Archives for posts with tag: first grade

What is a computer?

A while ago I taught a group of 1st graders a class about computing. I wanted them to understand the concept of a computer in a simple and tangible way. So I came up with an activity where the kids would be able to build and test a simple computer anywhere: in the classroom, at home or at the playground.

Here is what I told them to do:

“Build a computer that can produce random numbers using anything you have at home.”

They go: “Really? We can use anything we like?”

And I go: “Yes. Anything you like. Except of course your mom’s or your dad’s computer. You can’t use a computer to build a computer. That would be cheating. You are also not allowed to generate the random numbers in your head. The computer must do that.”

And then they go: “What are random numbers?”

It took me a few cycles to recover from such a disarming question. I thought “Wow, the world around us is full of randomness (especially the computing world) yet how does one explain it to a six year-old?”

I said: “It’s numbers that are not in order. They are completely mixed up and you can’t guess which number comes next. Like when you throw a dice. Can you guess which number will come up when you throw a dice? No, right? That’s a random number.”

Solutions as surprising as a random number

The kids surprised me with their creativity. Here are some of their cool “computer” designs:


Spin the wheel to get the next number. I love the added touch of fake buttons to make this look like a real computer!


Stir the pot to shake the numbers and open it to pick the next one. Computing in the kitchen!


Throw the dart-marker at the target and write down the number closest to the mark. I would have never thought of that one!

Surprised yet again

What’s more surprising than the creativity of the children is the lack of creativity of the adults. Having already seen what the kids came up with, I posed the same question when I interviewed a series of college students for a software engineering position. They were about to graduate from one of the top computer science programs in the US.

I asked the candidates:

“Design a computer for generating random numbers using anything found in this interview room.”

9 out of 10 of them gave me the same answer:

“I can do this by flipping a coin.”

And then I thought: “Should I tell them a 6 year-old can do better than that?”

What’s your design?

Does you kid have a cool design? Post a picture to the DrTechniko Facebook Page. I will personally respond to you.

I hope we learned something useful today,


Many times I’ve heard people ask first graders “what is your favorite class in school”. The child is forced to choose one subject: sports, math, language etc. That trend continues throughout school and students tend to become one-dimensional. Too much focus too early ends up hurting our problem solving skills, because we lose the opportunity to build extra thinking tools and models that can be composed together.

StoRy 4 illustrates that taking a step back, thinking outside the box and composing abilities can solve a problem even if it appears to be unsolvable. Not until the Number 4 and the Letter R realize they can combine their spelling and counting abilities can they figure out that R is the fourth letter in the word FOUR.

The story also introduces the array, a data structure that appears everywhere in science (especially in computer science). An array, is basically a list of items that can be identified by an index/position. In our story, the array is an array of characters (F-O-U-R), also known as a word.

Here are some comprehension questions you can ask your children:

Q: What is the 4th letter of the word LETTER? What’s the position of the letter B in the word NUMBER?
A: T. 4.

Q: What’s more useful: Counting or Spelling?
A: Both are equally useful.

Q: Why was the Number 4 smiling at the end?
A: Because at the end, FOUR had 4 boxes and R only 1 inside the crossword puzzle. Moreover, it was all because the Letter R jumped into the box thinking that this would make it win the argument against the Number 4. If the Letter R hadn’t jumped into the box, then the Number 4 would not appear in the crossword puzzle at all.

I hope we learned something useful today,
Dr. Techniko

The Letter R and the Number 4 bumped into each other in front of the same box in a crossword puzzle.

The Letter R wanted to get into the box.

But the Number 4 would only let the correct letter into the box.

“Arr! I’m the letter R and I’m the rowdiest letter of all. This box is super-duper perfect for me. I’m jumping right in!”

But the Number 4 was not willing to let things get out of order.

“I’m the Number 4 and I’m guarding this box, because this box is the fourth box. Only if you are the fourth letter in the word I will let you in.”

“Well… the word is ‘FOUR’ and I’m the Letter R, so spell ‘FOUR’ and see if I’m at the right box.”

“I’m… I’m… I’m… a Number. I can’t spell.”

“How sad… Now, can you move aside so I can get into the box?”

But the Number 4 did not move.

The Number 4 did not let things get out of order.

“If you spell ‘FOUR’ then you ‘ll see if you are the fourth letter.”

“Only then I will let you in.”

“I’m a Letter. I don’t do counting.”

“And I’m a Number. I can count but I can’t spell.”

“Arrr! If you knew how to spell ‘FOUR’, then we wouldn’t be sitting here forever!”

“Well, I like sitting here. I like counting over and over. It’s quite soothing…”

“Arr! Arr! Arr!” yelled the Letter R in frustration.

And suddenly…

The Number 4 had an idea.

“How about you spell ‘FOUR’ and I count at the same time?”

“I ‘ll stop counting when you say ‘R’.”

So the Letter R said, “OK. Let’s start.”









“Arrr! So I am the fourth letter in the word ‘FOUR’ after all!”

“I believe this is correct,” said the Number 4.

“Arrr! Arrr! The box is mine!” said the Letter R and jumped inside the box.

“This is the greatest box ever.”
“Too bad you’ll never have a box of your own, Number 4.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“How about you look OUTSIDE the box?”

“That’s good.”

“A bit more…”

“Very good”
“Just a tiny bit more…”


“What Happened Before The Story of the Three Little Pigs”
as told by the Third Little Pig

Everyone says that my two brothers lost to Alfonse “The Big Bad” Wolf, because they didn’t build their houses from bricks like I did. That is true. But, recent rumors on the Internet said that I was able to buy bricks because I had money on the side. That is a lie. These two dummies had money to spend too.

I, Johnny, the Third Little Pig, will now give you an exclusive insider scoop on what really happened before Al Wolf showed up.

It was a hot summer day when our mom told us, “Boys, enough is enough. You are turning my house into a pigsty. You are old enough to live on your own. Here ‘s a hundred coppers to each of you. Off you go!”

One hundred coppers is a lot of money by pig standards. We said our good byes and off we went to Farmer Frankie’s Market. The place has everything a pig needs to make a home (and drink, feed, dress and accessorize).

I was punching random numbers into a state of the art keypad door lock, when I see my brother Benny picking up a pile of straws.

“Hey, Benny. Are you thinking of making a straw mattress?” I asked him.

“No, I’m gonna build me a home with that,” he said. “But now that you mention it, I’ll get some more to make me a mattress, too. Great idea!”

“But, Benny, all this straws will cost you one copper. You should spend some more and get something better.”

“No, I don’t want to. I need to buy myself lots of organic fruits, worms and chow with the rest of the coppers. I don’t want to run out of food.”

“Benny, you don’t need food for a hundred years!” I said, but Benny was already at the check out. And – nobody knows this but – Benny doesn’t really eat organic…

I went back to the keypad lock and tried to remember the last number I entered, when I heard my other brother, Vinny, calling.

“Johnny, how do you like those shades on me, bro?”

I turn around and see Vinny packing a dozen Hawaiian shirts, a huge 5 inch high definition TV, a massage chair, a gold chain and of course the latest Piga Di Farma sunglasses!

“Wow! Vinny, the shades look … expensive. Do you have coppers left to build your house?”

“Sure. I have two coppers left, bro. That’s plenty of cash. Right now it’s important I look good.”

“Only two? Vinny, two coppers can only buy you sticks!”

“Sticks? That’s a great idea. I was gonna buy straws. Thanks, Johnny bro. You ‘re a genius.”

He turned around and strolled away, before I could say anything else. And – nobody knows this, but – Vinny’s sunglasses were not real Piga Di Farma.

I got tired of fiddling with the keypad lock and looked around. There were too many things to buy and I didn’t want to make a poor choice. So, I went to the Pig Public Library and did my research online.

And guess what! I read rumors that the greedy Ratelli Rats were knocking down houses to take over the land in our town.

So I decided to buy bricks for ten coppers and spend another twenty to buy reinforced steel beams and cement for my house frame.  And for ten extra coppers I bought a biometric fingerprint scanner security system for my door. Super advanced! It unlocked only when my little piggy finger touched the scanner, so no need for me to remember any numbers!

So all three of us lived next to each other, happy under the sunshine.

But as you know, Al Wolf, who – no one knows this by the way – worked for the Ratellis, showed up one day and asked my brothers to leave. When they refused, he huffed and puffed and blew their houses away. Lucky for them, “The Big Bad” Wolf likes junk food and TV so much that he ignored Benny and Vinny as they ran into my place.


When the wolf came outside my door and I ignored his scare tactics, he huffed and puffed and puffed and huffed so many times that he lost his teeth and his hair and he almost had a heart attack. And – no one knows this by the way, but – he didn’t get angry. All I heard him say was “Those stingy rats ain’t paying me enough for this demanding job. I quit.”

I’m lucky he hadn’t done his research. Because if he had, he would have known that huffing and puffing can’t bring down a brick house. You ‘d need a bulldozer.


But, you ‘re not gonna tell him that, are you?