March 1st – Algorithms

Ah, a new month.  Spring is coming (if you’re in Colorado expect two more blizzards this season) and the air is crisp.  March 1st traditionally marks the first day of Spring sports practice and students become antsy to get outside after the winter freeze.

However, students had to wait an extra day this year – why?  February 29th – leap day.  I prepared a post yesterday in the morning and linked to a couple articles talking about the leap day/year and why it happens, then I found Computer Science teacher gold: an algorithm in print on wikipedia.  A teachable, spur of the moment instance that I connected to real life, so I’m writing about it today.

March 1st – Algorithms

Webster’s Dictionary defines an algorithm as “a set of steps that are followed in order to solve a mathematical problem or to complete a computer process” although I think the “computer process” part has been added unto.  Algorithms have always been an interest – a puzzle for students to figure out – but in Computer Science they are essential.  A famous book in the University circuit is “Introduction to Algorithms: Third Edition” by Cormen, Leiserson, Rivest and Stein – it is big, heavy and intimidating (just like college textbooks should be) – but once you dive in (and take individual lessons out) it becomes very practical.  I just started introducing Algorithms to make Exploring Computer Science class and using an inquiry method, had them find out why algorithms are useful in everyday life.  However it’s still a leap to make because most people don’t think of their actions that way.  Other activities we’ll do include making a peanut(almond if needed) butter and jelly sandwich (the classic algorithm and set of directions), directing a classmate out of the room, shuffling cards and even recording their  day in pseudocode and finding “code shortcut” where they can use it over again.

In the Wikipedia entry for Leap Year an algorithm is sitting there loud and proud.  Granted this particular algorithm is slightly more difficult than making a PB&J sandwich (with if/else if/modular division) but still, everywhere we look we are making connections.

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 9.57.19 AM
Wikipedia entry for Leap Year taken March 1st

The moral of this post?  Keep an eye out how you can connect what your class is learning to the real world. It makes it meaningful (much like the Tech Today talks) and the students realize that learning goes on outside of the classroom all the time.  Or maybe the moral was just my excitedness of finding that during the class period – and being a geek about it.


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