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Computational Media Explorers: Computing through time

This unit introduces students to the idea of computers and computing by looking at modern computers, historical technology, and the future of computing. The purpose of this model is to first recognize students’ pre-existing access point into computing. Each section of the unit focuses on students’ and their parents’ experiences and views of computing to help establish the purpose of technology through personal and familial lenses. Throughout the unit, this model is expanded to look at the historical technology context that led to the creation of much of today’s technology. The final section focuses on the future, where students are asked to act like futurist and design artificial intelligence-inspired robots usinga animated coding tool.

Students learn that hardware, software, and data serve a purpose. That purpose could be scientific, artistic, recreational, social, and many areas in between. What purposes do they, their families, and friends use computers for, and how might they guide changes of that for the future?

Included Resources

In this lesson, students will look at what is and is not a computer. Computers come in many shapes and sizes and can have specific and general purposes. Students need a starting point for defining computers. Look at the technology devices in the classroom/school and decide whether it’s a computer.

In this lesson, students will learn about applications. Most personal computing devices are described as “general purpose” computers, and software helps create a more specific purpose for them. Computers are hardware, and software runs on them. Software makes up a significant part of things we like to do with and on computers. As an activity, stude...

This lesson introduces students to the concept of data, and that data on computers represents information from the real world. Computers can be used to generate and store data, like images, videos, songs, documents, and profiles, in memory.

This lesson will review types of data computers collect through the concept of a user profile. Data can get quite complex and include multiple connected pieces of information, such as a name, photo, and age. Computers get data because humans give it to them. Do students have information they would rather keep private?

This lesson begins to unpack the idea of a computer, reframing it as a device that receives input, processes the input, then provides an output. Students will look at different inputs of computers, like a trackpad, touchscreen or gamepad, and discuss what data each sends out. This gives them an opportunity to revisit "what is and is not a computer"...

This lesson explores computer outputs. Following a similar format to the Input Devices lesson, this lesson will instead look at different outputs of computers and discuss what data they present. Example outputs include common devices like video displays, speakers, and printers, but also modern devices like VR headsets and assistive devices like Bra...

This lesson completes the input, process, and output sequence. Students will learn about processors inside computers and how they are connected to everything inside a computer, including input and output devices. As a class, they will be introduced to code commands through the coding tool of choice (Playlab, Scratch Jr, Foos, WeDo, and the like). F...

This lesson further expands on programming with block code in your coding tool of choice. The purpose of the lesson is to give students a quick tutorial on block coding as a class and giving them ample time to experiment and explore on their own.

This lesson introduces looping coding construct in the coding environment and physically with pseudocode. This lesson also introduces a programmable version of the Crazy 8 Energizer / transition activity, which can be used outside of the unit as a general transition activity. This lesson will thematically loop back to the beginning and leave studen...

This lesson brings the discussion back to the first lesson in the unit, in which we discussed what is and isn’t a computer. Students will look at the analog computers, precursors/pre-computers, and early digital computers. For each device shown, students will see what discoveries it was used for and why it was important to computers today. This wil...

This lesson brings the historical view of computing to more modern times by looking at technology teachers used when they were younger. When looking at a computer/programmable tech from when you were young, remember to talk about the inputs and outputs and give examples of what you used it for and what it looked like. Students will use ideas from t...

In this lesson, students will examine several video game systems and learn about the systems’ processor cock rates (speed), input devise, and game graphics. Students will also take a look at assembly code of a game to see how programming languages have changed. Looking at the code will help inform students on how coding (for example, the way we cod...

This lesson focuses on abstract representation as a concept using code. Students will look closer at punch cards to see how holes can represent words or commands. The lesson gives a brief history of punch cards, which is followed by an activity that allows students to create their own punch card commands for more physical coding as a class. Previou...

This lesson looks at the history of programming bugs and debugging. Students will learn about the legend of the bug/debugging and Grace Hopper. The activities provide an opportunity for students to code on a device, where they can see first-hand how bugs in code can mess up the output.

This lesson focuses on programmable weaving machines and the punch card programming format. The punch card system of weaving machines was the inspiration for future programmable computers. At this point in the sequence of lessons, students should be very familiar with punch cards, so this lessons moves toward patterns and abstraction. How did weavi...

In this lesson, students move from historical technology to the future. This lesson bridges the past with the future by looking at how people in the 1960s thought computers would change their present day. Students will look at computers/software of the near future and talk about how those things might change our society. This will begin a discussio...

This lesson continues the discussion of artificial intelligence (AI) by looking at a potential world of human and pet robot companions. First, it will get students excited about a world of AI by looking at AI friends from pop culture. Then students will take a step back and look at real-world AI, like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant. They’ll lear...

This lesson digs deeper into artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence (AI) is an intelligence from computers, created through a combination of hardware and software. Students will learn where they may encounter AI on in their own life, and how that software is developed to become “intelligent”. The activity asks students to create their own...

This lesson focuses on converting students’ ideas for robot pets into code through story and interactions. Students will learn briefly about events in their coding tool. The events will be used as triggers for different interactions. The activity can continue into the remaining lessons.

This lesson gives a brief introduction to sensors through animal senses. It covers sensors used in modern technology, like LIDAR, motion sensors, and infrared sensors. This gives an opportunity to talk about senses in humans and animals and the differences between them, as well.

The final lesson’s purpose is to bring attention to deconstructing a program. Can students look at a simple program and break down its parts without seeing the code? Instead of looking at as a whole app or merely software to be used an interacted with, can students make estimations on what sprites and blocks might make up the structure and code? To...

This overview for the Computational Media Explorers: Computing Through Time unit provides a detailed description of the unitl as well as foundations for student outcomes, instructional philosophy, a sequence of lessons and more.