What’s in a Name…Binarily Speaking

IMG_20150312_140154Last week our second grade girls began exploring binary numbers.  It was part of a new initiative to teach students computer science … without computers.  Lower School Technology Integrator Caroline Windell recently travelled to New Zealand to learn more about this fascinating curriculum – CS Unplugged.  In fact she received the very first printed copy of their updated book – and even helped them proofread it!

Girls explored simple counting in binary and then translated their names into binary before taking the time to teach the skill to their Grandparents or Special Friends.

Here is a brief summary of the project:

Q: What grade level were you working with?

A: (Caroline Windell) second grade.

Q: What were your goals going into the project?

A: There were two project goals:

  1. Introduce how computers store information in a developmentally appropriate way.
  2. Provide students the definition of binary number.

Q: How did you roll out the project?


  • I brought in a set of five binary cards with dots on one side and nothing on the other.
  • Each card had twice the number of dots as the previous card, for example, 1, 2, 4, 8, 16.
  • Five students were asked to hold the cards in front of the class with the smallest number of dots on the far right.
  • By flipping the cards over, we were able to use the dots on the cards to count from 0-31.
  • Next, we used 0 and 1 to represent whether a card was face up or not ( 0 = no dots, 1= dots). For example, 01001 = 9. That is, the 2nd and 5th cards were showing so we could count 8 + 1 = 9 dots.
  • We then used the numbers to represent the letters of the alphabet with A=1, B=2, C=3, etc. and translated the letters to binary (ex. 00001 = A).
  • Using Book Creator on the iPad, each student translated their name using zeros and ones (see photo).

Q: If you were to do the project again what (if anything) would you change?

A: I didn’t expect the first part of the lesson to go so quickly, so I wasn’t quite ready to move on to transferring the idea of binary numbers to letters. Next time, I will have a key with all of the alphabet letters ready to show the girls.

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