There is a hidden code that runs the world, from food production to the air conditioning in your car. Everything computers do is based on binary digits. Everything controlled by computers, from digital clocks to airplanes, relies on binary digits. Find out how easy it is to have fun with this fundamental concept, crack the code with your students, and potentially prevent future digital failures with this resource. You don’t even need a computer to teach it!

How Binary Digits Rule the World

Sound of a crackling fire

Text on screen: How Binary Digits Rules the World why and how to teach binary digits.

Slides on screen with Joanne Roberts, facilitator, voiceover.

Joanne: Kia ora katou, I am Joanne Roberts and this is Karl Summerfield,

Karl: Kia ora.

Joanne: We created this resource to introduce binary digits to students in years 5-6, but it can easily be modified for both younger and older students. This resource shows how binary is fundamental to digital technologies.  
 While we've included links to several online binary card interactives, this concept can definitely be taught without using a computer using cards instead. We've even included a link to printable sets of binary cards. 

Binary digits ones and zeros are a way of representing the two states a computer can differentiate between, whether it be magnetic north or south pole, high or low resistance, high or low pitch, or any other two, distinct states. It is easier and cheaper to make a computer that can distinguish between two states rather than 3 (which would use turn-ary, base 3, digits).

You may remember the sound modems used to make as they were connecting.

(Makes sound - brrr beep brrrr beeep)

What seemed to us to be random sounds was actually a message of high and low pitches representing 0's and 1's as the computers at either end negotiated with each other about how the connection would proceed.

We include suggestions as to how you can teach this in your class including more physical representations of binary.

(Voiceover: Karl Summerfield, facilitator)

Binary is not a programming language, rather it’s the way computers store and process everything they do. Coding languages such as Python, Scratch or Java are easy for humans to use but they do have to be converted eventually into binary for the computer to use and understand. Luckily it’s all done for us these days, and we don’t have to interact with computers by typing a load of ones and zeros.

The learning outcomes for this resource are ‘to be able to convert any number into binary digits’ and ‘to make connections between binary digits and the real world’.

Did you know binary representation is used in aeroplanes? Find out how from this resource.

Binary digits are mentioned in progress outcomes 3, 4 and 5 in both the English and Māori curriculums. To learn more about binary digits, go to English medium Pīkau 15: Representing data in binary and Māori medium pīkau Whakaaro Rorohiko 3e.

We hope you find the resource useful. Ka kite.

Sound of a crackling fire

Text on screen: Kia Takatū a-Matihiko

How to use this resource

Watch the video, then view the slide deck, for a comprehensive how and why on teaching binary digits.

Ngā Kiriahi

Join the Ngā Kiriahi discussion group for resources and discussion around teaching binary digits.

Additional resources

Access the Computer Science Field Guide online binary digits six card interactive.


Access CS Unplugged teaching resources, including unit and lesson plans.