Data Representation: Millions of Colors

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Lesson synopsis

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.

Age Levels

14 - 17 years


Introduce students to:
number systems used in computing: binary, hexadecimal.
how color is displayed on digital devices.
how and why additive color is represented as a single number.
why there are millions of colors available on mobile devices and computer screens.

Anticipated learner outcomes

Students will demonstrate/explain:
how information is stored in binary, and represented in hexadecimal form.
how additive color is represented in binary and hexadecimal.
how to add and subtract hexadecimal numbers.

Optional Writing Activity

Write a short report summarizing how additive color is represented in digital computers.

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Alan Mathison Turing
Alan Mathison Turing

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Ray Tomlinson

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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.

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Listen to what Professor Moler has to say about his life’s work:

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John Hennessy
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As Stanford faculty he rose to be the Chairman of the Computer Science Department, Dean of the School of Engineering, then Provost and finally the President of Stanford in 2000 (and till date). Hennessy holds a Master’s and Ph.D. in Computer Science from SUNY Stony Brook. He is an IEEE Fellow and was selected to receive the IEEE Medal of Honor in 2012. Hennessey also launched significant activities that helped to foster interdisciplinary research in the biosciences and bioengineering at Stanford.

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