Teaching Binary and Encryption Through Weaving

Below is a description of how to run your very own “Teaching Binary and Encryption Through Weaving” workshop.

I ran this with young women attending a Women in STEM day at Baze University in Abuja, Nigeria. This was in March 2018 while participating in the US State Department’s TechWomen delegation to Nigeria.

Weaving was the first form of programming, so going back in our history is fun way to teach future computer scientists about binary.

Photos from the workshop are below.

Ages

5-18.

Description

Binary is the language all computers use to communicate at their most basic levels and understanding how it translates into and out of natural languages can give anyone an insight into how the technology around us works and inspire us to become makers.

Time

1-3 hours, depending on how much time we have.

Activities

Each attendee gets a small wooden block loom or cardboard loom (what I used) and a handout that will let them translate their names into binary. Then they will use the loom to encrypt their names in fabric. While they are weaving their names into their own block looms, depending on the math skills and interest levels in the group, the facilitator can walk through the code that does the translation or teach them the math to translate from base-10 to base-2; I would start the presentation by writing my name in English, Arabic, Mandarin, musical notation, morse code, and binary on the board, and talking about how we already use data to represent ideas everyday, binary is just one way to have a universal language. This would allow you to convert any of their names, in any alphabet, into binary, which can be a cool experience. Note: If you’re using a mac, just open a terminal and type
$ echo n “A” | xxd b 
with any Unicode string between the “” to get any language translated into binary.

Outcomes

Every attendee leaves with her own coaster-sized piece of fabric with her name in binary, and her own block-loom to keep practicing. They would also have learned something about how computers think, how people go about making new languages, how important math is to learn and learn well, and that traditionally-female crafts like weaving are a great metaphor for a lot of computer science topics and in the history of computer science, the first programs were written by women for their industrial looms. Here is a good hand-out that I used.

Materials

Just a blackboard/whiteboard and, space for people to sit. Remember to bring your own chalk/markers! No internet or electricity needed (most of the places we went had power, but it’s better to be prepared). If available, a projector can be helpful to show the command-line translations, but again, the bash script above works without internet and does all of the name conversions. Plan to bring all of the yarn/looms/shuttles.

Cost

$100, or $2/student, mostly spent on the yarn, looms, and needles.

Photos:

 



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