Introduction to Coding & Computational Thinking

Introduction to Coding & Computational Thinking

So what do we mean by coding and computational thinking? Computational thinking, quite literally, means breaking a problem down into simple steps so that a computer could solve it. Coding is how these steps are communicated with a computer in order for it to carry out a particular task. Read below for more information, including the relevance of computational thinking and coding to the curriculum.


Areas of Computational Thinking

There are 4 main areas or cornerstones of computational thinking:

1.    Decomposition - breaking down a problem into smaller, more manageable parts
2.    Pattern Recognition - looking for similarities among and within problems
3.    Abstraction - focusing only on the important information, ignoring irrelevant detail
4.    Algorithms - developing a step-by-step solution to the problem, or the rules to follow to solve the problem

Computational thinking can be explored through the use of 'unplugged' activities in the classroom, requiring no access to digital devices. This is seen as a useful and important step in progressing students' understanding of computational thinking. Progression to 'plugged' activities involving the use of digital devices and coding activity is a natural next step, often made easier and more effective by starting with unplugged activity. Engaging in coding and computational thinking can support many areas of the curriculum, as you will see below.

Where does coding and computational thinking fit within the curriculum?

Primary Schools

In 2019 the NCCA published a report Coding in Primary Schools. This report was the culmination of an audit of coding in primary schools across 22 countries, as well as a pilot project conducted in 40 Irish primary schools. Key findings from the report included that computational thinking is the right focus in primary education and can and should be supported and developed through activities in every subject and that playful and meaningful approaches should be used to maintain interest and zest in pupils when teaching coding and computational skills. Support materials from this initiative are available here

Post-primary Schools

A new short course on coding for Junior Cycle has been developed by the NCCA and aims to develop the student's ability to formulate problems logically; to design, write and test code through the development of programs, apps, games, animations or websites; and, through their chosen learning activities, to learn about computer science. You can view the course specification here. The Junior Cycle Coding in Action (JCCiA) initiative and the short course on coding are supported by the JCT. You can find out more on their website

The recent addition of Computer Science to the Leaving Certificate curriculum has enabled students to develop computational thinking, problem solving, innovation and creativity skills. You can find out more about post primary schools’ experiences of Computer Science on the NCCA website here. PDST provides supports specific to the Leaving Certificate Computer Science (LCCS) subject through its Computer Science team of advisors, and provides resources and supports specific to the Computer Science curriculum on the portal.

PDST Technology in Education Coding Projects 

Coding and computational thinking experiences in schools have been captured and developed in several of the clusters of schools involved in the Digital Schools of Excellence initiative. Find out more about the schools and projects here.

Our Good Practice videos feature many primary classrooms using coding across the curriculum, which you'll see on the good practice coding page. To see coding in action in a junior infants classroom, why not take a look at this one Using Beebots in Junior Infants.

In 2019, PDST Technology in Education participated in the European Schoolnet project on Maker Spaces, resulting in school case studies and a practical guide for school leaders and teachers. Two Irish primary schools featured in the report. Case studies for both schools are available to download from the European Schoolnet website at the following links: Scoil Ide, Limerick and Alexandra College Junior School, Dublin.


In 2016, the European Commission’s Joint Research Committee (JRC) produced the report Developing Computational Thinking in Compulsory Education - Implications for policy and practice. This report outlines a comprehensive overview and analysis of recent research findings and policy initiatives for developing computational thinking among students. It looks at the core concepts and skills of computational thinking and the relationship between coding/computational thinking and education. 

Primary School Activities and Resources - Guide

We have put together a guide to help primary schools to introduce coding and computational thinking into their digital learning plan, with activities and resources mapped to all levels of the primary curriculum.

You can download our guide here.

Go to next page ‘Coding and the Digital Learning Framework
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