On Thursday afternoon I introduced a topic to the Year 3 class I’m doing supply work in for 2 weeks. This topic had caused many debates, queries and worries as I’ve been going into different schools. It is a topic which when other practitioners have heard it they have trembled. The topic is algorithms.
Before I begin to share the activity I would say here that this is not my idea and I do not claim responsibility for it. Credit goes to @risingstarsedu and @CompAtSch for producing the materials that have me this approach of introducing what could be a daunting topic for some.
The children had never heard of Computing as a subject, they were even unaware of ‘ICT’ – although were very happy when they found out it meant learning about computers (another highlight on the potential technology has to motivate learners). They did, however, look a little confused when I informed them we would not be even switching on a computer.
After a class discussion on the definition of an algorithm, it being simply a set of instructions used by a computer, we came up with a basic class ‘algorithm’ to get ready for school.
After, the challenge was given. The class had to design an algorithm for making toast with butter. The children were fairly engaged but became even more so when they saw the bread, butter, plastic knife and fake toaster come out! Some even began using the algorithm symbols I had intentionally used but not informed them of for our class algorithm.
Then came the fun part – programming the teacher. The children were able to have a go at giving me their algorithm step by step and i, as the bot, had to follow the instructions exactly. So if they told me to ‘get the bread’ I would literally pull out as much bread as I could, rather than the one slice I’m sure they intended me to get. The class were so ‘switched on’ by this and thought it was hilarious when I was oriented to ‘get some butter’, which ended up with me just grabbing some butter, rather than using the knife I had been told to pick up.
This opened up another learning opportunity – debugging. The class then needed to go back through their algorithm and debug, out fix, any problems highlighted from testing the algorithm. One child did manage to programme me to make the toast and spread the butter on, much to the joy of their classmates.
Learning took place, the children could tell me what an algorithm was, even though before the session the maximum that any of the children could probably do was tell me the most worthless tile in Minecraft…which they had done previously!