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

Virtual Reality and Anaglyph Stereoscopic Technology

3D glassesWith the mass production and availability of low cost and robust head-mounted displays (HMDs), there has been increasing interest in virtual reality technologies - for example the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung VR Gear, Microsoft HoloLens, and Sony’s PlayStation VR. These display technologies are based around artificial stereo images, and provide a view with illusions of 3D depth in virtual environments. Students will use the scientific method to study ‘anaglyph’ (movie 3D) technologies to model computer science design and learn how stereo images create the illusion of 3D.

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Public Keys, One Way Functions and Hard Problems

Public KeySecurity has always been a major focus of computer science research, and with the explosion of Internet use by commerce, the need for secure transactions has taken on more urgency. Most recently, cyber-thieves demonstrated that true security on the Internet is going to require a new level of understanding of how to protect personal data, and more importantly, financial transactions. This lesson introduces two important concepts: public key encryption and one-way functions. It provides an opportunity for students to understand the underpinnings of almost all Internet security: they will come to appreciate that any lock can be eventually broken, and that theoretical computer scientists study ‘hard’ problems to lengthen the time it will take to break a lock. Note that this is not a lesson in encryption, but in how mathematics is used to secure information.

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Smart Buildings and the Internet of Things

IOT‘Smart buildings’ meld environmentally responsible design with cutting-edge computing technology. This lesson explores the practical, scientific, ethical, and environmental issues that emerge in building ‘smart buildings’ that rely on ‘the internet of things’. Students work in teams using resourced technology to design and perhaps later implement, smart building solutions to make their school a better place in which to live.

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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

Display 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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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

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.

@ symbol
Ray Tomlinson
Ray Tomlinson

Have you ever considered that someone, at some point, was in a position to choose what symbol would be used separate the user from their location in an email address? That person, it turns out, was Ray Tomlinson, and in 1971 he chose "@". Tomlinson is credited with demonstrating the first email sent between computers on a network, and when asked what inspired him to make this selection he said, “Mostly because it seemed like a neat idea.”

After completing his Master’s degree at MIT in 1965, Ray joined the Information Sciences Division of Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since then he has made many notable contributions to the world of network computing. He was a co-developer of the TENEX computer system that was popular in the earliest days of the Internet; he developed the packet radio protocols used in the earliest internetworking experiments; he created the first implementation of TCP; and he was the principle designer of the first workstation attached to the Internet.

Bletchley Park
Dr. Sue Black
Dr. Sue Black

Dr. Sue Black has demonstrated the power of social networking. She used Web 2.0 technologies to help raise awareness of, and critical funding for, Bletchley Park, the UK World War II center for decrypting enemy messages. She has also been an active campaigner for equality and support for women in technology fields, founding a number of online networking platforms for women technology professionals. A keen researcher, Dr. Black completed a PhD in software measurement in 2001. Her research interests focus on software quality improvements. She has recently won the PepsiCo Women's Inspiration Network award, been named Tech Hero by ITPRO magazine and was awarded the first John Ivinson Award from the British Computer Society. In 2011 Dr. Black set up The goto Foundation, a nonprofit organization which aims to make computer science more meaningful to the public, generate public excitement in the creation of software, and build a tech savvy workforce. Read Sue's blog about The goto Foundation:

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.

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