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Introduction to Computers

Unit Summary

This unit is recommended as the starting point for The Journey InsideSM and provides a foundation on which the rest of the units build. The online lessons with readings, video demonstrations, and activities introduce students to:

  • A brief history of computers, from Stonehenge to modern computers
  • The four basic components of a computer: input, storage, processing, and output
  • The differences between the capabilities of an electronic brain and the human brain

Goals and Objectives

Students will:

  • Understand events that led to the development of the computer
  • Learn terminology for parts of the computer
  • Create a mental model of computers as information-processing machines
  • Understand differences between the human brain and the electronic brain

Time to Complete Online Lessons: about 60 minutes


1.      Read the background information.

2.      Review and prepare for supplemental lesson ideas and group activities.

3.      Organize materials and equipment:

  • Student computers with an active Internet connection
  • Copies of the student handouts for this unit that you plan to use
  • Printouts of the interactive whiteboard images (optional)
  • Old computer processor box (not monitor) that you can open to show students (optional)

1.      Have students complete the online activities. Throughout the unit, facilitate the development of new vocabulary introduced in this unit. Are students using terms such as chip, input, hardware, personal computer, and software accurately in class, during discussions, and in their written assignments?

2.      Students who are not at the computer can work on supplemental lesson ideas and group activities.

3.      After students complete the online activities, they can extend their learning by:

  • Presenting an oral or written report on a particular person who has played a role in the development of today's computers
  • Creating a time line that shows some of the major steps in computer history

Student Handout

The following handouts can be used with this unit to enhance learning. Each handout is briefly described below. To see the actual handout, click the link "handout."


This handout encourages students to think about the ways people and computers are alike in what they can do and how they are different. Students fill in a chart with examples of things people and computers can do, only people can do, and only computers can do. They fill out a similar chart comparing computers with calculators.

An Information-Processing Machine

This handout teaches students the four components of a computer—input, storage, information processing, and output. Special attention is given to explaining the difference between microprocessors and the embedded processors in such devices as VCRs and remote controls. Students can fill in a chart comparing where input, storage, information processing, and output take place in a computer and for a person.


This handout helps students understand how computers are becoming a valuable information storage and retrieval system. Students compare computers to libraries and are asked to imagine what it might be like to access all the information in a library in the form of a CD-ROM.

Histroical Perspectives

This handout examines the first working computer to be made without mechanical components—the ENIAC. Students can create an ad for the ENIAC, write a press release for a computer today using the original press release for the ENIAC as a model, and make some discoveries about how people use computers in their jobs today.

Interactive Whiteboard Images

The images linked below are pertinent to this unit. You can project the images on an interactive whiteboard and use them in class discussions or activities.

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