Algorithms – Programming made Real!

A question often asked is: what is an algorithm? Put simply, it is an instruction. We use these in every day, the routine we have for getting dressed, making a bowl of cereal, the infamous school jam sandwich during KS1 instructional writing and finally writing the date and objective on a piece of work.

A recipe has clear instructions and a very clear order in which to follow them. When a cook follows each step they need to be precise, the more precise the better the instructions are followed.

Ensure that the children recognise that algorithms are just names for an everyday thing, an instruction.  Make sure that the word algorithm is rehearsed and used synonymously with instruction.

Tasks:

  • Play ‘Simon Says’ with the class, once children are understanding add pairs of instructions e.g “Simon says pat your tummy and rub your head.”
  • Board Games- children play game they enjoy, it could be Chess, a board game or Top Trumps. Challenge children to explain how they play the game in ten clear instructions. Role play as robots following these instructions exactly as they are told.
  • Play a game in PE – as board game task but children are in groups creating a simple game and then rotate in a carousel type task. Children must follow the instructions exactly.
  • Emphasise that algorithms need to be precise, humans can infer meaning if something is not clear, but a computer cannot. Therefore, as computers deal in yes and no they need precise instructions to perform them correctly.

Next Steps:

Children could create a video explanation of these algorithms. Alternatively, pupils could create explanation videos using apps such as explain everything (app store £4.49) or Show Me (free). They break up these videos to separate the precise instructions.

If you’ve enjoyed this and would like to see other ideas I’ve had for  classroom computing please comment.

Thanks for Reading!

Adam Chase

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