I really enjoyed playing around with the binary number resource that Alfred Thompson had shared and I wrote about yesterday.
It reminded me of trying to teach the concept to students in Computer Science. It always seemed like an academic exercise until you applied it directly. For me, the payoff for binary came in the logic in game writing by peeking ahead of the movement at the next pixel to see if it was lit or not to signify a collision and then, of course, when we got the bread boards out and created some hard circuits.
Binary numbers and binary logic just seem to pair so nicely
I remember how I was taught – certainly back in the dark ages with no real context – it was just a mathematical concept of place holders and carry digits. I think that, at some level, I gained a deeper appreciation for Base 10. Then, of course, academically we moved to octal and hexadecimal to prove that we knew the concepts. It was chalk talk at its finest. In my first year of teaching, I still remember a student coming to class asking if we were going to do more with the “half-ass adder“. After my jaw dropped, I wondered if I was talking out loud with my inner voice again! Unless you’re a computer science or electronics whiz, don’t fret. It’s a really obscure reference.
There are many techniques to try and introduce the concept. The standard introduction, I think, is the light switch. (See here for the Homer Simpson version). By flipping a switch to 1, lights go on, switch to 0, lights go off. It didn’t work terribly well in my classroom. I only had two banks of lights on switches so demonstrating anything more than 3 was out of the question. Had it been important enough, I guess a trip to the cafeteria with all its lights would have been in order!
I even stole a technique from my uncle to show binary addition. You hold up one finger in one hand, and one in the other while making fists. Smack them together and you end up with two fingers on one hand and none on the other. As a four year old pre-schooler, I could watch it forever. It didn’t play well in Grade 10 for some reason.
We didn’t have the tools and demonstrations that we have today. Used properly, they make learning binary fun.
In fact, Alfred has a whole page devoted to binary numbers on his blog. Check it out here.
I was really intrigued by the link “How to Count to 1,023 on Your Fingers“. If you’re still with me, you know why 1,023. If not, that’s OK. You just don’t know what you’re missing.
In fact, this resource takes you beyond binary. It takes you far beyond my uncle’s adder.
It’s definitely a keeper, as well as the instructions for other bases.
You might even wonder why we’re so in love with base 10!
It’s fun; it’s a challenge; and it really makes you understand your binary numbers.
I’ll confess to playing with it for far too long. In fact, it was only after playing for an extended period of time that I realized that the music loop is really annoying. (Sorry developers) I can’t imagine a classroom full of computers doing this activity without headphones!
The Ontario Curriculum is loaded with all kinds of references to Binary Numbers. This activity would be a welcome addition to any classroom where the topic is being addressed.
p.s. I really should have done a screen capture with my higher scores but I was focused on climbing levels….
One of the huge initiatives that you see so many school districts involved with is the implementation of tablet technology. When you discuss this, the over achievers will indicate that the tablet is not just a consumption device; it’s a creation device. When you peel back the outside and truly look inside, most of the implementation is anything but.
There’s still a lot of reading and math games happening. You do have to start somewhere and I’m sure that the use will become more sophisticated with time. It’s just that such low level activities are so easy to find and over populate the various stores that are available.
Recently, I had a discussion with a number of people who were always doing innovating things with kids – one being robotics. Because of their district initiative, their traditional computers were replaced with tablets and that killed the robotic fun. Robotics is such a great activity. The ability to build and program your own robot can be so motivating. To be able to create a set of instructions and then have the robot perform them is so engaging. Just don’t mention that the process is programming!
So, what to do?
I’d suggest a long look at Sphero.
Sphero is a robotic ball. Inside are the mechanics for motion, acceleration, direction change, colour, … Most importantly, it connects to a computing device via Bluetooth. All of a sudden, those new tablets have a robot to control and program.
With a very futuristic interface, you control your robot. Mine’s called “Doug On A Roll”.
Right out of the box, Sphero is OK. It does all kinds of things. But, in the best sense of gamification, it gets better. By completing challenges, you unlock additional Sphero’s additional abilities.
The challenges are fun and the fact that Sphero does more with your successes just keeps you wanting to attempt challenge after challenge.
Every time I head over to my app store, I see new applications written to exploit the functionality of Sphero.
But there was one app that put me over the top. It was orbBasic.
With the scripting capabilities, you can write your own code and have Sphero follow your instructions.
If you’re lamenting the loss of your traditional robotics or you’re looking for some way to incorporate programming into your classroom, you owe it to yourself to take a look at Sphero. Sphero has a pal – the pal’s name is Ollie. I haven’t had hands-on with it just yet.