A is for Algorithm: the A-word in three steps

When I first took a look at the new computing programme of study I was a tad worried. Mainly because ‘algorithm’ was the first word I saw in the KS1 subject content and then I kept seeing it again. And again. The trouble was that I didn’t really know what an algorithm was or how to describe it. Computing, programming, algorithms – gadget happy as I am, this was all a bit out of my comfort zone.

Or so I thought.

Children in KS1 need to ‘understand what algorithms are’ and so did I – here’s what I found out:

  1. An algorithm is a series of specific steps that solve a problem or complete a task. That sounds like a recipe or set of instructions, doesn’t it? So actually most of us do understand what algorithms are without even knowing. I mean, you could write an algorithm to make a cup of tea in a few easy steps right now couldn’t you?
  2. You can then start to formalise algorithms by setting them out as flowcharts a bit like this:
    Image from ictwise.net

    Image from ictwise.net


  3. This all relates to computers because  (on a very basic level) algorithms describe the steps that tell a computer how to carry a given task, but it is all written in code instead of natural language like our tea algorithm is. I would like my iMac to be able to make me a cup of tea though.

So there you go, algorithms are steps that can solve a problem – any problem. If you’re still not convinced, let Doctor Sheldon Cooper show you a shining example how algorithms can even solve the problem of making friends…

How will the children in your school be learning about algorithms?



Image from dreamincode.net

Image from dreamincode.net




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