Getting started with algorithms!

Thanks to Neil Rickus from Computing Champions for this blog post. Neil is the ICT and Computing tutor on the University of Leeds' Primary PGCE course.

The word algorithm, or a set of instructions to achieve a goal, appears in the new Computing National Curriculum when teaching children from age five (Key Stage One).

We use algorithms within our daily lives to complete a wide range of tasks, such as when brushing our teeth and making a sandwich, and thus concepts are often initially taught away from the computer - a teaching method known as computing unplugged. This not only helps improve pupils’ understanding, but also provides opportunities to teach computing when resources are limited. An excellent example is Phil Bagge’s Sandwich Bot.

Throughout the primary school, we can also use dedicated hardware, such as Bee Bots, to provide opportunities for pupils to cover the programme of study, including debugging (fixing errors in programs), along with various (free) tablet apps, including Light bot, Daisy the Dinosaur  and Kodable. The recently released, iPad only, Scratch Jr provides an accessible way for pupils to produce simple programs without the need for literacy skills.

As children move into Key Stage Two, the algorithms within their programs become increasingly complex and could include both selection (making a choice when something happens) and repetition (undertaking a set of instructions a number of times). Computing unplugged activities can again be used to teach these concepts. For example, dance routines, such as the the Macarena can be used in the teaching of repetition.

Within their programs, pupils might also use variables (data stored in the computer’s memory) to record information, such as the score in a game they've produced. Scratch is typically chosen within schools as an initial programming environment and can produce a wide range of programs, which can be linked to your school’s topics, or stand alone as individual games like Frogger.  Alternatives, including Kodu and Flowol, can be used to later reinforce concepts. A number of tablet apps also exist for older primary pupils. Hopscotch, Move the Turtle, Cato’s Hike, Hakitzu and Code Kingdoms are all available to download for free.

ipadwebcoversLooking for more ways to get the most from your iPads? Take a look at Switched on iPad which offers creative activities for English, maths and science that provide meaningful ways to use iPads in the classroom.


algorithms, ipads, Switched On Computing

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