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The Invention of Code

You probably know that code is the language of computers. Code is behind every letter and color you see on this screen. But did you know that the first computer code was invented more than 100 years before modern computers were even invented, or that early forms of computer code involved punching holes in patterns on paper cards? Well, get ready. Today, we’re clicking the Back button to explore what code is and where it came from.



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How did coding work before modern computers?

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45-60 minutes


What Is Coding, Anyway?

Good question! Let’s start with a quick introduction, courtesy of Tim and his robot sidekick Moby from BrainPop.


Olden Days Coding

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Where did coding come from? While today’s computers are incredibly complex machines, the earliest devices that came before them were often super simple. Learn more in this 12-minute video from Crash Course Computer Science.


Meet Ada Lovelace

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She’s considered to be the first author of a computer program, even though she lived more than 100 years before the invention of the modern computer!


The Coder Who Started as a “Human Computer”

In the early days of the space agency NASA, “computers” were people—talented mathematicians who could complete the complex calculations required to launch rockets into space—and many of them were Black women. They included Dorothy Vaughan, who became one of NASA’s first Black supervisors and one of its first computer programming experts. Read her story in this short article.


Before Keyboards There Were... Punchcards?

That’s right, before modern computers with screens and keyboards, “coding” happened on punch cards that were used to control machines and run programs. See how they were used and take a look at some actual examples in this article from Kiddle.


Get to Know Binary Code

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Binary code, which is code made up entirely of 0’s and 1’s, may be the most basic form of code there is—and it’s part of every modern computer and electronic device (including the one you’re using now). But how does it actually work? Find out in this video from TED-Ed.


60-90 minutes


Make Your Own Punchcard

Wondering what it was like to create those old punch cards that ran early computers? You can try it yourself with this online tool from mass:werk. Choose the kind of card you want, then type away. When you’re done, press the return or release button to see your card. Right-click to print or save it!


Guide an Angry Bird with Code

Let’s do some coding! Code.org is one of our favorite coding organizations. In this activity, you’ll try your hand at a classic coding challenge: Navigating a maze. Watch the video introduction to learn how, then give it a try.


15 minutes


Move with Minecraft

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Find a safe open space and get ready to move in the world of Minecraft. Dodge the creepers! Jump the lava! Duck the Ghast fireballs! Punch the trees! (Wait, punch the trees?) Whatever, just keep moving!