Humans can perceive millions of different colors. If we wish to encode color images we will need a system to represent this huge variety of color. Along the way we will need to develop a new number system to enable humans to more easily read and write large amounts of binary information.



Students will be able to:


The main purpose here, similar to the B&W pixelation activity is for students to get hands-on and "down and dirty" with bits. A major outcome will also be understanding the relationship between hexadecimal (base-16) and binary (base-2), and how useful it is to use hex to represent groups of 4 bits. It's important to realize that using hex is not a form of data compression, it's simply a different view into the bits.

The most common color representation scheme - RGB - typically uses 24 bits (3 bytes) with 8 bits each for Red, Green and Blue intensities. And one of the most common ways you see these colors represented is in hexadecimal.

The process of rendering color on a computer screen by mixing red, green and blue light is an important concept of this lesson. The results are not always intuitive, because mixing pigment and mixing colored lights (like what’s on a computer screen) lead to different results.

Another important objective of this lesson is to understand how (uncompressed) image file sizes can become quite large. For example, even a relatively small image of 250 x 250 pixels is a total of 62,500 pixels, each requiring up to three bytes (24 bits) of color information, resulting in a total of 1.5 million bits to store one image! Thus, interesting connections to compression can be made here, but note that lossy compression and image formats like .jpg are covered in the next lesson.


Getting Started

Have students pair and share their ideas. Make sure to discuss some of the difficulties of representing color. Compare and contrast the different schemes that students come up with.


As a class or in pairs, have students complete the Encoding Hexadecimal Numbers Activity Guide.

Misconception Alert:

It is important to note that hexadecimal numbers are used to aid humans in reading longer strings of bits, but they in no way change the underlying data being represented. Instead, they allow us to read 4 bits at a time rather than 1, and so allow us to more easily parse binary information. Hexadecimal representation is NOT a form of compression, since the underlying binary representation is not changing at all. Rather it is a more convenient way of representing that binary information when humans need to read and interact with it.

Present the following video and have students complete the Video Guide Worksheet.

The way color is represented in a computer is different from the ways we represented text or numbers. With text, we just made a list of characters and assigned a number to each one. As you are about to see, with color, we actually use binary to encode the physical phenomenon of LIGHT. You saw this a little bit in the previous lesson, but today we will see how to make colors by mixing different amounts of colored light.

Wrap Up

Discuss the following ideas from the video as a class:


Standards Alignment