Learning Algorithm Through Obstacle Course

Activity description:

In this unplugged activity, students will guide a friend through a maze or an obstacle course by giving him/her a set of instructions that will lead him/her to safely reach the finish point. The maze/obstacle course can be set up by the teacher prior to the activity and may include obstacles such as objects that the person (walking the maze) must jump over or special instructions to do certain actions (e.g. squat down, crawl, hop on one leg for the next 5 steps). Alternatively, with enough scaffolding, children can be encouraged to construct their own maze/course.

Integration in classroom:

For mat session, it would be a good idea to model this game with the class and use the opportunity to talk about what algorithm is. Demonstrate the concept of algorithm using a simple example, for example, the teacher could ask the class to break down the steps needed to move from one side of the class to another as the teacher models the action. Teachers can also talk about examples of algorithm in everyday activities such as putting on clothes or making breakfast. Once children have got the basic understanding of what algorithm is, introduce the game to them. Show them the maze/obstacle course and invite them to think about the sequence of steps needed so that we can go from the starting point to the finish point smoothly. The teacher can model going through the maze/course while the children give instructions to the teacher on how to move. The class can then break into smaller groups to play the game.

Curriculum links:

Design & Technology:

  • Generate and record design ideas through describing, drawing, modelling and/or a sequence of written or spoken steps (WATPPS02) – PP and Y1
  • Works independently, or with others when required, to safely create and share sequenced steps for solutions (WATPPS10) – Y1

Health & Physical Education:

  • Body management skills: static balance (one foot), line walk (ACPMP008)
  • Locomotor skills: run, jump (two foot), hop, gallop (ACPMP008)


Criticism and limitations:

This activity, aside from its main focus on algorithm, models the concepts of decomposition, decisions, abstraction and potentially repetition. Students will be introduced to the process of decomposition as they find themselves breaking down the specific steps needed to be taken to get from the starting point to the finish point. They will make decisions to choose what actions are necessary among all the possible actions available to move from one point to another (e.g. to go ahead on the maze, you need to step forward but you don’t need to move to the left or right). They will practice using abstraction, especially procedural abstraction, such as telling their friend to step forward instead telling them in details how to step forward. Repetition may also be present in, for example, telling their friend to take 5 steps forward (the friend must then repeat stepping forward 5 times).

Since this activity is completely unplugged, it is very limited in terms of how it can integrate technology into the classroom. It would be suitable to use this activity as an introduction to the concept of algorithm before extending it into a plugged lesson where actual technology would be used.

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