Algorithms are everywhere on the web, but they’re often invisible. Algorithms learn from your behaviour, can limit the options made available to you online, and influence your choices. Through this process, you can end up stuck in a ‘preference bubble’: the algorithm starts to show you only the things it thinks you’ll like, restricting your view of the world.
Our kids are the ones who need to hear about this the most. They are emerging as digital citizens and future decision-makers in a world where they’ll need to learn how to protect their data and use technology responsibly.
Kids Code Jeunesse (KCJ) and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO (CCUNESCO) partnered up to launch the Algorithm Literacy Project to raise awareness and educate kids about the presence of algorithms and how they influence our digital experiences — in other words, get algorithm literate. The goal is to empower kids to exercise critical thinking in how they engage online, and to become proactive, creative users and makers rather than passive consumers.
Algorithms are step-by-step plans or instructions to perform a task or solve a problem — you can think of them like recipes that coders use to take information and produce things that help us achieve certain results.
The best way to improve your algorithm literacy is to become informed (check ✓), and then continue to educate yourself by reading, listening, reflecting, and discussing (learning is more fun with others!). It’s essential to consider other perspectives, like how algorithms might affect people differently all around the world.
Let’s get started! Here’s a simple step-by-step algorithm to start you on your own journey to #GetAlgoLit
See how algorithms work and how they relate to computational thinking.
In this video we introduce what an algorithm is, what goes on behind the screen, and the idea that personalized search results, video recommendations, targeted ads, and so on are all decisions made by algorithms.
This video describes what computational thinking means. We discuss the four elements that make up the foundation of computational thinking: decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction and algorithmic thinking. This video is intended for kids from 9 to 12 years old and their educators.
Consider the effect algorithms have on your own life.
Get talking! Take some time to reflect on what you learned in the videos and lead conversations about the videos with kids.
Dive deeper into the world of algorithms and code.
Noun: “a unique universe of information for each of us … which fundamentally alters the way we encounter ideas and information.” (internet activist, Eli Pariser).
Algorithms collect data based on what you seem to like and try to predict similar content you’ll want to see next. This preference bubble creates a narrow view of things it thinks you will like - potentially hiding difficult information and different opinions from you.
Noun: Someone “who uses the Internet regularly and effectively” to participate in society online. (Karen Mossberger et al., MIT Press).
Good digital citizenship is fundamental for responsible participation in the 21st Century world. This can range from how we connect with others online, to political and civic engagement with real-world impact.
Noun: Computer systems that are “able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.“(Lexico, Oxford Dictionary)
By educating kids about AI and the ethics surrounding it, we can diversify who builds AI systems, and diversify the data used by AI, as well as empower kids to promote the positive use of AI to solve real world problems.
You would want to know when you’re not seeing the whole truth, right? Every day we're shown search results, video recommendations, and targeted ads based on the data we give algorithms. This content forms a ‘preference bubble’ around us that can be surprisingly different from the bubbles our closest friends find themselves in.
Algorithms are shaping how we perceive the world, and this in turn shapes the world. The decisions algorithms make for us impact our lives, but we also influence their behaviour with our every click. That’s why it’s more important than ever that we understand how they work.
Are kids too young to learn about this stuff? We don’t think so.
Most kids learn how to use the internet from a young age, which means they’re growing up surrounded by algorithms. In this reality, it's crucial to be algorithm literate: to understand what algorithms are and how they can present a narrow view of the world. Kids should be given the tools to know when they're not getting the whole truth.
A quick introduction on algorithms and how to dip your toes into algorithm literacy through simple activities.
This primer is a more in-depth look into computer and “unplugged” algorithms, how they relate to code and computational thinking, and how you can start to explore these concepts and processes with others, even children.
Here’s a guide with lots of handy tips and tricks that focuses on the importance of families learning to code, together.
Your brain works differently than an algorithm - the power is in your hands!
Algorithm in the Arts
Budding digital creators - join a Canadian artist, CCA and KCJ for this 90 minute workshop on using machine learning to create unique art.
Once you’ve started coding, you’ll need a place to continue learning, creating, and socializing. That’s where Code Club comes in. Did we mention the clubs are run by volunteers? Join a club, start a club, or try some of the projects yourself!
Help more young people #GetAlgoLit.
Have your own ideas to #GetAlgoLit? Or simply want the people in your life to know about algorithms? Post about it, use the hashtag, and get your voice heard!
The more our world relies on technology and the digital world, the more kids need to know about algorithms and how they affect their lives. By donating to KCJ, you can ensure more kids get access to this essential information.
Algorithm literacy goes beyond taking control of our own online experiences: we can use this information to help meet the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development by 2030. #kids2030 is an initiative by KCJ to educate over 1M kids and 50,000 educators on algorithms, artificial intelligence, ethics, and the Global Goals, through workshops, training, and community events and projects.
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Kids Code Jeunesse (KCJ) is a bilingual Canadian charity determined to give every Canadian child access to digital skills education, with a focus on girls and underserved communities. KCJ teaches kids and their educators about artificial intelligence, code, digital citizenship and how these integrate with the Global Goals so that our kids have the confidence and creative tools they need to build a better future.
Media and Information Literacy is a priority for CCUNESCO due to its close connection to freedom of expression, freedom of information, and fighting disinformation. The Canadian Commission for UNESCO serves as a bridge between Canadians and the vital work of UNESCO—the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. By promoting UNESCO values, priorities and programs in Canada and by bringing the voices of Canadian experts to the international stage, the Commission contributes to a peaceful, equitable and sustainable future that leaves no one behind.