Principles and Applications of Algorithmic Problem Solving

I am currently in Salamanca (Spain), attending the conference Tools for Teaching Logic III. My talk was on teaching logic through algorithmic problem solving and it went quite well, I think. In particular, it seems that the audience enjoyed the examples that I have used and the teaching scenarios that I have shown. As a result, I have promised that I would upload my PhD thesis into this website. Since the thesis can also be useful for other people, I have decided to write a new blog post. I hope you enjoy!


Algorithmic problem solving provides a radically new way of approaching and solving problems in general by using the advances that have been made in the basic principles of correct-by-construction algorithm design. The aim of this thesis is to provide educational material that shows how these advances can be used to support the teaching of mathematics and computing.

We rewrite material on elementary number theory and we show how the focus on the algorithmic content of the theory allows the systematisation of existing proofs and, more importantly, the construction of new knowledge in a practical and elegant way. For example, based on Euclid’s algorithm, we derive a new and efficient algorithm to enumerate the positive rational numbers in two different ways, and we develop a new and constructive proof of the two-squares theorem.

Because the teaching of any subject can only be effective if the teacher has access to abundant and sufficiently varied educational material, we also include a catalogue of teaching scenarios. Teaching scenarios are fully worked out solutions to algorithmic problems together with detailed guidelines on the principles captured by the problem, how the problem is tackled, and how it is solved. Most of the scenarios have a recreational flavour and are designed to promote self-discovery by the students.

Based on the material developed, we are convinced that goal-oriented, calculational algorithmic skills can be used to enrich and reinvigorate the teaching of mathematics and computing.

Download the PDF

Principles and Applications of Algorithmic Problem Solving (PhD Thesis, João F. Ferreira, 345 pages)

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Multiples in the Fibonacci series

I found the following problem on K. Rustan M. Leino’s puzzles page:

[Carroll Morgan told me this puzzle.]

Prove that for any positive K, every Kth number in the Fibonacci sequence is a multiple of the Kth number in the Fibonacci sequence.

More formally, for any natural number n, let F(n) denote Fibonacci number n. That is, F(0) = 0, F(1) = 1, and F(n+2) = F(n+1) + F(n). Prove that for any positive K and natural n, F(n*K) is a multiple of F(K).

This problem caught my attention, because it looks like a good example for using a result that I have derived last year. My result gives a reasonable sufficient condition for showing that a function distributes over the greatest common divisor and shows that the Fibonacci function satisfies the condition.

In fact, using the property that the Fibonacci function distributes over the greatest common divisor, we can solve this problem very easily. Using $\fapp{fib}{n}$ to denote the Fibonacci number $n$, $m{\nabla}n$ to denote the greatest common divisor of $m$ and $n$, and $\setminus$ to denote the division relation, a possible proof is:

\pexp{\text{$\fapp{fib}{(n{\times}k)}$ is a multiple of $\fapp{fib}{k}$}}
\pexp{\fapp{fib}{k} \setminus \fapp{fib}{(n{\times}k)}}
\hint{=}{rewrite in terms of $\nabla$}
\pexp{\fapp{fib}{k} ~\nabla~ \fapp{fib}{(n{\times}k)} ~=~ \fapp{fib}{k}}
\hint{=}{$fib$ distributes over $\nabla$}
\pexp{\fapp{fib}{(k{\nabla}(n{\times}k))} = \fapp{fib}{k}}
\hint{=}{$k{\nabla}(n{\times}k) = k$}
\pexp{\fapp{fib}{k} = \fapp{fib}{k}}

The crucial step is clearly the one where we apply the distributivity property. Distributivity properties are very important, because they allow us to rewrite expressions in a way that prioritizes the function that has the most relevant properties. In the example above we could not simplify $\fapp{fib}{k}$ nor $\fapp{fib}{(n{\times}k)}$, but applying the distributivity property prioritised the $\nabla$ operator — and we know how to simplify $k{\nabla}(n{\times}k)$. Furthermore, in practice, distributivity properties reduce to simple syntactic manipulations, thus reducing the introduction of error and simplifying the verification of our arguments.

(Now that I think about it, perhaps it would be a good idea to write a note on distributivity properties, summarizing their importance and their relation with symbol dynamics.)

If you have any corrections, questions, or alternative proofs, please leave a comment!

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