Primary education: listening and observing
Primary education: listening and observing

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Primary education: listening and observing

3.1 ‘Unplugged’ computing in schools

‘Unplugged’ computing is taught without the use of computers.

The term originates from the Computer Science Unplugged project (Bell et al., 2009) that was based at Canterbury University in New Zealand. The goal was to focus on the development of computational thinking skills, without either the distraction of digital technology or an unintentional focus on learning to program or write code. In the hands-on unplugged classroom, children learn though problem-solving.

Activity 3 Problem solving in context

Timing: Allow about 25 minutes

Watch this video of a lesson in which children are exploring how to ‘program’ their teacher. This lesson focuses on supporting learners to construct a simple set of instructions to program a teacher robot to make a jam sandwich.

Video 3
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

What aspects of computational thinking are on display here?

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Discussion

The children have applied their logical reasoning to decompose the task of making a sandwich into its constituent parts. They continually evaluate, simplify and refine their instructions (algorithm) as the ‘program’ runs.

Now watch this video of a lesson in which children are exploring how numbers can be sorted into order.

Video 4
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

What aspects of computational thinking are on display here?

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Discussion

The problem of sorting several numbers has been decomposed into sorting pairs of numbers. A pattern is quickly established and the same rule – a simple algorithm – is applied to sort each pair of numbers until the process is complete.

These lessons were carried out without any digital technology and show that teaching computing does not require any expensive equipment. In the ‘Jam Sandwich’ video the children can be heard supporting and collaborating with each other as they try to refine or debug the algorithm. They show resilience and a determination to get the algorithm to work. As they program the human robot, they are learning that programming is about giving clear instructions and having someone or something carry out the instructions. It is easy for the children to watch their program being executed in real life and then to evaluate the effectiveness of their algorithm. Humans can make good robots because they can interpret (and misinterpret) natural language instructions. The human robot misinterpretations can add a good deal of humour to a lesson and make the process of debugging entertaining and memorable. This example enables the teacher to quickly and easily demonstrate how much ‘extra’ understanding humans typically bring to such interactions.

PDP_1

Take your learning further371

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses372.

If you are new to university level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. Find out Where to take your learning next?373 You could either choose to start with an Access courses374or an open box module, which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification.

Not ready for University study then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn375 and sign up to our newsletter376 to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371