Lesson 23: Computers and Math

Snack & Chat

Let’s talk a little bit about one of the reasons that computers were invented in the first place – and it has to do with Math.

Hold up your fingers and tell me how far you can count? This is why the way we count is based on 10. (We call this the decimal system) If you need to count farther than that, what else could you use? How about your toes? That gets us up to 20. That’s why we talk about digits in Math – our fingers and toes are also digits. And counting to 20 gives us the old word “score”. (There is a famous speech by Abraham Lincoln called the Gettysburg Address that starts with the phrase “4 score and 7 years ago”, which means 87).

We’re running out of things to count with, so let’s grab some pebbles to use to get us farther than 20. That is where the word “calculate” comes from – it’s derived from the Latin word for pebble (Calculus).

Some people a long time ago experimented with counting on the joints. Try counting each joint in your finger on your hand – how far can you get? That’s where measurements based on 12s come from – like one dozen, and one gross (12 x 12 = 244). It’s also why we divided our day into 24 hours – 12 hours for the day and 12 hours for the night.

The ancient Chinese came up with a cool way to do their maths – they invented the Abacus.


A very long time went by, and in the Victorian era when machines were being invented, a man named Charles Babbage invented a counting machine that he called the Difference Engine. It was designed to do very big math. He never managed to build it himself, but others have built it since based on his designs.


In the following century electronics were invented, and slowly computers were made that got more and more clever. And we also invented the calculator.


The first computers were the size of an entire room – and were as powerful as the computers that are now in your Mom’s mobile phone!

But we still have some very very powerful and large computers for doing very difficult calculations. They are called Supercomputers, and they still fill entire rooms. Here’s one that is nicknamed “Big Blue”


Let’s Explore Math on our Computers

Screen shot 2014-11-06 at 14.53.29



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