What is an algorithm?

The new Programme of Study for Computing introduces algorithms in Key stage 1. At Key stage 2 there is a further emphasis on programming, linked to algorithms.  But what is an algorithm?


The BCS/RAEng group who drafted the submission of a draft programme of study to the DfE provided a set of guidance notes, including the following on algorithms:
An algorithm is a precise method of solving a problem. Algorithms range from the simple (such as instructions for changing a wheel on a car) to the ingenious (such as route-finding), and cover many different application areas (for example, cookery, drawing three- dimensional graphics; solving systems of constraints, such as a school timetable; understanding images; numerical simulation, and so on).

An algorithm can be expressed as a program in many different programming languages.

There may be more than one algorithm to solve a single problem, differing in their simplicity, efficiency, or generality. For example, to find a path through a maze, one (simple, slow) algorithm might be to simply walk around at random until you find the exit. Another (more complicated) one would involve remembering where had been to avoid going down the same blind alley twice. Another might be to keep you left hand on the wall and walk till you find the exit (faster, but does not work on all mazes, and so less general).”

You can read the entire document here:  

http://academy.bcs.org/sites/academy.bcs.org/files/ICT%20POS%20guidance%20notes%20final.pdf

 

Switched on ICT allows you to teach algorithmic activities across KS1 and KS2, through the following units:


 






































SOICT UnitAlgorithm ref in PoSSOICT outcome
1.2 We are treasure huntersUnderstand what algorithms are, how they are implemented as programs on digital devices, and that programs execute by following a sequence of instructions.

  • A sequence of instructions to move a programmable toy along a given route.  


 

 
2.5 We are astronautsUnderstand what algorithms are, how they are implemented as programs on digital devices, and that programs execute by following a sequence of instructions.

  • A scripted program to move an on-screen rocket around the Earth.


 

 

 
3.3 We are animatorsUse logical reasoning to explain how a simple algorithm works and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs

  • A set of scripted instructions to animate a character on screen.


 

 
5.6 We are tradersDetect and correct errors in algorithms and programs

  • An interactive game of skill or chance created using programming language.


 

 
6.3 We are game developersUse logical reasoning to explain how a simple algorithm works and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs

  • An interactive adventure game created using a system of hyperlinks.


6.4 We are environmentalistsUse logical reasoning to explain how a simple algorithm works and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs

  • A short edited video containing a screencast, relevant images and interview or video diary.



 

To see a summary of how you can use SOICT to teach algorithms, download our matching chart.




 

 

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Switched On Computing

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