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An Introduction to Binary Code for Kids

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Who said computer science needed to be complicated? Try out this simple activity to teach your children the basics of binary code.

This activity is from Oak Meadow’s Eighth-grade physical science curriculum. Please visit our sponsor, Oak Meadow, to learn more about their creative, hands-on curriculum.

At its most basic, binary code is any code that uses two symbols to communicate information. Some samples of common binary code are morse code (long and short sounds) and braille (raised and flat dots). You also “see ” binary code everyday, considering most computers use 0’s and 1’s to send and receive information.

So how does a computer communicate information with 0’s and 1’s? Try this simple experiment to transmit a picture using binary code.

Binary code experiment for kids

Supplies

Grid paper in two sizes (download some free here)
Colored pencils

Instructions

  1. You’ll need to participants for this experiment. One child will be the message “sender” and the second child will be the “reciever”
  2. Start by having the sender draw a design on the 10 x 10 grid paper. They need to be careful to fill in each square they choose to use completely in order for the experiment to work. They should be careful to keep their design hidden from the receiver.
  3. Seat the sender and receiver at the table, and give the receiver an identical piece of 10 x 10 grid paper.
  4. The sender will “read” their message to the receiver, one line at a time. If the square is filled, they should say “one.” If the square is empty, they should say “zero.”
  5. The receiver will fill in a square when they hear “one” and skip the square if they hear “zero.”
  6. The sender should instruct the receiver when they start a new row and end a row.
  7. Once the whole grid has been read in zeros and ones, the sender and receiver can compare their designs.
  8. Switch the role of sender and receiver. Repeat this process with a larger 25 x 25 grid and compare results.

Thinking about the experiment

  1. Were you successful in your transfer of the message? What is different about the message that was sent and the message that was received?
  2. What made transferring the image with binary code challenging? If it was not challenging, why do you think that’s so?
  3. Images with higher resolution have more squares than the images you transferred today. What changes would you have to make in order to create a more detailed picture or a picture with more than one color? How can you improve the process?

Looking for more middle school physical science lessons?

Visit Oak Meadow and check out their curriculum. They offer full programs, or you can pick up single subjects for middle and high school. Their middle school science programs are solid – they are interesting for kids, thorough, and hands-on. I can’t recommend them enough.

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