Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cans and String: The Internet Unplugged

I am still gathering materials for the CS Principles course. Every time I think I am caught up I find something new.

Today while reading over the blog by Harry Lewis , author of Blown to Bits, I found a book that is exactly what we are going over right now.

On my shopping list: D is for Digital by Brian Kernighan. He teaches at Princeton. Here is the course website: Princeton site for CS 109

We are in the middle of Unit 2-The Internet Unplugged. We've done HTML, as an example of abstraction and creating digital artifacts. We'll be adding CSS next week. right now we are talking about the physical structure of the Internet. I honestly thought this lesson would be a bit dull, but the students really had a lot of questions. I try to end each block with an "exit ticket". Last class they had to tell me one thing they had learned new and one thing they were curious to learn. This helps me steer where we are going.

It is amazing how little they really know about the has been omnipresent since they were little, so very few of them have ever really looked at the how and why behind it all. To me it is foundational for technological literacy.

I am so glad we started with binary this year. Honestly it was a stall tactic-I had planned on doing it when we got to number calculations, but I had a few days to fill in Sept so we did binary, octal and hex. It had turned out to be perfect- so much of what we have done has related back to that lesson. Tomorrow we talk about IP addresses.

Tonight I am forcing my own children to eat a buffet of canned foods. Fortunately they like tomato soup. We're doing the "Two Cans and a String" game tomorrow and I am a bit short on cans. My challenge for the students is to discover how long a piece of string can be before the message breaks down. My plan is to use this an introduction to error checking - how do you KNOW the message you get is correct? I think it will also help with the idea of packets.

I have also been reading The Internet of Elsewhere. I am still reading the chapter on Korea. It includes a great description of the beginning of packets on the ARPANET. I like that it makes the connection that before packets information had to be sent in one long dedicated connection, like a phone call. I am hoping that our Cans and Strings activity will also help drive this point home.

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