LESSON PLANS
Give Binary a Try!
By submitting this form, you are giving IEEE permission to contact you and send you email updates about free and paid IEEE educational content.
This lesson focuses on how binary codes function and binary applications for computer engineers. Students complete an activity to learn how to download and install binary clock software and read an online binary clock.
Age Levels: 818
Required Materials
Materials for Advanced Students
Binary Clock Kit https://www.tindie.com/products/applemountain/binaryclockkitwithredgreenandbluelights/
Design Challenge
You are part of a team of engineers given the challenge of downloading and installing binary clock software. You will try some options in the software. Discuss as a team whether you think binary clocks will ever be more popular than standard digital or analog clocks.
Advanced Students: You are a team of engineers which has to tackle the challenge of building your own binary clock. You have been provided with a kit which your team will use to build a functional electric binary clock
Criteria
Constraints
Hours  Minutes  Seconds  
8  8  8  
4  4  4  4  4  
2  2  2  2  2  2 
1  1  1  1  1  1 
Based on which lights are illuminated at any given time, you can determine the hour, minute, and seconds. In the illustration below, the time is 10 hours, 37 minutes and 49 seconds.
What time do the following binary clocks say?
Advanced Student Option
Have students complete a binary clock kit, complete Student Worksheet B and answer the reflection questions below.
Student Reflection (engineering notebook)
Advanced Students Reflection
The lesson can be done in as little as 1 class period for older students. However, to help students from feeling rushed and to ensure student success (especially for younger students), split the lesson into two periods giving students more time to brainstorm, test ideas and finalize their design. Conduct the testing and debrief in the next class period.
Binary Basics
Binary Bytes and Computer Applications
The binary numeral system (base 2 numerals), or bin for short, represents numeric values using two symbols, typically 0 (off) and 1 (on). Because of its straightforward implementation in electronic circuitry, the binary system is used internally by virtually all modern computers. And, computers can be found in just about every product used in today’s society – from cars, to phones, to refrigerators — and also in most manufacturing processes.
In almost all modern computers, each memory cell is set up to store binary numbers in groups of eight bits (called a byte). Each byte is able to represent 256 different numbers; either from 0 to 255 or 128 to +127. To store larger numbers, several consecutive bytes may be used (typically, two, four or eight). When negative numbers are required, they are usually stored in two’s complement notation. Other arrangements are possible, but are usually not seen outside of specialized applications or historical contexts. A computer may store any kind of information in memory as long as it can be somehow represented in numerical form. Modern computers have billions or even trillions of bytes of memory.
How Does It Work?
One can think about binary by comparing it with our usual numbers. We use a base ten system. This means that the value of each position in a numerical value can be represented by one of ten possible symbols: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9. We are all familiar with these and how the decimal system works using these ten symbols. When we begin counting values, we should start with the symbol 0, and proceed to 9 when counting. We call this the “ones,” or “units” place.
The “ones” place, with those digits, might be thought of as a multiplication problem. 5 can be thought of as 5 × 100 (10 to the zero power, which equals 5 × 1, since any number to the zero power is one). As we move to the left of the ones place, we increase the power of 10 by one. Thus, to represent 50 in this same manner, it can be thought of as 5 × 10^{1} , or 5 × 10.
500 = (5 x 10^{2} ) + (0 x 10^{1} ) + (0 x 10^{0} )
5834 = (5 x 10^{3} ) + (8 x 10^{2} ) + (3 x 10^{1 }) + (4 x 10^{0} )
When we run out of symbols in the decimal numeral system, we “move to the left” one place and use a “1” to represent the “tens” place. Then we reset the symbol in the “ones” place back to the first symbol, zero.
Binary is a base two system which works just like our decimal system, however with only two symbols which can be used to represent numerical values: 0 and 1. We begin in the “ones” place with 0, then go up to 1. Now we are out of symbols, so to represent a higher value, we must place a “1” in the “twos” place, since we don’t have a symbol we can use in the binary system for 2, like we do in the decimal system.
In the binary numeral system, the value represented as 10 is (1 × 21) + (0 × 20). Thus, it equals “2” in our decimal system.
Binarytodecimal equivalence:
1_{2} = 1 x 2^{0} = 1 x 1 = 1_{10 }
10_{2} = (1 x 2^{1} ) + (0 x 2^{0} ) = 2 + 0 = 2_{10}
101_{2} = (1 x 2^{2} ) + (0 x 2^{1} ) + (1 x 2^{0} ) = 4 + 0 + 1 = 5_{10 }
Here is another way of thinking about it: When you run out of symbols, for example 11111, add a “1” on the left end and reset all the numerals on the right to “0,” producing 100000. This also works for symbols in the middle. Say the number is 100111. If you add one to it, you move the leftmost repeating “1” one space to the left (from the “fours” place to the “eights” place) and reset all the numerals on the right to “0,” producing 101000.
Internet Connections
Recommended Reading
Writing Activity
Write a paragraph about the history of binary code in computer use.
Note: Lesson plans in this series are aligned to one or more of the following sets of standards:
National Science Education Standards Grades K4 (ages 4 – 9)
CONTENT STANDARD A: Science as Inquiry
As a result of activities, all students should develop
CONTENT STANDARD B: Physical Science
As a result of the activities, all students should develop an understanding of
CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology
As a result of activities, all students should develop
National Science Education Standards Grades 58 (ages 10 – 14)
CONTENT STANDARD A: Science as Inquiry
As a result of activities, all students should develop
CONTENT STANDARD B: Physical Science
As a result of their activities, all students should develop understanding of
CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology
As a result of activities, all students should develop
CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of
CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science
As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of
National Science Education Standards Grades 912 (ages 1418)
CONTENT STANDARD A: Science as Inquiry
As a result of activities, all students should develop
CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology
As a result of activities, all students should develop
CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of
CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science
As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of
CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology
As a result of activities, all students should develop
CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of
CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science
As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of
Principles and Standards for School Mathematics
Number and Operations Standard
As a result of activities, all students should develop
Connections Standard
As a result of activities, all students should develop
Standards for Technological Literacy – All Ages
The Nature of Technology
Technology and Society
Design
The Designed World
Standard 17: Students will develop an understanding of and be able to select and use information and communication technologies.
Student Worksheet A: What Time is it?
A fun and easy way to learn how binary coding works is to learn how to tell time using the binary system. This worksheet will help you learn the code and how it can be read using a digital binary clock.
What Time is It?
The following clock is set up in an array with numbers represented in the following structure:
Hours  Minutes  Seconds  
8  8  8  
4  4  4  4  4  
2  2  2  2  2  2 
1  1  1  1  1  1 
Based on which light are illuminated at any given time, you can determine the hour, minute, and seconds. In the illustration below, the time is 10 hours, 37 minutes and 49 seconds.
What time do the following binary clocks say?
Binary Software Download
Working as a team of students on one computer, visit one of the following websites and download a binary clock onto your computer.
Complete the following questions:
Student Worksheet B: Team Engineering
You are a team of engineers which has to tackle the challenge of building your own binary clock. You have been provided with a kit which your team will use to build a functional electric binary clock.
Activity Steps

Questions/Reflections