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Computing student opportunities

Lesson plans

Explore'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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@ 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.

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

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.

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).

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.

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