1, 2, 3, code ! - Cycle 3 activities - Review : Defining computer science


This lesson is a review of what computer science is all about using the poster crated during the previous sequences. With the help of documentary research, students create a timeline of the key moments in the history of information science.

Inquiry-based methods

Documentary study


For each group

  • An A3 poster
  • Two Handouts, which the group chooses from:
  1. Handouts 47 and 48
  2. Handouts 49 and 50
  3. Handouts 51 and 52
  4. Handouts 53 and 54
  5. Handouts 55 and 56

For each student:

For the class

  • A large white poster board for the final timeline (or Handout 57 printed on an A2 or A1 poster sheet).
  • Extra copies of Handouts 47, 49, 51, 53, 55 and 57.
  • The poster “Defining computer science”, filled in throughout the previous lessons


Two hours, which can be divided into several lessons


Introductory question

The teacher displays on the board the poster that the class gradually completed throughout the lessons. There are several categories on this poster: “Languages”, “Algorithms”, “Machines”, and “Information”. To give the poster a historical context, and encourage documentary research, the teacher asks a question that appears simple: “In your opinion, when was computer science invented?” The students will probably say that the first computers appeared in the 20th century. But the teacher will go into more depth on this categorical reply. “Yes, computer science was created in the 20th century, but are the four fundamental components (name and point to them on the poster) as recent?”


Research (documentary study)

To begin, the students work in groups of four: each group studies one of the five collections of images (Handouts 47, 49, 51, 53, 55). Instructions are simple: In your opinion, what does each image represent? The students write down what they think.

Next, the teacher hands each group the text bundles that correspond to the images they have already received. The students study the texts, reading them quietly and independently. They can use a dictionary for the terms they don’t understand. They must then create a poster to present to the class. The instructions are as follows:

  1. 1. In the texts handed out, find the name of what each image represents
  2. 2. Stick the four images in the left column of the poster, and add a caption
  3. 3. Opposite each image, in the right-hand column, stick the corresponding text
  4. 4. Choose a title for the poster

Ideally, each poster could have a different background color (five colors for five themes), but this is not obligatory.

Scientific notes:

  • The handouts explain in simple terms the major discoveries that have led to developments in computer science concepts, and key figures that played a determining role in the history of this science. Further details are provided in the scientific insights, and the teacher can use these notes to go into more depth on a personality that they see as representative.
  • As in all simplified timelines, this one is partial (in both senses of the term!) It is often difficult for historians to clearly identify the true inventor of this machine. Often, history remembers the person that had the idea of combining several inventions, ideas, techniques, and concepts that other inventors of their era brought to light (for example, Joseph Jacquard is credited with inventing the punched card, but he used an idea that was originally Jean-Baptiste Falcon’s, who in turn was inspired by the punched tape invented by Basile Bouchon, for whom he worked as his assistant). Even more often, it is due to the work of teams that together developed inventions, when history only retains one name (Morse Code was Samuel Morse’s idea, but Alfred Vail’s work; Turing’s Bombe was devised by Rejewski in Poland and completed by Turing and Welchmann in the United Kingdom, etc.).


Group discussion

Each group presents its poster to the class. One by one, the students in the group present one of the four poster images (another option is for the teacher to successively project the images on the board so that they are more easily visible). This group discussion takes about an hour.

If this lesson is in two parts, this may be a good point to stop.


Creating a timeline poster

The last step is to prepare a timeline poster together using all the documents provided. Each group collects its poster and the teacher hands each student a copy of Handout 57.

Using the information contained in their poster, the students must complete the blank timeline as best as possible.

Since each group can only partially complete the timeline, the teacher must gather together in a single, large-format timeline all the elements spotted by the class. They ask each group in turn to present a significant milestone, with its date and location. The students explain the words they have discovered. When an image illustrates one of these milestones specifically, it can be stuck on the giant timeline. A color code can also be introduced, to connect each item to the corresponding poster (if the posters were created on different colored backing paper).

The final timeline should look like this:

200 BCE

Antikythera mechanism

100 BCE

Julius Caesar encrypts his military messages

9th century

Al Khwarizmi explains the first algorithms


Gutenberg popularizes movable type printing


Jacquard invents a mechanism for the weaving loom


Babbage creates the analytical engine


Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail develop Morse Code


Ada Lovelace writes the first computer program


ElectricDog, the first robot


Turing’s theoretical model for a computing machine


Zuse3 is the first computer


Grace Hopper invents one of the first compilers


Unimate, the first industrial robot


IBM invents the floppy disk


ARPANET, the ancestor of Internet, is launched


Invention of the CD-ROM


The CERN invents the World Wide Web


Honda-P2, one of the first humanoid robots


DeepBlue, a computer, defeats Kasparov in chess


Sojourner robot sent to Mars


Aibo, the entertainment robot


Wikipedia is launched


Google launches Google Flu Trends


Facebook reaches a billion members




This timeline can help students reach several conclusions. Firstly, some inventions appeared over two thousand years ago: calculating machines and clockwork figures fascinated the kings’ courts of Antiquity. While conceptualizations in mathematics and algorithms appeared in the Middle Ages, computer science problems (sums, programming, reproducibility and reconfigurability) began to be addressed in the last three centuries. As the students may have guessed, the first computers were in operation in the middle of the 20th century. Information sending and data sharing (what we now call Internet) closely followed, along with the improvement of automatons to become real robots, capable of interacting with their environment almost autonomously.

Students come up with a common conclusion, which they copy into their science notebooks.

Mathematics and automatons have existed since Antiquity. Technical advances from the 16th century onwards contributed to the invention of the first calculating machines. In the 20th century, electronics enabled the first computers, robots and the Internet to be created. While algorithms have been known and machines produced for a long time, computer science was born in the 1940s when we began to produce machines capable of performing all algorithms.




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