To build intuition about searching and sorting algorithms, have students engage in a kinesthetic activity where they unwittingly reproduce or create binary search and sorting algorithms.

  • The goals of these activities are to:
    • Introduce algorithms for sorting arrays of numbers or binary search. 
    • Discuss efficiency and algorithms in general
    • Get students moving around the classroom.
  • Example of binary search activity:

    • Give the class a phone book.

    • Tell the students to pick a business from the phone book, then leave the room so they can keep it a secret from you.

    • Come back into the room and tell students that you will find the business only by asking a series of yes or no questions.

      • Now, ask those yes or no questions, like does the business start with a letter between A and M.

    • Once you found the business, ask students how long it took to find the correct phone book entry.

    • Discuss if we could guarantee that we could guess the business within a particular number of guesses.
  • Example of Sorting Activity
    • Get a set of students volunteers
      • These students will be elements in an array.
    • Give each student a number to hold
      • Instruct students to hold the number such that they cannot see the number while the other students in the class can.
    • Have the rest of the students in the class devise a way to sort the volunteers (array elements).
      • Let students give specific instructions.
        • For example, "Alice and Bob swap spots."
        • If students don’t know each others names, make sure students have a way to direct the volunteers without calling the volunteers by the number their holding.
    • If students’ instructions approximate a sorting algorithm, tell them the name of the sorting algorithm they just reproduced, the details of that sorting algorithm, and then discuss its efficiency.
      • Note from Mark Zarb: My students often start with algorithms like bubble sort, though they don’t know it by that name until I share that with them.
    • Additionally (or alternatively), show the Folk Dancing Sorting Algorithms videos to motivate, or finish the lecture

More about this tip

External Source

Interview with Aaron Cadle.

Interview with Mark Zarb