Resource Release - Computational Thinking and Mathematics Lessons

August 10, 2017

Since May of 2012, LTEC team members from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC) and the Champaign Unit 4 School District have worked together to bring computational thinking into the classroom. Beginning in summer of 2013, Kenwood Elementary School embarked on a project to make computational thinking its magnet school identity. As part of that effort, they quickly realized that integration into existing content areas would be essential for implementing CS for all students. Beginning in 2014, Kenwood teachers worked together to develop lessons that would connect mathematics activities to computational thinking. Their mathematics curriculum was built around the Everyday Mathematics series developed at the University of Chicago.

The materials produced from this effort are now online. There are two units each for grades 1 and 2 and three units each for grades 3, 4, and 5. The materials are freely available on UIUC’s Creative Technology Research Laboratory site:

The activities are classroom ready in the sense that they contain connections to the standards, advance organizers for students, student materials and programs to edit, and teacher versions of the Scratch programs that are part of each lesson.

The process of development

Groups of elementary school teachers met on ten separate occasions to work on the lessons. They had support from UIUC faculty and staff, but the teachers themselves were the primary drivers for the content. They put their lessons in Google Docs that they shared among themselves; adding reflections after piloting the lessons and revising as needed. Two years later, as the LTEC grant was in swing, Judy Rocke, an experienced elementary school teacher, took on the role of general editor and formatted the materials in way to make them more broadly accessible. That is, she created a concise and uniform structure for the lessons.

Lesson features

The lesson components benefit from the pedagogical content knowledge of the instructors who created them. For example, the first grade lesson on animal stories does not assume much or any experience with Scratch. It provides the students with the blocks they need to complete the project. Planning pages are provided as advance organizers and pictures of sprites that teachers and students can cut out to make the project work more smoothly in a busy classroom. A checklist for assessment helps both the students and teacher know that the lesson is on track. On the other hand, the lessons are not so scripted that there is not plenty of room for further exploration. One of the joys of observing classrooms where these lessons are being used is seeing students engage in different ways with different understandings. For example, on one observation day, some students spent the period getting the sprites they wanted into position. Others finished this quickly and moved on to extensions like working on the background or programming tasks with When the students met on the rug together to share out at the end of the class, the teacher asked, “Do you have any ideas of what you would like to do with the project next?” “Make it move,” a child said, referring to the sprites.

As the lessons progress through the grades, the connections to mathematics become more obvious in terms of mathematical content. By grade four, students are animating the fractional parts of a collection of objects and creating a program that uses conditionals to prompt users for answers. The mathematics content is equivalent fractions, illustrating that 3/12 is the same as 1/4, for example.

We have used these materials to explore research questions around student collaboration and engagement. It is too early to say if mathematics learning is measurably improved by using these materials. What we can say is that the theme of Computational Thinking has been an important part of the magnet school’s identity, and creating and sharing materials has helped solidify that identity.

Try them out! Let us know what you think.