Computing-Integrated Teacher Education at the City University of New York

Unplugged Problem-Solving with CT

This example comes with a design toolkit! Click the following link to access it!

Access this toolkit

The Premise

This section focuses on supporting teacher candidates to learn, teach, and implement unplugged problem-solving with computational thinking (CT).

Keywords: computational thinking| problem-solving| K-12|

Artifact Goals

Materials in this toolkit could support teacher candidates to:

  1. Bring computationally rich experiences to diverse disciplinary areas (e.g., STEM, non-STEM, without using a computing device.
  2. Enrich the teaching content, seamlessly integrating CT into core K-12 disciplinary areas.
  3. Set the stage for conceptually understanding computer science ideas and practices. 
  4. Use a variety of everyday tools, other than computers, to improve their students’ problem-solving skills.
  5. Support the pedagogy of “an-object-to-think-with” and “unplugged”.


The origins of unplugged activities go back to 1997 when Bell (1998) published twenty activities under “Computer Science Unplugged” (Brackmann et al., 2017). Since those years, it has been a point of debate if CT could be developed through unplugged approaches. Though limited and more evidence is needed, existing studies are promising in that they suggest unplugged approaches could be as powerful as plugged ones to teach programming, problem-solving, and CT-related skills such as abstraction and decomposition (Huang & Looi, 2021). There are also others who recommend introducing unplugged to complement plugged activities. For example, in some cases, certain data might be hard to compute without a computational device, and in those cases, an unplugged activity could be useful as an introduction to introduce concepts associated with data processing (Caeli & Yadav, 2002). 

Courses that would lend themselves to this integration

  1. Childhood, Early Childhood, Secondary Education, both STEM & non-STEM
  2. Educational Psychology
  3. Educational Technology
  4. Methods Courses

Potential Benefits/Why should I?

  1. The unplugged activities can help reach a larger audience, including younger kids, rather than CS-only majors.
  2. These activities are less intimidating for pre-service teachers who do not have a background in CS or programming and do not have access to technology. 
  3. The unplugged activities in this unit will help you think about introducing the concepts of debugging, algorithm, pattern recognition, and debugging in your classroom without any computers or digital tools.
  4. The unplugged activities can help your teacher candidates make stronger connections between CT practices and their disciplines.

Potential Conversations and Activities

Computational problem-solving, contrary to common belief, does not have to include computers. CT integration employs unplugged (without a computing device) and plugged (with a computing device) approaches within K-12 subjects. In this artifact, we will introduce examples that could be used to learn and teach CT skills without needing any computing device.  Teaching in this area could support teacher candidates to teach, learn, and implement unplugged problem-solving with computational thinking (CT).

About computing/tech
  1. Define what computing is and its constituents
  2. Set a relationship between CT, computer science, and problem-solving and coding (see Figure 1)
  3. Discuss the idea of unplugged problem-solving with CT (i.e., without using any computational device)
  4. Discuss the possible reasons why we might bring unplugged activities to preservice education. 
With computing/tech
  1. Use unplugged activities from different disciplines to enhance problem-solving capabilities.
Through computing/tech
  1. Introduce the concepts of debugging, algorithm, pattern recognition, and debugging in your classroom without any computers or digital tools.
  2. Encourage teacher candidates to design and implement unplugged activities specific to certain content.
Against computing/tech
  1. Introduce the same activity, using a plugged and unplugged version
  2. Compare the opportunities and affordances of plugged and unplugged mediums to teach problem-solving. 
  3. Discuss when it might be better to use unplugged means of computing to teach problem-solving.

Summer 2022 Professional Development Workshops Related to Computational Thinking

  • Tuesday, July 12, 2pm-4pm, Microworlds & Mathematics: Integrating Programming into Elementary Math Classes, Hosted by June Mark
  • Tuesday, July 19, 10am-12pm, Think to Scale, Scaling to Think, Hosted by Gaelen Hadlett
  • Tuesday, July 19, 2pm-4pm, Programming, Student Agency, and Creating Computational Artifacts with Scratch, Hosted by Carlos Leon
  • Thursday, July 21st, 9am-11:30am , Computational Thinking with Scratch (Conference Presentation), Hosted by Francisco Cervantes
  • Wednesday, July 27, 2-4pm, Scientific Simulations and Agent-Based Models with StarLogo Nova, Hosted by Gabrielle Rabinowitz

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *