Ward Spring Results: Algorithms

As described in an earlier post, the context version of our three games was tested with three groups in Arizona. In this post, we report on the results for our first game about algorithms as experienced at Ward Traditional Academy.

Ward Traditional Academy

This group begins with a discussion of what an algorithm is along with the example of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, including the always-fun demo of following the first algorithm very literally. When the girls talk about what goes into a good algorithm, the focus is on being detailed and specific.

When groups are assigned which clue bag they will be working with, researchers caution sub-groups not to let their teammates see what they are doing/writing. The girls use the large bag to block the view of their teammates. The cat toy groups finish faster than the map groups. The middle school girls spend a lot of time drawing pictures of cats on their maps instead of writing instructions.

The groups finish at roughly the same time. The first clue bags are given to the appropriate teammates to follow the algorithm. The Pineapples (self imposed team name) finish quickly but there is a mistake in the arrangement, so they begin to rewrite their algorithm. The other fifth grade team has the same problem. They begin their rewrites. The middle schoolers have the same problem. As teams rewrite their algorithms the middle school girls look at their phones.

The adjusted algorithms are completed. The Pineapples finish their arrangement first, but it is spread out. While the researchers try to decide if it is close enough, the second fifth grade team finishes. Theirs is correct, but the Pineapples are very close. The Pineapples argue that theirs is good enough, but their algorithm doesn’t include a specific measuring system. The middle school team finishes. A facilitator tells them they got beat by the 5th graders; they aren’t pleased by this.

In the second session, each group is given their second clue bag. The girls get to work right away with a time limit of 10 minutes. In all cases, the group that wrote the algorithm has difficulty not “helping” when their teammates begin to follow the algorithms incorrectly. Occasionally, the facilitators have to remind students not to help. The Marshmallows have the hardest time with this. There is some confusion as to where the starting point is and what the aim of the map is. As necessary, teams are remind that they are looking for the cat.

The first team suggests they are done, but realize directions need to be rewritten. As groups finish, they are checked by researchers, but they don’t really need to be because the teammates are telling them that it is wrong and that the algorithm needs to be rewritten. The two fifth grade teams get started on rewriting the algorithms the first moment they can. The middle school team dawdles a little bit. One member blames her teammates for not being able to follow the algorithm.

As the algorithms are rewritten, the girls talk on and off about how hard the algorithms are to follow when they aren’t specific.

The middle school team finishes first even though they dawdled. Their map matches the instructional map. Both fifth grade teams finish just after the middle school group. A facilitator tells the middle school team that they redeemed themselves from last week.

Upon debriefing, the girls note that some information was neglected in the algorithms that they needed in order to follow them accurately. They mention that multiple rounds of revision were required in order to get them right. They mention that it was difficult to understand what they were supposed to use to count – the lines or the boxes. Some students began in the centre of the boxes while other used the line intersections.

During the last two clue bags, the Pineapples refer to the top of the crate as the “entrance” in their algorithm. There is some concern from both teams because the mouse won’t stay wound around the stick, so it doesn’t fully resemble the picture they are provided. Both groups eventually tie the rope in a knot to hold the mouse toy in place to more closely resemble the picture. The girls talk while they work about how excited they are to complete the scavenger hunt later.

Time is up and the two teams exchange algorithms. The middle school girls decorating the crate finish without any problems. The fifth grade group turns the crate onto its side so that someone could reach into the container from the side instead of from the top. This is done because the algorithm refers to the opening as the ‘entrance.’ Other than that, they follow the algorithm perfectly, which decorates the crate according to the picture. It is just the orientation that is the problem.

For the Clue Bag 4 middle school group, a facilitator has the girls rewrite the algorithm to be more specific because their teammates had to infer some of the information. The fifth graders discuss what is wrong with their algorithm based on watching the middle school girls. They rewrite what they need to which is only the first step in the algorithm. They also admit that they found the cat in the hallway because they saw the middle schoolers find the cat, not because they followed the instructions. One fifth grade girl asks if they can try it again, but this time she wants each time to hide their own cat.

The Clue Bag 3 fifth graders watch their teammates try to construct the cat crate and realize what they did not write clearly. They have a difficult time not giving their teammates directions orally. They rewrite the algorithm and then the rewritten algorithms are tried. The fifth grade team gets the orientation right, but miss one of the other steps. The middle schoolers try it again, and again don’t have a problem.

The groups that wrote the find the cat algorithm (Clue Bag 4) rewrite their algorithms to be more specific. They discuss the need to use distances and to be specific about which exit signs they are referring to. One girl mentions directions (left and right) being necessary. The rewritten algorithms are used and both teams find the cat with the adjusted algorithms.

The session wrapped up with post-assessment and engagement surveys.

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