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Literal Thinking Lesson

Literal Thinking Lesson

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Published by sciencebus
Students learn how computers work through an activity modeling the literal approach of assembly language.
Students learn how computers work through an activity modeling the literal approach of assembly language.

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Published by: sciencebus on May 19, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Lesson: Literal Instructions
30 minutes
 Goal: The goal of this lesson is to give students an introduction to literal commands as a precursor to the
Digital Logic
lesson. By the end of this lesson, students should be awareof how a computer can only accept specific commands and has a very limited ability tointerpret even very simple commands.Approach: Students will be charged with walking instructors (that’s you) through somemulti-processes, such as tying a shoe or making a sandwich. The role of the instructor will be essentially to act as a robot and to interpret the orders of the students
as literallyas possible
. For example, if you are trying to make a sandwich and the instruction is “putthe peanut butter on the bread,” literally put the jar of peanut butter on the bread. Thetrick is to try to not make the associations we usually make as humans and think asmachines with no foresight. Be creative.
Reccomended timing
:Introduction: 5-10 minutes. Mention that computers/machines don’t think ahead like wedo and don’t have experiential memory like we do. For example, I doubt you have toconsciously think about each step you take as you make a sandwich. You’ve made one before, so you can just do it again, but machines have to be given explicit instructions. Now is a great time to have the instructors go over an example task: making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Go through the steps, (place one hand on jar, place other handon lid, rotate hand to unscrew cap, put cap down, pick up knife/spoon….etc). This can bedone as a whole-class exercise.Core: 15-20 minutes. Break students into groups, one instructor per group. In eachgroup, pick a task and have at it (a few tasks are listed below). If the students completeone, pick another one or improvise one.Conclusion: 5-10 minutes. Wrap things up. Field questions, ask which tasks were thehardest/easiest and why, and encourage students to think about the steps that go into theeveryday things they do and how they might instruct a machine to do it.SUGGESTED TAKS – here are some tasks you can use as well as some possible ways torespond to likely instructions (feel free to improvise). Some of them have differentformats (verbal vs. written commands, for example), but feel free to interpret and reviseas needed or desired.
1. Paper Airplane
Have students collaborate on creating a set of written instructions, which will then begiven to the instructor. Read aloud the directions from the group, following them precisely. If it says “fold paper in half” choose a random axis to fold the paper in half 
along. If it does not say to unfold the paper after folding in half, leave folded andcontinue on to the next line of instructions. If the directions say to fold a corner, choose arandom corner.Some groups may struggle to put into words how to fold airplanes. So after going throughsome of the more well written—if not technical enough—codes for building a paper airplane, you can have the students give you verbal commands for folding a plane.Afterwards, throw the mis-created planes to see how they fly. This illustrates how lessthan elegant directions for computers give less than functional outputs.
2. Tie Your Shoes
The person should start to act like a robot, following only literal directions. This meansthey should not only not use any intuition, but also use extra effort in avoiding finishingthe task. Another person should start by telling the robot to put on the shoe. Possibilitiesof actions:
Ask what to put the shoe on.
Put the shoe on top of their foot.
Put the shoe on the table/chair Ask the kids to help volunteer directions. Lead them to specify something like “put your foot in the shoe”. The person wearing the shoe could claim, they are done, and walk away. The kids, or you, should say the shoe should be tied. Possible actions:
Tie the laces around the whole shoe
Take shoe off and start folding it in an attempt to tie it (if they tell you put shoe back on, repeat above)
Tie the lace in a single knot and let it beThe kids should start to describe how the knot should be tied. Lead them to somethinglike a step by step list of instructions for tying a shoe. Get them to specify things like:
Pull the laces in opposite directions to the left and right to tighten the shoe
Put one lace under the other and pull it through
Grab a lace and fold the end back to make a loop
Put one loop through the loop formed by the other 
Pull on the correct laces in order to tighten the knot
(some steps omitted of course)Possible goofs depending on directions given:
Grab the entire shoe and squeeze to tighten
Put one lace under the other and leave it there

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