Asee peer logo

Capturing the Computational Thinking of Families with Young Children in Out-of-School Environments

Download Paper |


2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Pre-college: Blending Computers, Computational Thinking, and Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Hoda Ehsan Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering) Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Hoda is a Ph.D. student in the School of Engineering Education, Purdue. She received her B.S. in mechanical engineering in Iran, and obtained her M.S. in Childhood Education and New York teaching certification from City College of New York (CUNY-CCNY). She is now a graduate research assistant on STEM+C project. Her research interests include designing informal setting for engineering learning, and promoting engineering thinking in differently abled students in informal and formal settings.

visit author page


Monica E. Cardella Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering) Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Monica E. Cardella is the Director of the INSPIRE Institute for Pre-College Engineering Education and is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University.

visit author page

Download Paper |


For the past two decades, researchers and educators have been interested in integrating engineering into K-12 learning experiences. More recently, computational thinking (CT) has gained increased attention in K-12 engineering education. Computational thinking is broader than programming and coding. Some describe computational thinking as crucial to engineering problem solving and critical to engineering habits of mind like systems thinking. However, few studies have explored how computational thinking is exhibited by children, and CT competencies for children have not been consistently defined. Hence developing and implementing effective CT-related activities for children can be difficult. Therefore, exploring what computational thinking looks like for children is critical. Children can engage in, and learn to engage in computational thinking in both formal and informal settings. In this study, we are interested in exploring what computational thinking might look like in settings that approximate children’s everyday experiences. More specifically, in order to investigate what computational thinking looks like when enacted by young children, we are interested in observing children and their family members engaging in open-ended engineering activities that are play-based. To accomplish this, we observed and video-recorded 5-8 year-old children and their families creating different structures together using large foam blocks that are out for free play at a science center. Based on our observations and analysis of the video-recordings, in this paper we report on the computational thinking practices and competencies children and families demonstrated while engaged in engineering play. Our findings can provide information needed to create a framework for promoting computational thinking in young children in informal settings.

Ehsan, H., & Cardella, M. E. (2017, June), Capturing the Computational Thinking of Families with Young Children in Out-of-School Environments Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28010

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2017 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015