For students new to coding, the process of algorithmic thinking can be challenging. Instead of providing an answer to a question—or even showing the work for how they got there—algorithmic thinking requires students to solve not for an answer, but for a replicable process to solve the answer (or complete a task). This concept can feel enigmatic for some students who haven’t yet connected how algorithms exist in daily life.
In curriculum, it can be helpful for teachers to use examples of algorithms in everyday life to make the concept more approachable.
Examples of Algorithms in Everyday Life
There are many types of algorithms that are used in everyday life, including linear processes that follow a specific set of steps, conditional algorithms that perform decision-making between two actions and looping algorithms that repeat a sequence for a certain number of times.
Many everyday algorithms are surprisingly complex—but they also come naturally to us. For instance, deciding what to wear in the morning is (for some of us) a complex algorithm of identifying what’s clean and available, which options are suitable for the weather, which articles of clothing match (each other or our style and what we’re comfortable wearing that day, etc.). Some are surprisingly simple, such as the process of pouring a glass of water.
Below, we offer 7 unique examples that students can relate to that illustrate algorithms in everyday life:
1. Tying Your Shoes
Any step-by-step process that is completed the same way every time is an algorithm. A good example of this in everyday life is tying your shoes. There are a limited number of steps that effectively result in a traditional shoelace know (known as the “bunny rabbit” or “loop, swoop and pull” knot). Chances are that you and your students follow one of these algorithms every time you tie your shoes.
2. Following a Recipe
Recipes are a great example of an algorithm in everyday life. They illustrate a replicable set of steps to accomplish a specific goal (such as baking blueberry muffins or cooking spaghetti sauce from scratch). Recipes are designed to create a duplicatable outcome, or to help individuals regardless of background be able to create a specific food by following a set of detailed instructions—just as an algorithm in computer science details steps to create replicable outcomes.
3. Classifying Objects
A process for classifying objects is another great example of algorithms in everyday life. Whether classifying foods into different food groups, sorting household items by function, or organizing blocks from smallest to largest, students can often complete these algorithms relatively simply. Asking students to define the process they use to classify the objects (a flowchart of qualities they look for in each specific food to determine its food group or how they compare one block to its surrounding blocks) is an example of algorithmic thinking, or the process of developing an algorithm that can be used to replicate a process.
4. Bedtime Routines
Daily routines, such as morning routines, bedtime routines, or even exercise routines are another example of algorithms in everyday life. Ask your students what they do to get ready for bed. Most likely, they will have a specific set of steps that are replicated (and could be replicated by others) to prepare for bed. This makes that routine an algorithm!
5. Finding a Library Book in the Library
Finding a library book is another example of using an algorithm in everyday life. There are multiple processes for successfully finding a library book, whether it’s by utilizing the library’s computer catalog system, identifying genre labels on shelves and finding the book by subject or author, etc. Regardless of the process used, if it can be defined and replicated by others then it is an algorithm.
6. Driving to or from Somewhere
Driving your car to school or home again is another example of an algorithm. There are additional complexities that can be added to this algorithm, such as construction or traffic which may create an “If, then” choice within an algorithm (if State Street is blocked off, turn right).
7. Deciding What to Eat
Even something as commonplace as deciding what to eat for a meal is an example of an algorithm. Ask your students to consider the sequences and conditional statements that result in their decision about what to eat if they are hungry. It likely includes steps such as determining how hungry they are, seeing what is available in the fridge or pantry, considering whether a parent is cooking a meal or if they have to fend for themselves and what they do or don’t have the skill to cook on their own, etc.
Understanding algorithms is the first step for students mastering algorithmic thinking. To learn more about how Learning.com can help support this learning process in your classroom or district curriculum, sample EasyTech today.