There was a time when computers were far too expensive to let mere students use them. In those days, we wrote fake programs for fictitious machines and checked them by hand. That wasn’t fun, but it did teach you to think about the algorithm. You weren’t worried about how many tabs to indent code in the editor, or checking your social media feed, or changing the track on your Spotify playlist. Maybe that was the idea behind Computer Science Unplugged. The site is aimed at educators and gives them lesson plans to teach kids about computer concepts through activities that don’t use a computer.
The target ages are from 5 to 14 and topics range from binary numbers, sorting, searching, error detection, and robotics. For example, one exercise has students line up to be bits in a binary number. Each kid holds a card that is blank on one side or has the right number of dots on the other (for example, bit 0 has 1 dot, bit 2 has 4 dots, and so on).
The lessons do get harder. For the sorting unit, the kids go outside and draw with chalk on the pavement or use tape on the floor indoors. Kids carry cards with numbers through the sorting tree and compare their cards with other students to decide who goes where.
Learning basic ideas about algorithms and data representation without the distraction of a computer can be a very powerful thing. A lot of us learned on computers that existed only in a book or on pieces of cardboard. It gives you a great understanding you can apply to real machines. If you are looking for something more suitable for high schoolers, the same sponsors have that, too.
If you are interested in this sort of thing, we have our own favorite game to play with kids to teach robotics and other computer concepts. Just be sure your insurance is paid up as it is a little dangerous by today’s standards. If you want to teach some basic electricity instead, you could always break some eggs.