Primary education: listening and observing

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# 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

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
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What aspects of computational thinking are on display here?

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### 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
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What aspects of computational thinking are on display here?

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### 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.

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