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1.8.1 ✈️ Computing Without Computers, How Planes Fly, Flying Pancake

1.8.1 ✈️ Computing Without Computers, How Planes Fly, Flying Pancake
John at Flickr

Last week, the Labyrinth article informally kicked off a series of weekly emails with kid-friendly projects that you can explore this summer. My plan is to highlight one summer project a week over the next 8-9 weeks.

This week it's one of my favorite ways to explore computing: by not using a computer. Instead, you either use pencil and paper or move yourself around a room. Think of teaching how a computer network works by having kids be nodes and messages that pass between nodes. It's a different way to learn computer basics. Plus it's more fun than reading about computing.


Summer Projects: Computing without Computers

I first encountered computing unplugged at a 2016 London conference put on by Teaching London Computing. A presentation by Barefoot Computing had us running around a classroom on a Saturday. It was fun. And a counter intuitive way to learn about computing basics. Of course, by now you can find lots of sources for computer unplugged projects. Here's a few that look good to me. Plus sources that you can explore to find projects that might interest you. Plus chocolate.


These sites appear to be the canonical sites for computing unplugged activities. You can find more searching online for this phrase. And while these sites offer free projects and lesson plans, there are paid sites that also have lesson plans.

Teaching London Computing

CS Unplugged

STEM Learning

Barefoot Computing

Projects That Look Fun

Chocolate Turing Machines


AI Explorers

River Crossing Activity

Sort Algorithms


How Do Planes Fly?

If you're like me and live near an airport, or travel a lot on planes, it's easy to take for granted that planes actually fly through the air. Turns out the reasons flight works is still debated. Airflow over wings of a certain shape is well known. Lift is well known. But parts of flight are still an interesting mystery.

No One Can Explain Why Planes Stay in the Air

Dynamics of Flight

Dr Karl: How Planes Fly

SciShow Kids: How Airplanes Fly

SciShow Kids: How Do Animal Wings Work?


The Flying Pancake

Pancakes might fly if you get a little silly in the kitchen at breakfast and flip one off to the side. However, that kind of pancake doesn't fly well or for a long distance. In 1942, in the United States, there was an experimental test plane that mostly was a single flat round wing with propellers on the far edge of the front of the plane. It's official name was the Vought V-173. But people called it a flying pancake. It also had cool windows on the front edge that, to me, looks like insect eyes.

The Flying Pancake was built to test ideas about how to handle airflow over wings more efficiently than fixed stubby wings we're used to seeing. The plane was more efficient but never resulted in a production model.

Vought V-173 "Flying Pancake"

Why There Will Never Be Another Flying Pancake

Vought V-173


Why do Cats Purr?

Stroke a cat and it will purr. Be late with food and cats will rub up against you and purr. It's obvious cats use purring to get attention. But at least one study found that cats use purring to gain sympathy, by changing their purring to include a cry. It also appears true that some cats can purr at a frequency (25 and 150 hertz) that relieves their pain and repairs bones and bone density. So purring can be a way for cats to soothe themselves when they're stressed out.

A cat's purr comes from their voice box. When they breathe, they dilate and constrict the area around their vocal chords in a rhythmic pattern. Air passing over their voice box then vibrates and becomes what we call purring.

New Scientist

Scientific American

SciShow Video: Why do Cats Purr?


Aristotle and Computer Logic

From a really interesting article we published by a STEM/STEAM teacher, one from our series of Parent/Teacher articles:

"Where did computers come from? My research surprisingly took me back in time further and further with each article I read. Finally, I landed in Ancient Greece when I realized that the true genesis for the modern-day computer came from Aristotle. This Greek philosopher was fascinated with the ways in which the human mind works, and he was particularly interested in how humans create arguments and decide if something is true. He was so fascinated that he wrote a six-part book called The Organon where he made observations about the structure behind human reasoning. This book was the beginning of what we today refer to as logic."

Aristotle & Computer Logic

Parent/Teacher Articles


This Week

Our Sunday issue this week is for paid subscribers. It will have fun often offbeat links about potato batteries, lots of water apparently floating in space, why humans don't have tails, why we don't have personal jetpacks (yet), rethinking dust, and more.

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