I have been teaching the WACE Computer Science course for many years, and each year I have struggled to come up with a way to teach the Systems Architecture component that is engaging for the students. Yes, I have lots of old components like motherboards, RAM chips etc. that the students can touch and see, but ultimately when it comes to them understanding processes like the Fetch-Execute cycle and how the CPU interacts with RAM, the best I have been able to do is find some animations on the internet to make it more interesting.
Well, that was before I found the B4’s! I first encountered them at the 2017 ECAWA Conference and I was absolutely blown away not only at the simplicity of the design, but by the genius of how it brings alive to the students’ concepts that were dull and boring before.
For the Year 11 students, the B4 makes learning Binary numbers a breeze. For the Year 12 students, they now GET what really happens inside their computer, because they can see it happening in front of them!
I started the lesson with instructions about connecting the different wires to the modules, then stepped the students through the first couple of experiments from the handbook. Once they had gained confidence in using the B4’s, I let them loose to experiment by themselves. I have never had such a quiet classroom! – the students were all fully engaged in what they were doing and didn’t want to stop when the lesson time ended.
For the next lesson I got the students to read back through the Systems Architecture notes, we discussed different things that the students encountered when they were experimenting with the B4’s and for the few things that they still were unsure of, we got the B4 kits out again and went through the concepts again.
Feedback from the students has been very positive – they love the fact that they now have something concrete to hang their learning on. We are about to start the Programming unit of the course, and I can’t wait to incorporate the B4’s into my programming lessons.