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Identifying Computational Thinking in Storytelling Literacy Activities with Scratch Jr.

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Computational Thinking in Pre-College Engineering

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Tony Andrew Lowe Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Tony Lowe is a PhD student in Engineering Education at Purdue University. He has a BSEE from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and a MSIT from Capella. He currently teaches as an adjunct at CTU Online and has been an on-and-off corporate educator and full time software engineer for twenty years.

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Sean P. Brophy Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. Sean Brophy is the director of Student Learning for the INSPIRE Pre-college Research Institute at Purdue University. His research in engineering education and learning sciences involves developing young children's cognitive ability to think and reason during complex problem solving activities. As part of this research he explores new methods to enhance informal and formal learning experiences using technology.

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Students are learning to interact with, design for, and sometimes even program computers at earlier and earlier ages. Teachers and researchers can relatively easily measure progress in learning programming tasks, but assessing conceptual understanding of computation, particularly when programming tasks are not present, is less defined or non-existent. Computational Thinking (CT) generally refers to knowledge and skills apart from, and possibly a precursor to, the ability to write computer programs, yet is commonly measured through the quality of programming. Are there ways of qualifying CT ‘maturity’ outside of programming tasks? This study looks at the intersection of CT and CS in very young learners who are developing computational solutions involving literacy tasks. Students retell a story by animating characters in Scratch Jr. by breaking down the story, creating an animation storyboard, and finally implementing the plan in Scratch Jr.. For most of the participants this is their first time using Scratch Jr. or any programming language. Therefore, their early experience with technology means they are working on analysis of a story using literacy skills, considering a visual representation of the story, and learning how to realize the expression of the storyline using a computer language. To better understand the general concept of CT, we analyzed video data of the students building their animated story, along with the artifacts of design and code. This qualitative data provides indicators of how their thinking progresses from little to at least working knowledge of writing a program. Using qualitative analysis we evaluate how their initial design evolves, simplifies, or otherwise changes as the novices move from general problem solving to creating a computational solution. CT seems to be a specialized version of design and engineering design in general. Understanding how these very young learners move from generally approaching a problem to a computational solution may give insight to how CT matures and the role of programming in that maturity. By capturing how a design changes, we can suggest how CT can be ‘seen’ in artifacts produced that are not programming code. The goal is to find markers of CT in design and language that transcends specific programmed implementations.

Lowe, T. A., & Brophy, S. P. (2019, June), Identifying Computational Thinking in Storytelling Literacy Activities with Scratch Jr. Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32913

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