Don’t throw away the “wrong” answers!

I’ve been working with Year 1 and Year 2 this half-term looking at:

  • understanding what an algorithm is
  • understanding that an algorithm is implemented as a program on a digital device
  • creating simple programs
  • debugging simple programs

As part of this, we were doing an activity where I had mapped out a route on a grid for a Blue-Bot to follow. The children had to work out what buttons they needed to press on the Blue-Bot to trace the route, i.e. write an algorithm. They then had to program the Blue-Bot to see if their algorithm was correct.

There was sufficient challenge in the route to ensure that it didn’t work first time! I had prepared the children for this, by discussing what it means to “debug” a program – that it’s OK to get the algorithm wrong to start with and that part of computational thinking is to look at why it’s wrong, and logically work out how to put it right. One of the ground rules of the Blue-Bot route tasks was that if the algorithm didn’t work, the group of children could come and get another sheet and write out a new algorithm, test it, and see if it worked the next time.

Not one of the groups managed to create a full algorithm for the route that worked completely.But neither did any of the groups give up.

Every group persevered, trying to work out what needed to change so that the Blue-Bot followed the route. There was an atmosphere of curiosity and confidence as they created different ideas. We worked through the “correct” solution as a plenary at the end of the activity.

I’d been supported by a TA who worked with one of the groups. At the end of the activity, she asked me if she should throw away the “wrong” workings. There were a few of them!

This was not something I’d considered in my planning – but my response was instinctive. Don’t throw away the wrong answers! I numbered them in the order that the groups had tackled the problem so that we could see the progression of their algorithms as they’d debugged the incorrect instructions.

I reflected on how Computing values getting it wrong as a tool for getting it right!



    • Thanks, yes I had a prepared sheet which had the path that the Blue-Bot needed to take, plus lots of boxes underneath for the children to write the instructions – one arrow per box.

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