More About Binary Numbers

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!

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