Blog for June: Integrating CS and Computational Thinking in the Pre K-8 Grades

Posted by: Melissa Rasberry on June 4, 2020

In January 2016, President Barack Obama declared during his State of the Union address that our nation was united in understanding: “real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job” (White House, 2016). He further elaborated that every child in the United States needed access to hands-on computer science (CS) courses to be job-ready in the 21st century economy where those skills will be essential for success. To make this vision become reality, schools would need more high-quality teachers. Momentum from President Obama’s speech led to the launch of the CS for All initiative--a national effort geared toward ensuring every child in America has access to CS--later that same month.


Since its launch, bipartisan support from students, parents, educators, policymakers, and business leaders alike has helped to expand CS programs in schools all across the nation. Dating back to 2011, the National Science Foundation (NSF) began preparing high school teachers to implement the Exploring Computer Science (ECS) and Computer Science Principles (CSP) courses in grades 9-12 and build the infrastructure to support the necessary systems-level change through its CS10K initiative (Astrachan, Cuny, Stephenson, & Wilson, 2011). Professional development projects organized summer workshops and quarterly check-ins to support high school educators in learning the content and implementing it well in their classrooms. 


But what about teachers in elementary and middle school? Many of them felt left out of the CS movement initially, relegated to simply enjoying an Hour of Code in December or sponsoring after-school robotics clubs without the training necessary to fully educate their students in CS and computational thinking (CT). Others felt pressured to try out new CS/CT resources, but were uncertain how to fit them into their already packed schedules. Still more did not have the technology necessary (e.g., individual devices, high-speed broadband, or software) to teach all of their students CS/CT. How and where did elementary and middle school teachers fit into the CS for All initiative?


This month’s webinar will delve into the key issues of integrating CS and CT in grades PreK-8. While these grade levels do not typically offer standalone courses, similar to ECS and CSP, more and more elementary and middle school teachers are beginning to design individual lessons and interdisciplinary units, which bridge CS/CT with other content areas, such as math and language arts. What will it take to move from pockets of innovation to implementing at scale across the early grades? Our panel of four experts -- Professors Diana Franklin and Anne Ottenbreit-Leftwich and PreK-8 educators Nancy McGowan and Bobby Oommen -- will share their experience and expertise around four critical questions:

  • How does CS/CT in grades PreK-8 serve as a foundation of knowledge and broadening participation in CS education?
  • What are students learning in CS/CT in grades PreK-8 and how are they equitably engaged in that learning?
  • What does teacher support and preparation look like?
  • What is the role of state and national policies in promoting CS/CT education in grades PreK-8?

As you prepare for the webinar, we encourage you to check out the videos selected for our Multiplex playlist. While they represent just a small sector of promising projects in elementary and middle grades, they offer up potential solutions for expanding PreK-8 access to CS/CT. For example, Sarah Dunton, panelist Anne Leftwich, and the Expanding Computing Education Pathways team share how to organize statewide summits for broadening participation, based on their experiences across dozens of states. Adrienne Decker and demonstrate the resources available on the site of the same name, from learning inventories to sample surveys. CS4All Springfield provides a glimpse into a researcher-practitioner partnership (RPP) supported by NSF and aimed at designing K-5 integrated curricula, while the Lawrence Hall of Science describes their coding science internships for middle schoolers. Panelist Diana Franklin’s video with the Learning Trajectories for Everyday Computing project details their efforts to develop and test integrated fractions and CT lessons and assessments for students in grades 3 and 4. Several other videos round out our playlist and provide further strategies for PreK-8 integration. We hope that you will take time to explore them before or after the webinar.

Indeed, computer science and computational thinking skills will continue to drive economic innovation, create opportunity within the workforce, and provide a substantial foundation for the 21st century. Yet, they are still not fully available to all PreK-12 students, especially those in the early grades where rudimentary learning is paramount for long-term success. It is both a moral and economic imperative to broaden participation and ensure access to a high-quality CS education in elementary and middle school so that the students of today are fully prepared for high school and the workforce of tomorrow. Please join us here on the Multiplex for this important conversation!



Astrachan, O., Cuny, J., Stephenson, C., & Wilson, C. (2011). The CS10K project: Mobilizing the community to transform high school computing. In Proceedings of the 42nd ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE '11) (pp. 85–86.). New York, NY: ACM. doi:


The White House - Office of the Press Secretary. (2016, January 13). Remarks of President Barack Obama – State of the Union Address As Delivered.

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