Abstraction is a way to make problems or systems easier to think about. It simply involves hiding detail – removing unnecessary complexity. The skill is in choosing the right detail to hide so that the problem becomes easier without losing anything that is important. It is used as a way to make it easier to create complex algorithms, as well as whole systems. A key part of it is in choosing a good representation of a system. Different representations make different things easy to do.

For example, when we play cards, we use the word ‘shuffle’. Every player understands that ‘shuffle’ means putting the cards in a random order. The word is an abstraction. The same type of abstraction works when programming. Implementing ‘shuffle’ in a computer game means giving a way to randomise the cards. We can refer to shuffling throughout the program and understand what is meant without having to think about how it is actually done by the program. All that is needed is that the program does include a description somewhere of how shuffling is to be done.

The following links to cs4fn articles that illustrate abstraction.

More of our resources, including linked computing ‘story’ booklets can be found in our resources section. You may also want to look at cs4fn’s teacher resources or browse the latest cs4fn magazine.

It is suggested that:

  • Primary teachers focus on the badge statements from the Pink to Purple row.
  • Secondary teachers focus on the badge statements from the Purple to Black row.
  • The white row overlaps with the KS4 qualification specifications.

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