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Explore's collection of interactive pre-university computing lessons below.

Vector Graphics Use Functions

yoga logoFor a half century computing technology has played an increasing role in how we create visual imagery. Vector graphics was the original method for rendering images on a display screen. It fell out of favor in the 1990s as increasing memory size allowed raster, or bitmap images, to be stored. Within the last decade there has been a resurgence of vector graphics to efficiently support graphic displays as large as billboards and as small as postage stamps. Vector graphics are dependent upon functions. This lesson introduces vector graphics and functions through a collaborative design activity.

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Coloring Discrete Structures

coloring conceptIs it true or false that Discrete Structures and Discrete Mathematics are the same thing? This is the kind of question that is asked in this field – or both fields if they are indeed different. Most Middle School students see a mix of discrete and continuous math without ever noticing the difference. This lesson introduces them to areas of mathematics that computer scientists use to do computational problems. Search techniques through discrete structures are illustrated through graph traversal and graph coloring.

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Data Representation: Millions of Colors

crayonsDisplay devices on cellphones, tablets and computers of all sizes, use bits of information to represent color. By first creating, and then playing a card game, students learn how additive color is represented as binary and hexadecimal numbers. They will also get practice in recognizing and manipulating binary and hexadecimal representations.

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Animation with Object Efficiency

open book with paintingsOne of the most important ideas in modern computer science is the object. Without objects, modern window-based user interfaces and much of modern film techniques would be almost impossible to do. Objects allow designers and programmers to encapsulate information so that other details can be ignored when necessary. This lesson shows how an object made of connected parts can be animated by displaying it as a series of graphic images. This lesson can be done entirely off computer by building a traditional flip book with a PostIt note pad, or entirely on a computer using slide production software (PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Drive Slides). Or you can combine them for a very rich experience.

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Sorting Socks is Algorithm Complexity

socksHow do you know how fast a computer can calculate an answer, or whether an answer can be calculated at all? The field of Computational Complexity is the study of whether problems can be solved, and how fast. This lesson introduces some simple ideas about algorithms and their complexity through a series of exercises involving a collection of socks. Of course, other objects can be used as well. This is an active learning lesson that does not require access to a computer. Linear, polynomial, and logarithmic algorithms are explored building an intuitive understanding of order of magnitude.

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Recursion: Smaller Sibling Pyramids

humanRecursion, Iteration (Looping), and Concurrency. In the first of two sessions (at most an hour each), students are asked to calculate a simple summation by themselves, based on a procedure they are given. Then, through a guided role-playing procedure, students are asked to do the same problem by pushing a sub-problem off onto a ‘little sibling’. In the second session, they use a divide-and-conquer approach to understand a simple formula for summation. During this session they also talk about the big ideas behind these three problem solving methods.

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network on mapYoung people take the Internet for granted. Through a serious of web-based explorations and kinesthetic exercises students explore the basic principles of graph theory and how it applies not only to their social connections but to how information is passed around.

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Graphics: Calculating Color

paint bottlesIn a digital world we take color for granted. Through off-computer activities, students learn the difference between additive and subtractive color, and how images are generated on screen and transferred to physical print.

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Graphics: Bits and Points

pixel vanComputer graphics dominates young people’s lives. Their worldview is heavily influenced by pixels. This lesson uses age appropriate experiences to explain the difference between bitmap (raster) and vector graphics. The lesson covers how information is lost when it is digitized, and how computer graphics techniques can both enhance images, and provide vehicles for corrupting them. It also introduces some ideas on how to efficiently schedule a task.

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Fibonacci via Recursion and Iteration

shellThis lesson introduces how to calculate an arithmetic series, specifically Fibonacci. In the first of two hour-long sessions, using a spreadsheet (e.g. Microsoft Excel or Google Drive Sheets), students are shown how to calculate a series based on two prior values (the iterative solution), and by using a user-defined function (the recursive solution). With a large enough domain, most computers will exhibit real delays in calculating the recursion for values greater than 30. In the second session, they will explore why the iterative solution is faster, and why the recursive solution significantly slows down for large values. This lesson assumes that the teacher is well versed in using spreadsheets, including copy-down formulas.

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Sandra Lerner

It is difficult to imagine a time when computers were not capable of sharing information and resources with great ease. Sandra Lerner pushed the boundaries of network computing as one of the co-founders of Cisco Systems, which introduced one of the first commercially viable routers. The router was born while Sandra was working at Stanford University in the 1980’s after earning her Master’s degree there in Computer Science. To avoid the tedious task of transferring information between computers using floppy disks, she and co-founder of Cisco, Leonard Bosack, created a local area network, or LAN, between their campus offices using a multiprotocol router that Bosack developed. Shortly thereafter the pair started Cisco Systems, and began selling the router which was a success, because it could work with so many different types of computers. After Leaving Cisco in 1990, Lerner started the trendy cosmetics company Urban Decay and became a philanthropist and avid activist for animal rights.

Gordon and SenseCam QUT
Gordon Bell
Gordon and SenseCam QUT

Gordon Bell is a pioneering computer designer with an influential career in industry, academia and government. He graduated from MIT with a degree in electrical engineering. From 1960, at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), he designed the first mini- and time-sharing computers and was responsible for DEC's VAX as Vice President of R&D, with a 6 year sabbatical at Carnegie Mellon University. In 1987, as NSF’s first, Ass't Director for Computing (CISE), he led the National Research Network panel that became the Internet. Bell maintains three interests: computing, lifelogging, and startup companies—advising over 100 companies. He is a Fellow of the, Association of Computing Machinery, Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, and four academies. He received The 1991 National Medal of Technology. He is a founding trustee of the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, CA. and is an Researcher Emeritus at Microsoft. His 3 word descriptor: Computing my life; computing, my life.

Turing machine
Alan Mathison Turing
Alan Mathison Turing

Did you know that computing has been used in military espionage and has even influenced the outcome of major wars? Alan Mathison Turing designed the code breaking machine that enabled the deciphering of German communications during WWII. As per the words of Winston Churchill, this would remain the single largest contribution to victory. In addition, he laid the groundwork for visionary fields such as automatic computing engines, artificial intelligence and morphogenesis. Despite his influential work in the field of computing, Turing experienced extreme prejudice during his lifetime regarding his sexual orientation. There is no doubt that computers are ubiquitously part of our lives due to the infusion of Turing’s contributions.

CGA palette
Mark Dean

If you have ever used a PC with a color display you have been acquainted with the work of Mark Dean. After achieving a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Tennessee, Dean began his career at IBM. Dean served as the chief engineer on the team that developed the first IBM PC, for which he currently holds one third of the patents. With colleague Dennis Moeller, he developed the Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) systems bus, which enabled peripheral devices such as printers, keyboards, and modems to be directly connected to computers, making them both affordable and practical. He also developed the Color Graphics Adapter which allowed for color display on the PC. Most recently, Dean spearheaded the team that developed the one-gigahertz processor chip. Dean went on to obtain a MSEE from Florida Atlantic University and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford University. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, has been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and is the first African-American IBM Fellow.

Liz Gerber - Image credit Lisa Beth Anderson
Liz Gerber
Liz Gerber - Image credit Lisa Beth Anderson

Liz Gerber earned her MS and PhD in Product Design and Management Science and Engineering at Stanford. She specializes in design and human-computer interaction, particularly how social computing supports the innovation process. Her current research investigates crowd-funding as a mechanism for reducing disparities in entrepreneurship.
Gerber's work funded by the US National Science Foundation and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance has appeared in peer-reviewed journals, including Transactions on Computer Human Interactions, Design Studies, and Organization Science.
As an award-winning teacher and researcher, Liz has touched the lives of more than 6,000 students through her teaching at Northwestern's Segal Design Institute and Stanford University's Hasso Plattner's Institute of Design and through her paradigm-shifting creation, Design for America, a national network of students using design to tackle social challenges.

Image credit - Lisa Beth Anderson

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