In our previous blog, we spoke about the value of the 'My Robot Pal' activity in introducing algorithms and the importance of being precise when coding computers. This month, we wanted to take a deep dive into algorithms themselves and the element of the Digital Competence Framework (DCF) that is concerned with algorithms in the Foundation Phase.
Remember, the DCF is the use of digital skills across all of the curriculum, not just in IT. As schools develop their own curriculum's in response to the new Curriculum for Wales 2022, an in-depth understanding of what each DCF element looks like in practice is essential in order to embed them across each Area Of Learning and Experience (AOLE).
First of all, what is an algorithm? Put simply, it is a series of step-by-step instructions. This sounds much simpler and on reading this, many teachers realise that they teach algorithms all of the time. If you are teaching anything to do with instructions, you are teaching algorithms. If it starts with 'How to…' it’s an algorithm. Now, we’ll look at the statements for each year group for the 'Problem-Solving and Modelling' element of the 'Data and Computational Thinking' strand of the DCF.
Nursery and Reception statements are quite self-explanatory, so will not be discussed here. The main elements of progression are from the children themselves following instructions to devices following instructions in Reception. These could be programmable toys such as 'Beebots' or onscreen simulations such as 'Turtle in Hwb'.
This could be anything: 'How to...' - get dressed, get ready for school, brush your teeth / 'Make a...' - paper aeroplane, cake, sandwich, LEGO® car. The focus here is to be precise, make it more fun, make mistakes that the children have to correct (debugging).
In Computer Science, this is called 'decomposition'. It shows the children how to understand the problem/instructions.
Using the examples above, children can do this for problems and instructions of increasing complexity.
Programmable toys such as 'Beebots' are excellent here. When placed on a map they can be programmed to go to a certain point. This programme could be changed so that they can go to a different point. With the make-a-sandwich idea, changing some of the ingredients would make a very different sandwich. Identifying which steps to alter is a useful skill for children to learn in order to reuse ‘code’ as they move through primary school.
As they mention in the example, playground games make a fantastic visual and kinaesthetic way to engage in this process. Any errors are obvious and can be dealt with (again, debugging).
Predicting as a skill supports many elements of the curriculum. In Science, predictions are used at the beginning of an investigation. In Mathematics, a prediction helps children recognise if their answer is logical. When reading, predicting what will happen in a story develops the children’s understanding and encourages them to make connections between the story they are reading now and previous stories, as well as their own experience. This element of the DCF can be evidenced in all of these scenarios without any extra effort.
This statement encourages children to tinker, to experiment with different solutions, especially solutions that they know will not work. Deliberately trying things that they know will not work removes the anxiety and stigma normally associated with failure. See who can fail the most spectacularly? Apply this to every AOLE, every situation. This builds resilience and encourages children to keep ongoing. Remember FAIL stands for First Attempt in Learning!
by Steve Lewis
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