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University of California, San Diego

Computational Thinking for K-12 Educators: Variables and Nested Loops

University of California, San Diego via Coursera


How can students learn about abstraction by creating a movie scene? Or make an interactive map using lists? You'll learn (and do it yourself) in this course!

This class teaches the concepts of abstraction (methods and parameters) and lists. For each concept, we'll start by helping you connect real-world experiences you are already familiar with to the programming concept you are about to learn. Next, through a cognitively scaffolded process we'll engage you in developing your fluency with problem solving with abstraction and lists in a way that keeps frustration at a minimum.

Along the way you will learn about the common challenges or "bugs" students have with these concepts as well as ways to help them find and fix those concepts. You'll also be guided in running classroom discussions to help students develop deeper understanding of these concepts.

Finally, you'll learn about the importance and logistics of assigning creative, student-designed programming projects.
Additionally, you will create a personal plan for increasing your skills in supporting a culturally responsive learning environment in your classroom.


  • Welcome!
    • Meet Dr. Simon and fellow learners in this class! Find out what you’ll be doing and learning.
  • Nested Repeats
    • How can we simplify instructions further with repeats? How do you dance the chicken dance? We’ll cover these questions and more in this module! Learn how nested repeats work by making dance instructions, solving programming puzzles, and creating a program. Prepare for class discussions around challenging questions about nested repeats.
  • More Nested Repeats & Events
    • Be prepared for teaching nested repeats with’s Bee and Zombie programming challenges, and get ready to learn about events! Find out how to grab your students’ attention with events, and practice your understanding by imagining: what if you could control someone with a game controller? Learn more about events by playing with programming puzzles and creating your own program.
  • More Events & Variables
    • In this module, we’ll explore how events are taught in the classroom and go through another challenge: this time, we’re creating the game of Bounce (or Pong), which is just like air hockey! We’ll also introduce how variables are placeholders for data by displaying them as a real-world placeholders: envelopes. Work on getting comfortable with variables in a variety of programming puzzles.
  • More Variables
    • After working through some tricky examples of changing variables, we’re ready to bring variables to your classroom! First, we’ll cover a more thorough lesson plan for the “variables as envelopes” metaphor. Then, we’ll head back to the Artist environment to show the true power of variables and how much they can affect our drawings!
  • Equity & Pedagogy
    • We take a break from programming concepts to ensure that your classroom environment encourages a healthy learning environment. Learn how to make fun assignments a little more approachable by using Parsons’ problems, and explore how you can make your computer lab a respectful and supportive environment for all, especially students that might be underrepresented.

Taught by

Beth Simon


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