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Lesson plans

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

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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Encryption – All About Code

lock on tabletStudents learn how alphanumeric symbols can be encoded for a multitude of fun purposes. In the first of two sessions (each 2 hours long) they learn about codes, and are asked to make their own with a limited number of symbols. In the second session they are asked to break each other’s codes and discover the relationship among encryption, decryption, and shared keys.

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Concurrency Means Cooperation

chopsticksThis lesson provides a number of kinesthetic exercises that illustrate how teamwork can contribute to efficient problem solutions. The lesson includes practice in figuring out how to divide up a problem, and reassemble it. Students also explore how scientists use the Internet and idle computing power to do calculations on volunteer machines. If possible, with sufficient teacher expertise, students set up a computer to contribute to solving such a problem.

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Circuits and Boolean Expressions

strawsBoolean logic is essential to understanding computer architecture. It is also useful in program construction and Artificial Intelligence. This lesson is a gentle introduction to formal logic using Boolean notation, and Circuits. Students learn the basic rules by playing the role of logic gates in a half adder and full adder. Free logic gate construction software available online can be incorporated optionally.

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Boolean Algebra is Elementary

pixel vanSherlock Holmes delighted in saying ‘It’s elementary, my dear Watson’. This lesson provides a brief overview of how Boolean algebra provides the basis for artificial intelligence reasoning. The rules of propositional logic are introduced in the context of the kind of ‘AI’ found in role-playing games both on the computer and off.

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AI Search: Lions and Gazelles

lionThis is an introduction to Artificial Intelligence (AI) ‘state-space search.’ The entertaining story line provides necessary background justifying the classic rules. Students will write and perform a skit that solves the problem using pre-made paper props, as they explore the concept of state representation. This is followed by an informal analysis of state-space, state representations, depth- and breadth-first search, and shortest path.

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"Program Your Own Game" Lesson

game programming software screenshotThe "Program Your Own Game" activity explores the work of software engineers and allows student teams to develop their own computer game using free and simple software. Teams present their game to their class, evaluate other games, and reflect on the engineering experience.

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"Arduino Blink Challenge" Lesson

hands working on arduino boardThe "Arduino Blink Challenge" lesson explores how computer and software engineers work to solve the challenges of a society, such as providing systems for turning lights on and off automatically. Students work in teams to set up and program an Arduino board to turn a light on and off at a 5 second on and 2 second off interval. Teams build their system, program and test it, reflect on the challenge, and present their experiences to their class.

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Pages

Punch card from a COBOL program
Jean Sammet

Jean E. Sammet was one of the first developers and researchers in programming languages. During the 1950’s - 1960’s she supervised the first scientific programming group for Sperry Gyroscope Co. and served as a key member of the original COBOL (COmmon Business-Oriented Language) committee at Sylvania Electric Products. She also taught one of the first graduate programming courses in the country at Adelphi College. After joining IBM in 1961, she developed and directed the first FORMAC (FORmula MAnipulation Compiler). This was the first widely used general language and system for manipulating nonnumeric algebraic expressions. In 1979 she began handling Ada activities for IBM’s Federal Systems Division. Ada is a structured, object-oriented high-level computer programming language, designed for large, long-lived applications, where reliability and efficiency are paramount. Jean has a B.A. from Mount Holyoke College and an M.A. from the University of Illinois, both in Mathematics. She received an honorary D.Sc. from Mount Holyoke (1978).

MATLAB graph
Cleve Moler

Cleve Moler improved the quality and accessibility of mathematical software and created a highly respected software system called MATLAB. He was a professor of mathematics and computer science for almost 20 years at the University of Michigan, Stanford University, and the University of New Mexico. In the late 1970’s to early 1980’s he developed several mathematical software packages to support computational science and engineering. These packages eventually formed the basis of MATLAB, a programming environment for algorithm development, data analysis, visualization, and numerical computation. MATLAB can be used to solve technical computing problems faster than with traditional programming languages, such as C, C++, and Fortran. Today, Professor Moler spends his time writing books, articles, and MATLAB programs.

Listen to what Professor Moler has to say about his life’s work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IT5umwNSAxE

First computer mouse
Douglas Engelbart
Douglas Engelbart

In 1967, Douglas Engelbart applied for a patent for an "X-Y position indicator for a display system," which he and his team developed at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Menlo Park, California. The device, a small, wooden box with two metal wheels, was nicknamed a "mouse" because a cable trailing out of the one end resembled a tail.

In addition to the first computer mouse, Engelbart’s team developed computer interface concepts that led to the GUI interface, and were integral to the development of ARPANET--the precursor to today’s Internet. Engelbart received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Oregon State University in 1948, followed by an MS in 1953 and a Ph.D. in 1955 both from the University of California, Berkeley.

Cursor
James Dammann

If you have used a word processor today, moved your mouse on your laptop, dragged an object around on your smartphone, or highlighted a section of text on your tablet, you can thank Jim Dammann. In 1961 during his second year at IBM and just one year after completing his PhD, Jim created the concept of what today we all take for granted -- the cursor. This idea he documented in utilizing the cursor within word processing operations.

After retiring from IBM, Jim went on to inspire future generations of software engineers at Florida Atlantic University. His work there too demonstrated his creativity for he spent considerable effort enhancing their software engineering program by integrating ideas and feedback from local industries into the University curricular. Today, Jim lives in the Westlake Hills west of Austin Texas and spends most of his time in his art studio. He wrote and published The Opaque Decanter, a collection of poems about art, which provided a new view at part of art history.

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: http://gotofdn.org

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