Teaching computer science doesn’t require computers, writes Annie Murphy Paul for the Hechinger Report. Computer Science Unplugged designs activities that teach the “computational thinking” that underlies computer systems.
A group of children on a playground, each kid clutching a slip of paper with a number on it, moves along a line drawn in chalk, comparing numbers as they go and sorting themselves into ascending order from one to ten.
Another group of children, sitting in a circle, passes pieces of fruit — an apple, an orange — from hand to hand until the color of the fruit they’re holding matches the color of the T-shirt they’re wearing.
. . . In the first activity, they’ve turned themselves into a sorting network: a strategy computers use to sort random numbers into order. And in the second activity, they’re acting out the process by which computer networks route information to its intended destination.
Computer Science Unplugged has been developed at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand over the past two decades. Games, puzzles and tricks are aimed at children in kindergarten through seventh grade.
Youngsters can tackle topics as apparently abstruse as algorithms, binary numbers, Boolean circuits, and cryptographic protocols.
. . . Younger children might learn about “finite state automata” — sequential sets of choices — by following a pirates’ map, dashing around a playground in search of the fastest route to Treasure Island.
Later, students can learn to program a computer.