Have you ever wondered what the 1s and 0s stand for in Binary? I’ve seen so many TV shows that have a programmer typing away and quickly decoding the numbers to form an answer to a burning question. I’ve always thought WOW they’re amazingly smart… little did I know how easy it is to figure it all out.

Understanding and then teaching binary doesn’t have to be scary. It’s actually pretty simple once you understand how it works. Come with me as we do a deep dive into Binary and the steps so that your students will be experts in this computer language. By the end they’ll be writing their names or other words in Binary!

A blue, green, and yellow beaded necklace on a green background with cups labeled place holder, 1's, and 0's for teaching binary.

What is binary?

Binary: (or base-2) is a numeric system that only uses two digits — 0 and 1. These numbers are called bits. Computers operate in binary and store data through this language.

Our number system is in base 10. This means when we count we go up 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 After 9, we regroup all 10 ones and combine them into 1 ten.

Base 10 place value system using green cubes to represent tens and ones
Our Base 10 system

Binary is Base 2. That means you can only use 0s and 1s to represent numbers. The regrouping aspect happens when 1 is in the ones place. Think of the number 1 as being a 9 in our base 10 place value system. Whenever you get to 9, you must regroup to the next place to the left 9 regroups to 10, 99 regroups to 100, and 999 regroups to 1000. It’s the same as 1. 1 regroups to 10, 11 regroups to 100, 111 regroups to 1000.

0=0 1=1 10=2 11=3 100=4 101=5 See the explanation below for how this is possible.

Green cubes used to explain regrouping for teaching binary to elementary students

This video explains binary a little more.

How do numbers make letters in the alphabet?

Binary can be used to write words not just represent numbers. The alphabet first needs to be coded into a numeric system where A=1, B=2… Y=25, Z=26.

Then you need to decide whether you will write upper or lowercase letters. To write an uppercase letter the beginning part of the code is 010(add numbers for the letter), for lowercase it is 011(add numbers for the letter).

Binary alphabet with 0s and 1s represented with black and white boxes.

You can grab that alphabet and task cards in my TPT store for students to reference (instead of doing the math the entire time)

It can be useful for 5-8 to complete the math each time and practice more of the coding aspect (instead of just implementing it). Depending on your students math skills, they may need to reference the alphabet and cards while completing binary coding.

What does teaching binary to students look like?

There are a few ways you can go to teaching your students. Depending on the grade you teach will determine how deep you dive into understanding the 0s and 1s.

If you teach K-4 I’d recommend showing your students a quick video and then letting them use the alphabet chart or task cards that I have available here.

5-8 can compute each letter and add the 010 or 011 code at the beginning of the letter chain to practice actually coding. Really this is up to you (you know your students best!)

How can I teach this while we are learning virtually?

I’ve got your back. Even with schools choosing distance learning vs in person due to the virus, I have a digital and print version of the name project. When you download, you will get a link to a google slide to share with your students. Just make a copy and share with them through Google Classroom.

Teaching Binary to students to code offline. Learn the alphabet and how to code your name in this back to school activity. 3 containers of yellow, blue, and green beads.  A necklace coded to write MEGAN.

What other activities can I do while teaching virtually?

Refer back to my previous post on teaching STEM with COVID restrictions. It focuses on STEM and SEL for this school year.

Let me know if I can help you understand teaching Binary either in the comments or connect with me on Instagram.

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