Computer Science Unplugged
Off-line activities and games for all ages
Two happy children and a computer
By Tim Bell, Ian H. Witten and Mike Fellows
With assistance from Robin Adams, Jane McKenzie
and Matt Powell

About Unplugged

A 'magic trick'

Many important topics in computer science can be taught without using computers at all. This series of activities unplugs computer science by providing twenty off-line activities, games and puzzles that are suitable for people of all ages and backgrounds, but especially for elementary school children. The activities cover a wide range of topics, from algorithms to artificial intelligence, from binary numbers to boolean circuits, compression to cryptography, data representation to deadlock. By avoiding the use of computers altogether, the activities appeal to those who lack ready access to computers, and are ideal for people who don't feel comfortable using them. The only materials needed are things like cards, strings, crayons, and other household items.

The complete set of Unplugged material is available in a book, but much of it is also available electronically. Some of the activities are available on the world wide web, and also as part of a collection on a CD-ROM. If you enjoy these activities you are encouraged to get the full version (see the information about the shareware offer).

A sample worksheet

For each Unplugged activity, full instructions are given, and worksheets are provided wherever possible to minimize the effort required for class preparation. Each activity includes a background section that explains its significance, and answers are provided for all problems. All you need for most of these activities are curiousity and enthusiasm.

These activities are primarily aimed at the five to twelve year-old age group. They have been used in the classroom, in science center demonstrations, in the home, and even for community fun days in a park! But they are by no means restricted to this age range: they have been used to teach older children and adults too.

The book is principally for teachers who would like to give their classes something a bit different from the standard fare, teachers at the elementary, junior high, and high school levels. It is also written for computing professionals who would like to help out in their children's or grandchildren's classrooms, for parents who can use these as family activities, for home-schoolers, for science centers who run educational programs for children, for computer camps or clubs, and for course instructors---including university professors---who are looking for a motivational introduction to a computer science topic. It is designed for anyone who wants to introduce people to key concepts of the information age of which they have no knowledge themselves.

Topics include the Poor Cartographer (graph coloring), the Muddy City (minimal spanning trees), Treasure Hunt (finite state machines), the Peruvian Coin Flip (cryptographic protocols), Magic Card Flips (error correcting codes), the Chocolate Factory (human-computer interaction), and many more.

A happy computer

So unplug your computer, and get ready to learn what computer science is really about!