Serif in Education

Creative use of algorithms

The word “algorithm” can be difficult for children to pronounce let alone understand, but algorithms are really just extensions of the things we do in everyday life – a set of instructions or step by step reasoning to be performed -from brushing our teeth, helping cook a recipe.  Algorithms exist that perform calculations, data processing, and automated reasoning.  An algorithm is a precise method of solving a problem.  And when relating to computing algorithms are simply ways of solving problems that are explored on a digital device. The computing curriculum states that children as part of Key Stage 1 & 2 should learn to “Understand what algorithms are, how they are implemented as programs on digital devices, and that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions.”  There are many creative uses of algorithms that children can use as inspiration – from the basic to the more advanced.  Even by integrating games into their learning.   If you have ever found yourself wondering how anyone ever finds a solution to the Rubiks cube then an algorithm is your answer! There are many more complex algorithms that are interesting too – here are some of our favourites -  feel free to use them in the classroom as examples. Playing games Gone are the days of frustrating games you can never solve.  You can now go online (see this website for the handy cube algorithm tool: and match your physical Rubiks cube to the colours on screen.  Click “Solve” and the clever algorithm will work out the best steps to find a solution!  The puzzle finds a solution in approx 70 steps, giving you a layer by layer instruction.  One happy Rubiks Cuber said it helped him find the solution to a cube he had been trying to crack for 6 years – definitely an interesting use of algorithm, and a fun way for pupils to mix physical hands on play with learning about algorithms. On social media Controversial for some, due to the nature of privacy, but Facebook has created a facial recognition algorithm which can spot people based on just what they are wearing or the shape of their body (according to the New Scientist).  To create it, researchers used 40,000 public photos from Flickr which helped create an algorithm that let it recognise people with 83 per cent accuracy.  Already in use is technology which allows them to tag people by spotting people’s faces, but this has the potential to assist the community in all sorts of ways without even seeing a person’s face!  On websites PageRank is an algorithm used by Google Search to rank websites in their search engine results and a way of measuring success of pages.  PageRank works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is. Although not the only algorithm used by Google for search results, it is the first and best known algorithm used by the company. At work when planning For those people who need a little more organisation in their lives, the algorithm used in can help publish schedules, and keep your work diary up to date and synchronised with others in your business.  Everyone is notified automatically by email and text if your plans change. Employees can enter work time preferences, trade and pick up shifts, request time off and send messages, and much more.  And employers can use the system to see when employees are off work, off sick and find a replacement within minutes, improving productivity and reducing costs. Using Serif Software in lessons to create algorithms DrawPlus is an intuitive vector drawing package which can be used to produce algorithms graphically, to help pupils easily see how problems can be solved using a logical process. As part of the curriculum, students must understand several key algorithms that reflect computational thinking, such as ones for sorting and searching; use logical reasoning to compare the utility of alternative algorithms for the same problem. Serif have created (as part of our Curriculum Mapping Guide) several resources to help teachers plan algorithm flowcharts and use connectors to make these flow charts.  For a great example of an algorithm made using PagePlus on how to bake a cake, see Sophie Catherall’s work, from Northgate High School, Suffolk here: Happy algorithm planning and remember to send us your creative ideas!