Goals and Objectives
Students will:
  • Understand what a microprocessor is and how it works
  • Know what steps are involved in the design and manufacture of microprocessors
  • Understand how microprocessors use instructions to accomplish tasks

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)

Ingredients for making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to use with the High-Tech Sandwiches handout (Have cleaning supplies ready!)

Instruction cards for the first activity in the Fetch, Decode, and Execute handout. Use index cards to create a variety of instructions. Put one instruction on each card. When you have all the cards ready, place them into a box labeled Instruction Box

Some example instruction cards:

  • Fold this card and put it on the teacher's desk.
  • Give this card to someone who is wearing glasses.
  • Turn around twice and then put the card back in the box.
  • If the lights in the room are on, turn them off. If the lights in the room are off, turn them on.
  • Smile and say, "Good morning, Teacher".
  • Pat yourself on the back, and pull your hair once.
  1. Have students complete the online activities: Throughout the unit, facilitate the development of new vocabulary introduced in this unit.
  2. Students who are not at the computer can work on supplemental lesson ideas and group activities.
  3. After students complete the online materials, they can:

Explain, in their own words, a concept they have learned

Explain why they think chips might be extremely sensitive to contamination during the manufacturing process

Student Handouts
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".

High-Tech Sandwiches

This handout teaches students the need for clear, concise instructions when programming a task for a microprocessor or "robot." Working individually, students write a set of step-by-step instructions for making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Students then try to make sandwiches following each other's instructions. Or, a student or the teacher tries following one set of instructions in front of the entire class.

Fetch, Decode, and Execute

This handout teaches students the three steps a microprocessor uses to process each instruction it is given. It requires a set of index cards on which simple tasks are specified (such as "give this card to someone wearing glasses"). Students use a fetch, decode, and execute process in getting a card, reading it, and performing the instructed task.

Taking Command

This handout helps students experiment with the importance of order and precision in computer commands. Students program human "robots" to do simple tasks using four commands (stand, sit, walk, and turn). The microprocessor's fetch, decode, and execute cycle is also reinforced.

Bugs and Debugging

This handout expands on the lessons learned in the Taking Command handout. It adds conditionals to the repertoire of available commands and teaches students about bugs in software instructions and how to debug them.

How Clean Is Clean?

This handout helps students understand how small the circuits and transistors are on microprocessors. It also explains why working in such a small scale requires the circuits on microprocessors to be created in virtually dust-free environments. Students get to experiment with size relationships.

Fabrication Art

This handout teaches students about creating things (like microprocessor circuitry) in layers. Students use crayons, coins, and other objects to experiment with layers and masks.

Making a Complex Product

This handout teaches students how the probability of defects is a factor in the manufacturing process of a product like microprocessors.

Miracle of the Microprocessor

This handout (also found in the Technology and Society section) is an essay by Michael S. Malone, author of The Microprocessor: A Biography. It provides a wide-ranging perspective on the importance of the microprocessor as an invention and explains its significance in human history.

Making of a Silicon Chip

This handout (also found in the Technology and Society section) is an informative essay by Michael S. Malone, author of The Microprocessor: A Biography. Students get a detailed but easy-to-follow description of the simple materials and complex process by which microprocessors are manufactured.

Interactive White 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.