What is a Computer ?

being revised May 2006
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Everyone needs to learn what a computer is in some formal sense. One reason is that an assurance of the students understanding is a prerequisite to further instruction. So a thorough, well-rounding exposition is required, with a careful assessment that the material has been understood. This can occur at any level from Y0 up to adult and so a range of courses must be provided to suit the age group. The style of the course for an age group is determined by their level of communication, though reading and writing (typing) are prerequisites, and also the environment range of the age group should be taken into account. 5 year olds need only know about the computers that they use in their immediate world, because they have little concept of what exists outside of what they can see and touch.

Because of this expanding world, and also the change in technology, this course exercise should be redone every four years. The Lesson Plans reflect this expanding view in their demands on the student at the appropriate level.

Lesson Plans

This is an exercise in the Language curriculum which can be scaled to any Level from 1 to 8. As well as familiarising the students with just what a computer is and extending this to the role it plays in the school, home and industry, it also developes at higher levels to question students ideas of function, flexibility, and other more general properties.

This exercise, no matter what level it is to be done at, is a prerequisite for all other ICT exercises and should be the first ICT exercise performed. Students starting out on ICT related activities should do this exercise at a level appropriate to their age group and skills.

This exercise should be formally assessed at whatever level it is done at, as it is a formal prerequisite for continuing ICT work. In addition the "pass" qualifier should expire after 4 years, requiring this exercise to be redone at its new level. Computer technology is advancing at such a rate that this will always be a useful exercise. In addition, advanced levels of this exercise introduce progressively more complex ideas to enhance students' critical processes.

This exercise can be rewarded with a badge of profficiency.

Warning - These Levels need to be aligned more closely with the technology and language curriculum levels and strands.

17   Level 1 (101)      Y0-3        

This level does not assume reading skills, but is planned along the lines of other similar exercies on a range of subjects.

Students view the school computer and a PC and are told the words for many of the main physical objects. At this level one would not expect children to take on board the notions for the components of a computer, such as internal hard drive, RAM, power supply, fan etc, but rather stick to physical objects which are seperate such as printers, keybord, mouse etc.

Students are then asked to match words with images of objects, and perhaps to phrase relationships such as "the keyboard is in front of the screen". Some students may be able to write the words and draw the images themselves.

Some students may already be able to use a computer, keyboard and mouse. They could do the exercise on the computer using the "poetry" tclet.

Many children starting school will already have the skills to do this execrise with ease. They will already be able to plug in a computer, power it up and start it, and access programs. They can move right along to the Level 2 exercise.

The physical components can be clearly labelled with words naming the objects. Students should be able to connect the components, with consideration to the different types of chords. Issues of safety using power chords and plugs should be explained.

At this level objects which are non-concrete and seperate are not introduced. So "hardware" and "software" are not introduced, the components inside a computer are not discussed. However the exercise can be extended to include objects visible on the screen. This includes the notion that these are visible objects which have no real physical existence. Like window, cursor, title bar, scrollbar etc.

It is probably expecting too much for discussion to take place within the general context of "Information and Communication" at this level.

Here we need an image library of computer components and words and phrases. We could also use the poetry applet

17.1   Assessment        

Students should be able to readily identify and name:
  • Central Processing Unit (CPU)
  • Power chord
  • Power socket
  • Screen
  • Communication cable
  • Keyboard
  • Mouse
  • Mouse Pad
  • Printer
  • Parallel cable
  • Scanner

  • Diagram - Year, Level, Class
    Other classroom technology should not be introduced at the same time, such as camera, video and so on, as it may give the impression that these are integral to the computer. However this line is becoming blurred, by a digital camera for example. Differentiation should be tested to ensure that the students can tell the difference between a fax machine, a copier and a printer for example.

    18   Level 2 (201)      Y1-5        

    Similar to Level 1 except that the students draw images representing the objects and write their names.

    Students should be able to readily identify and name:

    At this level students should be able to write a connected description.

    Particular care should be taken with navigation on a laptop. Laptops have differeing navigation methods. In particular some touchpads have a dynamic area on the borders which is very useful and some dont, which can be difficult. Fitting a mouse is a good idea for laptops without a dynamic touchpad border.

    18.1   Assessment        

    At this level students should be able to write a connected desription but physical identifaction and use is a more practical qualification.

    19   Level 3 (301)      Y2-Y7      Language/Technology        

    Level 2 should be a prerequisite for Level 3. Level 3 introduces concepts, conceptual objects and interaction with conceptual objects.
    • Software
    • Hardware
    • File structure
    • Operating Systems
    • Application Software
    • Windows, widgets
    • Browsers - web, photo, video, 3D, vrml
    • Browsers for special formats which only have commercial painters/editors such as .pdf
    • Painters and Editors - image, text, music both midi and sequencer, video, 3D modelling, vrml.
    • Desktop
    • Techniques for interacting with programs and widgets.
    • Hotkeys, function keys
    • Scrolling, scales, buttons, keyboard navigation.
    • Configurability of interactions, mouse speed, standard window behaviours, mouse behaviour
    • Configuring the desktop, startup, program invocation
    • Configuring webbrowser (history, favorites, search, cache), email, newsgroups, email groups, netiquette
    • Miscalleaneous web functions, ftp, newsgroups, IRC, P2P, downloading and installing programs, uploading to a website
    This material needs to be covered in a systematic way. It is not good enought to rely on students to find their own way because this inevitably leaves gaping holes in their knowledge base. These topics should be covered in parallel with execrcises in the Basic and Intermediate Sections here. Ideally this should be a prerequisite for all programming projects in the Intermediate Section.

    Literacy Skills to some (as yet undetermined or unspecified) Level are required before Basic Computer Skills can be acquired. This is a fundamental prerequisite which is known to not be met at High School levels for a small proportion of students. Prerequisites for learning and literacy are bound up in the notion of a healthy community.

    20   Level 4 (401)      Y5-10      Technology Curriculum        

    At this level the emphasis moves to a higher and more detailed level. This shifts the exercise from the Language Curriculum into the Technology Curriculum. This can be done in parallel with projects in the Intermediate Section, particularly for those students who want to focus on ICT.

    At its senior level this may be a 3 week nightclass course of 6 hours tuition altogether covering all the main topics. This is an essay exercise that follows the form of other Technology Project Exercises such as the Supermarket Exercise. In this case the focus should be on the physical components of the computer system, including the people who operate it. The student should be guided away from being distracted by the kinds of operations that the computer is used for and directed to concentrate on the physical aspects of the computer, and the tasks that people in its environs perform, such as data-entry, operations, programming, and customer services.

    A visit should be arranged to one of the larger computer installations in your area so that the students get some idea of the difference in scale between large computer systems and personal computers.

    There are two different kinds of large computer installation.

    If possible, arrange a visit to one of each type as the kind of work that people do at each one is very different. Giving students some idea of career opportunities in the industry is an important aspect of this exercise.

    Also show students the school's computer system, and a personal computer or laptop if they do not have personal access to one. This will provide students with a range of three or four computers of very different scale.

    For each computer make a table of information:

    Write an essay, about 1000 words (for Y8), summarizing the general properties that large and small computers have in common. Then explain the differences between large and small computers to give some idea of how large the range of scale can be.

    One particular application which should be touched on is genomics, as this is the frontier of human endeavour at present.

    This exercise should be revisited every four years as the students understanding of computers grows and as computers change.

    The essay should be assessed on the number and accuracy of the observations documented.

    All teachers should be proficient at this level.

    21   Level 5 (501)      Y7-12      Technology Curriculum        

    This level can focus on the minutae of data. These aspects should be covered in parallel with projects in the Intermediate Section. For instance the RDB projects can be done as a way of introducing basic concepts of logic, composing queries and information retrieval without the in depth knowledge of this level. But at this level such projects can be done with a firmer grounding and understanding of the concepts involved.

    22   Level 6 (601)      Y9-14      Technology Curriculum        

    This level concentrates on network systems, the details of protocol and means of communication.

    23   Level 7 (701)      Y11-15      Technology Curriculum/Social Sciences        

    This level looks at the social and economic aspects of the computer. What jobs it supports and in what environments. The computer and the net used for social change. New economic models created by the net. This is a swiftly changing area. This is background material which provides a foundation for the exercises in the Advanced Section. The use of websites, blogs, wikis. Selling products on the web, soft products, hard products, services, web auction. Books, production and sale.Advertising methods.
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