Algorithms in computer science and math for kids. How to understand them?

Math can be a nightmare for any kid who is not really prepared to realize that understanding it can be much easier than they thought. When in school, we suffer along with our kids trying to understand a new formula and what is an algorithm.

The key to reducing the amount of stress in our children (at least in these fields) is to show them that there are cool, exciting, engaging, and gamified methodologies that make it easy to understand algorithms for kids. But, how do you teach your children what an algorithm means if you don’t know yourself? Well, the main intention of this article is to help you do just that.

An interesting thing to try is to remove the algorithm concept from the world of math and move it into a field that is more appealing to your children. For example, when your kids are learning how to create their very own app, they will understand what is an algorithm in coding… or when they are learning the basics of the Scratch programming language, they will naturally comprehend what is an algorithm in programming. That way, their interest will be more genuine and effective.

But, what is an algorithm? How would you define this word? And, how can you apply algorithms in your everyday life? In this article, we will do our best to show you where mathematical algorithms are turned into algorithms for kids.

Because, believe it or not… coding can improve your kids’ math skills.

In simple terms: What is an algorithm?

Describing an algorithm in simple words is not as hard as we thought it was going to be. In computer science, programming, and math, an algorithm is a sequence of instructions where the main goal is to solve a specific problem, perform a certain action, or computation.

In some way, an algorithm is a very clear specification for processing data, for doing calculations, among many other tasks.

A nice way to explain an algorithm is to say that whoever creates that specific algorithm is setting the rules of the game. Actually, algorithms are the things that will define how things work and react to our actions (especially in computer science), therefore, the person or machine who is designing them is building all the potential reactions that are going to happen when we do A, B or C.

You might have heard about algorithms in the news. Facebook, for example, decides to show you one thing or another, based on the platform’s algorithms and their relation with your specific activities. Therefore, algorithms are in constant relation with other values.

According to the site WhatIs.com, an algorithm is a procedure or formula for solving a problem, based on conducting a sequence of specified actions. A computer program can be viewed as an elaborate algorithm. In mathematics and computer science, an algorithm usually means a small procedure that solves a recurrent problem.

If we analyze everything we just mentioned, and we take into consideration how transcendental 21st-century skills are for our children, we can conclude that understanding how algorithms work will help them strengthen their problem-solving ability and that will drastically increase their opportunities to succeed in the workforce of tomorrow.

Explaining an algorithm to your kids

Tell your kids they can have the power to create whatever they want to create. Let them know that if they are imagining a game or an app they would like to play with, they can create it. Help them understand that everything is possible and that they can actually turn any dream they might have into a reality.

Now, let them know something is very clear to us (or it should be): with great power comes even greater responsibility. If they want to create their very own app, for example, they should know how to give their app the right instructions, in a coherent, consistent, and well-built way: Those instructions are an algorithm.

An algorithm is a list of steps you give a computer to solve a problem or to get something done. As simple as that. It is important, however, to explain all the steps in the right order, since machines can get easily confused.

If you are looking for inspiration on how to explain an algorithm to your kids, watch this simple yet extraordinary video created by the BBC. Are your kids good with brushing their teeth? Well, then this short video might really help:

Algorithms everywhere: In math and in computer science

You might be getting a little bit confused. Algorithms are everywhere and are present in our lives every day, even if we don’t realize it. They have a bigger presence in math and in computer science, and of course, they are not absent in your kids’ process of creating an app, designing a game, or learning how to code.

If you are looking for an example of an algorithm that you can use when introducing this concept to your children, then you could talk about a recipe. Remember when we discussed the similarities between coding and cooking? Now, everything will make more sense.

A recipe is a list of instructions that is used to perform a specific task. For example, if you were to follow the algorithm to bake a vanilla cake from a box mix, you would follow the number of steps written on the box or on the included instructions manual.

Another great example could be a piece of furniture from IKEA. Are you getting the general idea already?

Algorithms in math

According to ThoughtCo and author Deb Russell, an algorithm in math is a procedure, a description of a set of steps that can be used to solve a mathematical computation. Algorithms are used in many STEM fields but perhaps the most common example is a step-by-step procedure used in long divisions.

The process of solving a mathematical problem such as, “What is 73 divided by 3” could be achieved by doing the following algorithm:

  • How many times does 3 go into 7?
  • The answer is 2
  • How many are left over? 1
  • Put the 1(ten) in front of the 3.
  • How many times does 3 go into 13?
  • The answer is 4 with a remainder of one.
  • And of course, the answer is 24 with a remainder of 1

An algorithm in math is not that different from an algorithm in computer science or in app development. Both have the same definition, description, and significance.

What is an algorithm in computer science?

As we’ve mentioned before, an algorithm (also in computer science) is when you tell your computer not only what to do, but also how to do it. We assume that now it is a bit clearer, but the main goal is to get the job done and an algorithm is a basic technique used to make sure this happens.

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Algorithmic thinking: A skill for kids

Nurturing your kids with 21st-century skills is extremely important to assure their future success. In previous articles, we have discussed creativity, teamwork, and we’ve gone into depth with problem-solving, but we don’t want you to forget about algorithmic thinking. Strengthening this skill will enable your children to fully comprehend what algorithms mean and how they can use this way of thinking in their everyday life.

By developing their algorithmic thinking, they’ll value the importance of the process and not only of the result itself, and they will understand how important each step is when designing, creating and developing their very own projects in life.

This goes way beyond your kids comprehending what a standard algorithm is, or giving them mathematical examples of algorithms for kids. This is actually about the values of truly applying how algorithms work in order to build their success.

Algorithms made fun, so your kids can write their own one!

But how can your kids really understand the value of algorithms? Coding can help! When your kids learn how to code, they will be gaining valuable 21st-century skills that’ll enable them to interact with society, with the world, and with the workforce of the future from an advantageous place.

Learning how to code can be fun and engaging. Today, by enrolling your children in one of Tekkie Uni’s coding courses, they’ll be one step away from creating their very own app, designing their very own YouTube content, or developing their own games in Scratch. All of this, while strengthening their algorithmic thinking ability.

Are you ready to give your kids the most useful gift of their lives? Make sure they are ready for the future. Give your kids the present of coding, today.

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