Developing Students’ Thinking Skills through Coding in the Primary School

Part of CreateWorld 2016

Garry Falloon, University of Waikato

Coding and computational learning activities are becoming integral components of school curriculum in many countries. Often arguments for this centre on the need to develop what are seen as future-focused skills and competencies, and to engage more young people in ICT-related careers or study. These competencies comprise more than technical skills, encompassing dispositional elements such as creativity and innovation, and general cognitive capabilities such as complex and higher order thinking. Indeed, the development of a digitally literate, innovative and flexibly-skilled workforce is seen by many governments as key to future economic prosperity and social well-being. However, while these goals are admirable, limited empirical evidence presently exists that computational activities like coding actually support young students to develop these capabilities.

This presentation summarises findings from a two year New Zealand Government-funded study into the nature of thinking skills students apply when engaged in coding activities. It used an innovative recording tool installed on class sets of iPads to capture video and audio data while 5 and 6 year old students were completing a range of coding tasks that were integrated into a Geometry topic, using Scratch Jnr. Data were analysed against a thinking skills model based on Krathwohl’s (2002) adaptation of Bloom’s Taxonomy (cognitive domain) and Brennan and Resnick’s (2012) framework for evaluating computational thinking, to discover the extent to which coding provided a useful means of building general and higher order thinking skills. Data will be presented and discussed highlighting key outcomes from the study, and useful guidance provided for teachers wanting to explore coding as a means of building thinking competencies in their students.


Garry is presently involved in post-graduate teaching, supervision, and research in digital technologies and eLearning at Waikato University. He is principal investigator for a 2 year Teaching and Learning Research Initiative (TLRI) project exploring student thinking development when using tablet devices collaboratively within inquiry and problem based learning scenarios in the primary school. The most recent phase of this study has investigated using coding apps for building computational skills in BYOD and iPad-supported classrooms.

Past research activities include exploring the effect of app design on student learning pathways, technology-facilitated school-scientist partnerships, the use of synchronous virtual classrooms in supporting distance students, online learning environment design, and the design and use of digital learning objects in schools.