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"PD - Algorithms" Steps 2-6 from Mouse Create

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Algorithm Defined

a visual 7-step recipe for mac and cheese

An algorithm can be defined as a sequence of well-defined, precise steps for solving a problem.

An algorithm must terminate (come to an end) to produce an answer or final outcome. For instance, the image above is a popular example of an algorithm used in everyday life, a recipe. All recipes are algorithms since they use a sequence of precise steps that eventually terminate to produce a final outcome (a meal).

Algorithms in Everyday Life

a visual 7-step recipe for mac and cheese

In daily life, we use algorithms to describe solutions to problems and we use them to accomplish tasks. Some problems only have one possible algorithm to solve a problem such as “Subtract a number from 5 to make it 4”. However, most problems we aim to solve in the real world have multiple algorithms that can act as a solution to the problem. An example of this is directions to get from one place to another.

Step 4: Algorithms in Computer Science

A program with steps to make a square

Computer programs execute (run or carry out a command) algorithms. In a program, the steps of an algorithm are implemented in a programming language. Algorithms and their implementations as a program need to not only terminate but produce the intended result.

It is important to note that algorithms should be written in such a way that anyone could reach the solution by following the steps provided. For example, you may write a series of steps to go to the grocery store by car, but you must specify that this algorithm will only work from a specific starting location. Therefore, it is important for the writer of the algorithm to clearly define the problem space and the constraints for which this algorithm will apply.

Algorithm Bias

a justice scale filled with binary lettering

In the previous step, it was stated that the creator of an algorithm (programmer) has the power to define the problem space and constraints of their algorithm. This can lead to the programmer intentionally or unintentionally embed their values and biases. In Computer Science this systematic and repeatable computer system that creates unfair outcomes, such as privileging one arbitrary group of users over others is referred to as Algorithm Bias.

There are many unfortunate examples of algorithm bias in software today leading to inequity. This is true for individuals creating their own algorithms and for some of the largest tech companies in the world. Recognizing and making efforts to avoid algorithm bias early on is the only way to make attempts for a more equitable world with technology.

Algorithms in Math and Science

an example of a long division equation

In math classes, algorithms help students learn to multiply and divide, to find the greatest common divisor (GCD), and to solve a system of linear equations. When a student is prompted with a math problem, they can discover that they are using an algorithm that solves the problem they are currently working on while someone else points out that they followed the same steps to solve a different math problem.

For students in the sciences, the most common algorithms that they encounter are those based on the scientific method and the procedures that they develop to conduct an experiment. At the abstract level, experiments involve a pattern of making conjectures, deriving predictions from those conjectures, and then testing those conjectures in an experimental process. More specifically, the experimental process can involve a series of steps that are recorded so that the experiment is replicable using the algorithm.

Algorithms in Other Subjects

Algorithms can be applied to non-STEM fields, although in many cases the formal algorithm may not be apparent to the student until direct attention is drawn to it.

In classes students take, algorithms are used to learn skills and to execute procedures in a correct and efficient way. Below are some common algorithmic examples that can be used to connect algorithms to processes common to student behavior.

  • Making an outline of a book chapter
  • Creating a historical map
  • The steps for how a bill becomes a law
  • The steps for writing an essay (brainstorming, outlining, drafting)
  • Organizing materials for an Art project

The Importance of Algorithms

a teacher with a book working with their students

Algorithms are a part of everything we do and everything we teach. Regardless of the students and subject you are teaching, your students are creating and/or following algorithms and many of them might not even realize it. However, computational thinking occurs in a student’s mind when they are made aware of the algorithmic thinking and practice they are conducting.

DMU Timestamp: July 22, 2021 14:08

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