 260-264.

Wing, Janet M. "Computational Thinking." Communications of the ACM 49, no. 3 (March 2006): 33–35.

Yadav, Aman, Chris Stephenson, and Hai Hong. "Computational Thinking for Teacher Education." Communications of the ACM 60, no. 4 (April 2017): 55-62.

About the Authors

Melissa P. Johnston, MEd, PhD, is associate professor at the University of West Georgia, where she teaches graduate courses in the school library media/instructional technology certification program. She earned her master’s degree at the University of Georgia and her doctorate at Florida State University. Johnston is the author of numerous articles in such journals as School Libraries Worldwide, Tech Trends, School Library Research, and Knowledge Quest.

Melissa Jacobs, MS, MLS, is the Director of Library Services in the New York City Department of Education. Jacobs received her master's in library sciences and school library media certification from the City University of New York at Queens College and a master's in educational administration from Touro College. She is the founder of the American Association of School Librarian's Best Apps for Teaching and Learning and was recognized as a 2015 Library Journal Mover and Shaker and 2015 Queens College Alumna of the Year. You can follow her on Twitter at @missyji.

MLA Citation Johnston, Melissa P., and Melissa Jacobs. "Research into Practice. Computational Thinking: A Literacy for Developing Critical Thought." School Library Connection, November 2017,

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Entry ID: 2129176

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