Algorithms: understand what algorithms are, how they are implemented as programs on digital devices, and that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions.
Links and Resources
Children in lower primary settings can create their first algorithm using this Barefoot Computing unplugged computing activity. The activity encourages computational thinking including decomposition, logical reasoning and simple debugging. Further challenge is introduced by the need for increasing levels of detail and accuracy, which can lead to the idea of abstraction within programs.
This flexible activity could be used for introducing a number of computer science ideas:
- Abstraction: Before introducing these cards, can the children draw or verbalise a simplified day in their life?
- Sequences: Can the children put the events in order?
- Decomposition: Can the children break each stage of their day into smaller parts than those shown, and add more detail?
- Repetition: Can the children create an algorithm to save repeating the full sequence five times for each day of the week.
- Conditionals: IF it’s 3:15pm, THEN . . .
- Operators: IF it’s Saturday OR Sunday THEN . . .
- Debugging: If a friend can’t make sense of your algorithm, you need to work out where the problem lies and fix it
- When looking at the stages in more detail, ask the less able computer scientists to work in pairs to create subroutines for brushing teeth, for example.
- More able computer scientists could independently look at each part of their day in the school building.
- Jigsaw all the algorithms together at the end, so everyone feels some ownership of the process.
- Gifted and Talented computer scientists* could explore conditionals AND OR operators
This activity is designed to assess if children understand that although computers can sometimes look clever, they are not actually displaying any intelligence. They are asked to compare a computer with a human and then a spanner is thrown in the works by doing something unusual to see how both the computer and the human cope.
A simple and easily adaptable idea to introduce how algorithms work by allowing pupils to work out algorithms by a guessing game without the use of a computer. The activity is based on function machines that are used in mathematics at primary school but the level of difficulty can be amplified depending on what algorithm is used. It can be adapted to help introduce both simple and complex algorithms (written either in pseudo code or specific programming code) for different abilities.
In this adaptable lesson plan children create a simple model (out of Lego or similar) and then take photos to create instructions (an algorithm) for other children to recreate their model. By removing one block at a time they are decomposing the problem into manageable steps. You may wish to split this lesson into two depending on your children’s abilities.
The algorithm song, sung to the tune of Frere Jacques, can be used to introduce the words algorithms and debug to key stage 1 children. The ‘algorithm or advice’ PowerPoint is a mock quiz whereby children use their understanding of algorithms to state whether an image is an algorithm or just advice. Children use the following criteria - does it have a specific goal? - does it have sequenced steps? The slides can also be printed out and given to children to place into an algorithm/advice sorting diagram. Children can then be encouraged to collect further examples inside or outside of school and add them to the diagram.