PD_ParallelDecomposition PD_CommunicationAndCoordination TCPP_Programming TCPP_Algorithms TCPP_CrossCutting K_12 CS2 DSA Systems movement

Originally described by Mordechai Ben-Ari and Yifat Ben-David Kolikant (Ben-Ari1999)

No web-link to independent description available. See paper (Ben-Ari1999) for additional details.


The paper uses dramatizations to help students understand algorithmic execution. The paper only describes one such lesson, which is used to introduce the concept of mutual exclusion. The following is a rough summary of the exercise in (Ben-Ari1999):

Two students volunteer to be robots. A drinking glass is placed at a visible point in the classroom, purporting to contain “juice”. The door (or another portion of the classroom) is denoted as the kitchen. In the “kitchen” area, there is a pile of wooden/plastic cubes (or balls) that will represent “sugar cubes” in this exercise.

The goal is to sweeten the juice by adding exactly one sugar cube to the glass.

Initial algorithm

The student “robots” are then asked to execute the following algorithm:

taste the juice (i.e. pick up the glass and look at it)
if the juice is not sweet then:
    go to the kitchen
    take a sugar cube
    come back to the table
    add the sugar cube to the juice

This is repeated several times to show there are instances when two sugar cubes are added to the glass.

During the classroom discussion, students are asked a number of questions:

The notion of “correctness” is then introduced: an algorithm is considered correct if it performs as specified in every scenario.

To prove that an algorithm is incorrect, it requires only one contradicting scenario.

Correcting the algorithm

Next, students are asked to modify the algorithm to make it correct. Every time a new algorithm is presented, students dramatize it out, and produce a contradicting scenario. The students are made to release that with the current tools they have, they cannot create a “correct” algorithm.

Mutual exclusion can then be introduced.

Suggested Variation:

To introduce mutual exclusion, we suggest introducing a wooden block (or box) as a new prop. The block is originally on a chair near the table which the glass is on.

The students should attempt to come up with an algorithm using the wooden block as an additional prop, and once again evaluate their algorithm for correctness. They should see that using mutual exclusion enables the creation of a correct algorithm.

CS2013 Knowledge Unit Coverage

Parallel Decomposition (Core Tier 1)

1. Explain why synchronization is necessary in a specific parallel program. [Usage]

Communication and Coordination (Core Tier 1, Core Tier 2)

1. Core Tier 1: Use mutual exclusion to avoid a given race condition. [Usage]

2. Core Tier 1: Give an example of an ordering of accesses among concurrent activities (e.g., program with a data race) that is not sequentially consistent. [Familiarity]

5. Core Tier 2: Write a program that correctly terminates when all of a set of concurrent tasks have completed. [Usage]

8. Core Tier 2: Write a test program that can reveal a concurrent programming error; for example, missing an update when two activities both try to increment a variable. [Usage]

TCPP Topics Coverage

Programming Topics

Algorithm Topics

Cross-Cutting and Advanced Topics


The original description in (Ben-Ari1999) seems to recommend an actual glass of juice. However, we recommend that fake sugar cubes and an empty drinking glass be used instead. Otherwise, the activity might lead to spills, or be difficult for students with diabetes or other metabolic issues to participate.


(Ben-Ari1999) ran the dramatizations with high school students. The authors note that while students were originally “embarrassed” by the dramatizations and thought they were “stupid”, they eventually came to regard them as being central to their understanding of algorithms. Main result is that over the course of term, students began to appreciate the importance of correctness and its essentially in algorithm design.