About Computational Thinking: Interview with Dr Magda Kloppers

Name of scholar/expert:

Dr Magda Kloppers

Who am I?

I am a senior lecturer at the Vaal Triangle campus of the North West University in South Africa.  I am a member of Optentia, research entity on the Vaal Triangle campus in the programme:  Inclusion, Capability and Optimal functioning.  My field of scholarship is cognitive education, critical thinking dispositions, creating environments that are conducive for teaching and learning, computational thinking and Mathematics. I am currently involved in a project on High-performance learning as well as the use of videos in African languages to increase performance in Mathematics.

What is Computational Thinking, and how can it enhance better thinking and learning?

This input will focus on Computational Thinking (CT), a universally applicable attitude and skill set everyone should be eager to learn and use, considering the rapid changes and challenges posed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) leading to drastic changes in how we live, work and communicate. The 4IR is characterised by a fusion of technologies that ‘blurs the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres’.In the same way that Critical thinking skills and dispositions need to be taught explicitly, Computational thinking is not different.  Teachers should allow space for the development of computational thinking to teach students to think in a way that will enable them to access and understand the technologies of the future.  Four cornerstones of Computational Thinking can be identified.
Firstly, decomposition
, which invites students to break down complex problems into smaller, more straightforward problems.
The second cornerstone is pattern recognition
, which guides students to make connections between similar problems and experience.
Thirdly, abstraction invites students to identify relevant information while ignoring unrelated or irrelevant details.  Lastly, students use algorithms when they design simple steps to solve problems. These four cornerstones draw upon the concepts fundamental to computer science and the integration of technologies. One way in which CT can be advanced is through play.  A follow-up podcast will focus on the value of play to advance CT.

Figure: Image adopted from Computational Thinkers (Available online:

Regarding Computational Thinking, what have you found are the biggest challenges parents, teachers and practitioners face?  What are the best ways to overcome them?

Parents, teachers and practitioners should not confuse Computational Thinking with computer programming or coding, although programming and coding are some of the ways to teach CT.  In essence, CT is conceptualising a set of cognitive and problem-solving skills, and applies to many subject areas, for everyone everywhere and can be taught without a device. It is how humans think, not computers; it is a fundamental skill, not a rote skill; it is about ideas, to be creative and not the artefacts. Parents and teachers should also take the time which students can stay focused into consideration and not burden them with tasks which are beyond the concentration span of the child.  An example of where decomposition can be used is when a learner is requested to describe a scenario of planning a birthday party for girls, or a weekend camp for boys.  The learners can be assisted to break down the situation into smaller steps and guide their thinking by drawing a visual representation.

In Pattern recognition children will be able to identify commonalities between objects or experiences. Pictures of fruit and vegetables can be printed, and learners should be able to tell the differences and commonalities. Learners should be able to group the fruit and the vegetables, tell which ones are round, yellow, green, red etc. or which vegetables grow above and below the ground.  This skill can help learners to solve future problems and to make predictions about the world.

Abstraction helps learners to identify relevant and important information and sort through ideas to identify what information can be used. A story with fallacies can be told to learners, and afterwards, they should have the ability to verbalise the errors and motivate their answers.   Formulating this strategy is a valuable skill for learners to manage the overload of information and to determine what is accurate, valid and relevant.

Algorithms imply the creation of sequential rules to follow to solve a problem. Here you can ask learners to identify the steps they take when they wake up in the morning and get ready for school, or what steps they will take when they make a cup of tea or coffee.  The sequence of the actions are essential, and everything needed to perform the action should be indicated.

What are the most important signs that will indicate to parents, teachers and practitioners the successful functioning/implementation of Computational Thinking?

Daily fun and creative activities can be used to instil CT in learners.  If learners can explain their thought processes sequentially and break complex problems down into smaller steps, it is an indicator that learners have the skill of CT.  When learners can come up with different solutions for the same problem and can select the best solution, it is also an indication of mastery of the problem.

Visit our Tools, Recommended Readings and Research and Other Articles pages for Dr Kloppers’ recommended and applicable literature sources on Metacognititon and Self-regulated learning.

Dr Kloppers may be contacted at

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Interview with Prof Mary Grosser, Extraordinary Professor in Cognitive Development and Critical Thinking Development

The Institute for the Advancement of Cognitive Education conducted an interview with Prof Mary Grosser; Extraordinary Professor in Cognitive Development and Critical Thinking Development at the North West University in South Africa in April 2019.  She also serves on the IACE Advisory Board. 

Prof Grosser’s interview is helpful to create a better understanding of the term cognitive education, and what the difference is between cognition and meta-cognition, and between lower-order thinking and higher-order thinking.  Understanding these basic concepts will help parents, teachers and practitioners to develop better thinking and learning.  This blog is a summary of the most important points Prof Grosser highlighted during the interview.

What does cognitive education mean?

  • Developing thinking processes (cognitive and metacognitive) in learners to help them to become independent and self-regulated learners in terms of their school work, but also to enable them to be better equipped to solve problems and make good decisions as part of daily life.
  • Teach learners to understand how their minds work.

What are the thinking competencies learners need to acquire?

  1. Lower-order: Lower-order competencies include having skills to effectively:
    – Pay attention to information: Staying alert and conscious during learning.
    – Perceive information: Using all senses to become aware of information.
    – Memorise information: Storing information for retrieval later.
  1. Higher-order competencies: Ability to apply different thinking skills tolearning (flexibility) that requires more challenging competencies to process information than merely memorising, such as comparing information, classifying information, analysing information, thinking critically about information.
  2. Feelings, dispositions, attitudes: Dispositions such aswillingness, motivation, self-confidence, inquisitiveness, accuracy, systematic working ways, empathy, responsibility, accountability, ethical conduct, skills to work with others, positive attitudes towards learning; open-mindedness, fair-mindedness, excellent communication skills, better cooperative learning skills, etc. play an important role in effective learning, and in contributing to the societies we live in.

In short, essential competencies include two things, namely the development of skills (lower- and higher-order) that involve the “head” (mind) and dispositions/feelings/attitudes that involve the “heart” (emotions).

What is the difference between cognitive and metacognitive processes?

Cognitive actions/processes involve all thinking actions that we engage in, such as making decisions, solving problems, interpret information, or responding to questions.

It is always necessary to evaluate and assess ones thinking or answers (reflect about one’s thinking) to establish if it makes sense if it is logic, meaningful and significant. This evaluation and reflection process is called metacognition.

An important aspect of metacognition is that one needs to have the skills and strategies know what to do if one’s thinking does not make sense, solve problems incorrectly, misinterpret information or responding in an incomplete way to questions.

What is the difference between teaching for, of and about thinking?

  • Teaching FOR thinking involves the creation of school-wide and classroom conditions (and home) that support thinking development. We need to make time for the teaching of thinking.
  • Teaching OF thinking focuses on the explicit instruction and modelling of thinking skills/strategies and dispositions to learners, and not just expect learners to acquire them without purposeful teaching.  For example, Teaching learners strategies to become skilled at paying better attention (lower-order skill), making comparisons (higher-order skill), working accurately (disposition)
  • Teaching ABOUT thinking helps learners to become aware of their own and others’ thinking processes (meta-cognitive processes).  Teach learners strategies to assess their own thinking and to self-correct their thinking.

Why is it important for parents, educators and practitioners to develop better thinking and learning today?

We are educating/preparing learners to cope with the challenges of the 21stcentury. The 21st-century learner needs thinking skills and dispositions to deal with the following challenges: Learning and academic challenges, personal life challenges, societal and global challenges.

The 21stCentury Learner needs skill to/to be …

Learners also need skills and dispositions to deal with the challenges of the fourth Industrial Revolution

  • Grade 1 learners of 2019 will be in Grade 12 in 2030. We do not know what the world will look like then – totally unpredictable. We need to prepare learners to do anything, not something.
  • Understanding and coping with a digitally focused life – interaction with digital media.

Conceptual Age

1990s: Working with sophisticated tools and technologies

Today: Working with information overload


Looking at the aforementioned, one can make the following classification of what a learner will need to cope with learning and the challenges of the 21stcentury and the fourth Industrial Revolution.

Thinking skills

(cannot be taught by computers)

Digital skills Personal skills and dispositions

(cannot be taught by computers)

Job-specific skills
Critical thinking


Decision making

Digital literacy

Computer programming

Online learning







Industry knowledge

Workplace technology

Technical skills

Teachers, parents and practitioner still need to play an essential role in mediating and modelling good thinking skills and dispositions to learners, as computers and technology cannot teach thinking skills and dispositions.

What are the most important tips you can give to parents, educators and practitioners to develop better thinking and learning?

  1. Developing thinking processes intentionally – make time for it. Developing better thinking that would contribute to better learning has to become part and parcel of daily living, also at home.
  2. Taking hands with teachers and other practitioners to reinforce and strengthen the development of better thinking and learning.
  3. Becoming knowledgeable about different tools to develop thinking competencies (skills, dispositions).