CS Unplugged – Learning to Code without a computer!

In the last Computing Curriculum article we talked about Code Club and how the after-school network is working wonders by teaching kids about programming. In this article we’ll look at CS Unplugged – Computer Science without a computer.

The CS Unplugged website provides a collection of FREE learning activities that teach Computer Science through engaging games and puzzles using cards, string, crayons and lots of running around – and oddly, no computers! Instead, CS Unplugged introduces students to Computational Thinking through concepts such as binary numbers, algorithms and data compression without using a computer – and there’s no programming required to engage with these ideas either!

Image from CS Unplugged website

The unique resource is suitable for people of all ages, not just KS1-2 and secondary school pupils, but for everyone, and has been used around the world for over 20 years now.

The main principles that set the Unplugged activities apart from other resources are:

  • No Computers – activities are available to those who aren’t able to or don’t want to work with computers. This is not a completely Luddite approach but it helps skip the barrier between learning to program before being able to explore ideas.
  • Real Computer Science – presenting fundamental concepts in Computer Science such as algorithms, artificial intelligence and programming languages. CS Unplugged wants to emphasise that programming is a means, not an end.
  • Learning by Doing – kinaesthetic activities done on a large scale involving team work which allow students to discover answers for themselves rather than just being given solutions or algorithms to follow. Instilling a confidence in students to make them realise that they are capable of finding solutions to problems on their own.
  • Fun – Puzzles, challenges, competitions, problem solving and humour are all part of the CS Unplugged ethos. The Unplugged activities should leave students with a sense of genuine achievement.

The Activities:

All the activities can be downloaded in PDF format with full instructions on how to deliver them and worksheets for students to read and complete. All that’s needed is curiosity and enthusiasm.

Straight PathFrom data activities where students represent information, right through to the procedures of telling computers what to do, to the Human Face of computing which focuses on interacting with computers, CS Unplugged has a smorgasbord of interesting, engaging and extremely worthwhile lessons and projects to get stuck into.

This tool is a great way to break down the barriers between technical jargon and understanding the role of coding in its most basic format. It can be used as an introductory base before perhaps, moving on to the activities available through Code Clubs and CAS Barefoot.

For more information about CS Unplugged, visit http://csunplugged.org/