Embedding the term ‘Algorithm’ into everyday activities

Pam Jones,
Educational Content Developer.
United Kingdom

So in the space of the last few weeks I have gone from working parent to working parent and teacher. Although I have a background as a teacher, I have four children with ages ranging 2 to 13, so it is a tall order to teach them all and keep them engaged.”

As a parent at this time, I aim to deliver activities that can help my children manage this unprecedented situation and learn along the way. For me, it is impossible to deliver six hours of solid classroom style learning in my home environment and keep up with my own work. Structure is key at this time so that the children know what and how to manage their day. Spending time together as a family is essential and using this to learn will allow the family unit to flourish. I aim to have learning time with all four doing an activity and sometimes that can be art or cooking and other times a more structured activity. By using key vocabulary within an activity I can help learning to continue, for example, cooking can include counting, measurements, algorithms, and reading. My aim as a parent is to develop activities that I can use with more than one child to enjoy our time together and let them grow as individuals. 

With my background in computing, I am keen to use key computing terms in everyday activities to help my children understand and use them in the future when returning to school. I intend to start with the basic computing concepts and deliver them in an unplugged way.

An unplugged activity is an activity that requires no technology to learn computing concepts.

Ability or age doesn’t matter as these are concepts that can be built into any activity they complete.  As long as the terminology is used consistently, learning will take place.

Start with the basics of what an algorithm is:

An algorithm is step by step instructions to solve a given problem.

Any activity where you are writing or following a set of instructions means working with an algorithm. Talk about this with your children and let them hear the term ‘algorithm’ and what it means.

Be a robot: Can you direct someone from one side of the room to another by giving them a set of instructions? This could be done indoors or outdoors and can be adjusted to the space you have. Direct the robot child around an obstacle course (round the kitchen) or complete a series of moves like star jumps or a dance routine. The person setting the instructions is the programmer and the robot is bound by the program, meaning it cannot do anything other than the instruction given.

Follow a recipe: Cooking is a fantastic opportunity for children to learn by creating and who doesn’t love baking? Not only are you learning about measurements, counting, and reading you are also following an algorithm. By following a recipe you are following a set of step-by-step instructions (an algorithm).

Link to science: What is the process of frog growth? or What is the process of a flower growing? Each one of these processes can be written out as a set of instructions (an algorithm) or in my house a storyboard with instructions to allow creativity to be included.

PE: Think about a workout and the individual instructions needed. Where the instruction is to ‘Jump 10 times’ you could talk about how a loop is being used here as if it was a list of instructions you would have to write  ‘jump’ 10 times, it is more efficient to add the repeat instruction into one instruction than write the same instruction 10 times over! 

And then of course there is this one: Save mommy’s sanity: break time instructions to get me a biscuit, diet coke, and a hug. All instructions to follow and an algorithm built.

The unplugged activities on the KUBO Portal include the TagTiles as printouts, which provide lots of activities like pretending to be robots.