Using everyday materials, students create devices for sending information to a partner. Each group then uses its device to send an answer to a question. Following this, students modify their devices to answer more complex answers, responding with one of four possible messages, then one of eight possible messages.


Students will be able to:


This lesson introduces the concept of sending bits of information from one place to another. While building and modifying their information sending devices students should eventually recognize that it's easier to invent a system of communication that used a combination of patterns with a simple device, rather than making a new, or increasingly complex device for each new problem. This lays the foundation for understanding how complex information is represented in computers using a combination of bits.

Getting Started


Prompt: What is your definition of information?

Have students silently write their own definition, then share with a partner, and finally have some volunteers share with the room.

Discussion Goal: More important than writing a formal definition of information is getting students discussing the term and its diverse forms. If students struggle with defining "information," modify the prompt by asking them to provide examples of information in their world such as texts, books, videos, music, conversations, etc.



Place students in groups of two, and distribute materials for students to build their binary message devices (straws, scissors, etc.)


Challenge #1:

Do This: Write down a question that has two possible answers. Then, build a device out of classroom supplies to communicate the answer to your question.


Do This: After students have completed their devices, choose a few groups to demonstrate their device in action. Students stand on opposite sides of the classroom. One student asks the agreed upon question. The other student uses the device to communicate the answer.

Teaching Tip

In this activity, avoid the urge to give students a pre-written question or answers without allowing them time to struggle with the challenge. Encourage students to write down in their journal how their device works.

Challenge #2:

Do This: Modify the answer to your question so there are now four possible answers. Then, update your device to communicate one of four possible answers to your question. Again, choose groups to demonstrate their updated devices.

Teaching Tip

Some students may add new ways of answering a question. Others may notice that they can reuse their previous responses, sending those responses in sequences that produce new messages. Avoid the urge to tell them to reuse the device, instead allowing them to explore their own ideas.

Challenge #3:

Do This: Modify the answers to your question so there are now eight possible choices. Then, update your device to communicate one of eight possible answers to your question.


Do a final demonstration of devices before ending the activity.

Teaching Tip

At this point, students may start to realize that the way their device communicates information is not practical and could not be scaled up if there were for example, a thousand or a million possible answers.

Wrap Up


Prompt: Think back to your simple two-option device from Challenge #1. Instead of changing your device and adding more options every time you added more answers, how could you simply modify the way you use your device with only two options?

Discussion Goal

Focus the discussion on why some groups created devices using unique options for each additional message, while other groups devised plans in which they reused the same device to create new combinations of the original two options.

Ultimately, groups begin to notice that, for example: instead of bending a straw in four different directions, they could simply bend the straw the same two ways multiple times.


Question: Recall when you built your information sending device. Why did we decide to send a message as a sequence of two options rather than modifying our devices to represent more options?

For example: Modifications with two options

vs. Four options

Standards Alignment