User login

Lightest and Heaviest: Sorting Algorithms

Source Institutions

    National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT)

Add to listGo to activity
Lightest and Heaviest: Sorting Algorithms

Computers are often used to put lists into some sort of order—for example, names into alphabetical order, appointments or e-mail by date, or items in numerical order. In this activity learners compare methods (algorithms) for sorting a collection of containers into order by mass. The main activity invites learners to compare two methods; extension activities introduce three additional sorting methods as well as ways to mathematically analyze all the methods. Background information is included.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Set of 8 small containers with lids, preferably opaque, of same size (e.g. film canisters, yogurt cups, baby food jars)
  • Items to fill containers (e.g. sand, water, pennies, beans)
  • Balance
  • Copy of Worksheet: Sorting Weights (p29)
  • Copy of Worksheet: Divide and Conquer (p30)
  • Pencil


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Technology
      • Information and Communication
  • Mathematics
    • Algebra
      • Patterns
    • Data Analysis and Probability
      • Probability
    • Measurement
      • Units of Measurement


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Source:

  • Google, Inc.


User Lists

This resource is part of these lists: