Develop Algorithmic Thinking Skills – Algorithmic thinking is a foundational skill for anyone delving into computer science. At its core, it’s the ability to define clear steps to solve a problem or achieve a particular goal. For GCSE Computer Science students, especially when tackling a written paper centred around this topic. The GCSE Computer Science qualification has a significant portion of the paper focussed on algorithmic and computational thinking. Computational and algorithmic thinking is also a central skill for completing a successful programming project. Today, we’ll delve into methods students can use to hone their algorithmic thinking abilities and tackle such questions confidently.
Steps to Develop Algorithmic Thinking Skills:
Step 1 Understand the Problem: Before you start with the solution, grasp the problem entirely. Read the question multiple times. Break it down, and identify the inputs, processes, and desired outputs. The more precise the problem is in your mind, the easier it’ll be to devise an algorithm for it. Some students find it helpful to use highlighters to highlight the key terms. At this step, you want to look for keywords and associate them with particular programming constructs. For example, suppose the question states, “The user should be prompted until a correct response is provided”. In that case, that phrase indicates a need to have some repetition construct; therefore, at this stage, you should be thinking about a WHILE, FOR or REPEAT UNTIL loop. However, if the question states that “if the user input meets certain criteria, e.g. is greater than 100, ” you should consider using a selection structure.
Step 2 Use Analogies: Compare the problem with real-life situations or problems you’ve encountered. Can the current problem be related to any previous scenario? If yes, how did you solve that? Drawing parallels helps in figuring out logical steps for your algorithm. This step emphasises the need to practise solving algorithmic questions. Each question you solve adds to your toolkit; therefore, a more expansive toolkit means you will have more to draw from.
Step 3 Break It Down – Decompose the problem: Break down the problem into smaller, manageable sub-tasks. By simplifying and addressing each portion separately, you avoid feeling overwhelmed and can focus on each aspect. While decomposing the problem, you will inevitably apply the problem-solving technique of abstraction, eliminating unnecessary parts and concentrating on what is important.
Step 4 Visualise the Flow: Using diagrams or flowcharts helps visualise the flow of the algorithm. It can be easier to understand and spot any mistakes or inefficiency. In this step, it is worth using sketching diagrams to visualise the flow and run a few use cases. This step will help you to focus on the boundary cases. Are there particular values/input you need to take care of? Develop a few test cases here, writing down some starting values and expected outcomes so that you can check these with your completed algorithm.
Step 5 Iterative Testing: Once you have your basic algorithm, test it! Use examples or test cases to see if it works; this is where the test cases and examples developed in the previous step come in. If it doesn’t, understand where it’s going wrong, refine it, and test again.
Here is a Sample Question with the steps applied to it.:
Develop an algorithm using either pseudo-code or a flowchart that allows a taxi company to calculate how much a taxi fare should be.
The algorithm should:
• prompt the user to enter the journey distance in kilometres
◦ the distance entered must be greater than zero
◦ the user should be made to re-enter the distance until the distance entered is valid
• prompt the user to enter the number of passengers (no validation is required)
• calculate the taxi fare by
◦ charging £2 for every passenger regardless of the distance
◦ charging a further £1.50 for every kilometre regardless of how many passengers there are
• output the final taxi fare.
Step 1 – Understanding the Problem: The user must input the journey distance (only values greater than zero are valid) and the number of passengers.
- The user is prompted to enter the distance until it is valid → WHILE loop
- The taxi fare must be calculated and displayed using the inputted data.
- Fare ← 2 x passengers + 1.50 * km
Step 2 – Analogies: Consider it as a billing machine at a store. Before finalising the bill, it must check the items and their quantity. Here, the distance and number of passengers are analogous to items and their quantity.
Step 3 – Break It Down:
- Input distance (validate the input)
- Input the number of passengers
- Calculate fare based on distance and passengers
- Display the fare
Step 4 – Visualise the Flow (Pseudo-code):
distance = ("Enter the journey distance in kilometres ") WHILE distance <= 0 print("Must be greater than 0 ") distance = ("Enter the journey distance in kilometres ") ENDWHILE passengers = input("Enter the number of passengers ") fare = (passengers * 2) + (distance * 1.50) print("The total taxi fare is ", fare)
Step 5 – Iterative Testing: For example, if a user enters 10 kilometres and 2 passengers: fare = (2 * £2) + (10 * £1.50) = £4 + £15 = £19. Test with different examples to ensure the accuracy of your algorithm.
Next Step: Mastering algorithmic thinking is a journey, not a destination. If you find yourself facing challenges, it’s okay. Reach out! Book a call if you have a question, need clarity on a topic, or want to discuss your approach to algorithmic challenges. Let’s dive deep, explore, and ensure you’re on the right track. Let’s have a chat and enrich your learning journey!
Remember, practice is vital. With each problem you solve, you’ll only get better at thinking algorithmically and building robust solutions.