Lesson 1: Innovations in Computing

Research | Unplugged


To kick off the final unit of this course, students will do some research into interesting innovations in computing. This lesson will expose students to wider variety of computing form factors (what a computer looks like) and fields that are impacted by computing. Later in this unit students will look back on the devices they encountered in this lesson as they develop their own physical computing devices.


This lesson will lay the groundwork for students' understanding of how their Circuit Board could be used to model an innovative computing device. The goal is to get them thinking about how computers can be embedded into just about anything, and to start considering the potential impacts of such applications.

Assessment Opportunities

  1. Identify computing innovations within a given field

    Activity Guide, page 2: The description of the device, its purpose, and the type of innovation should clearly demonstrate what it does and why it is innovative.

  2. For a given device, articulate the likely inputs and outputs

    Activity Guide, page 2: The description of the user interaction should identify multiple possible inputs and outputs for the device.

  3. Suggest improvements to help a device better solve a specific problem

    Activity Guide, page 2: The suggested improvements should relate to the purpose of the device and how it is used.


Lesson Modifications

Warm Up (10 min)

Activity (45 min)

Wrap Up (2 min)


View on Code Studio


Students will be able to:

  • Identify computing innovations within a given field
  • For a given device, articulate the likely inputs and outputs
  • Suggest improvements to help a device better solve a specific problem



Heads Up! Please make a copy of any documents you plan to share with students.

For the Students


  • Innovation - A new or improved idea, device, product, etc, or the development thereof

Teaching Guide

Lesson Modifications

Attention, teachers! If you are teaching virtually or in a socially-distanced classroom, we have recommendations for alternate lessons that can be used for this unit on physical computing. Click Here to read our recommendations for Unit 6.

Warm Up (10 min)

Maker App Updates

For Windows & Mac users: we've recently updated the way that students can log in with Google using the Maker App. Please see this forum post for more information about these updates and how to continue using Google to log in to the Maker App.

Teaching Tip

This unit requires the Adafruit Circuit Playground. You can read more about this microcontroller board at https://code.org/circuitplayground

Get Inspired

Video: Watch either The Internet of Things - Video or Computer Science is Changing Everything - Video as a class.

Activity (45 min)

Innovation Research

Group: Place students in groups of 3-4

Distribute: Hand out copies of the activity guide

Discussion Goal

This should be a quick discussion. The primary goal is for the class to come to a common understanding of what it means for something to be innovative. That it's not enough for a product to look sleeker than the last version, but that innovation means to really do something better than it's been done before, or to do things that have never been done before.

Discuss: What is an innovation? What does it mean for something to be innovative?

Computing Innovations

During this activity student groups will research the recent technological innovations related to a chosen topic. Once they have identified a few interesting innovations, they will choose one to analyze in greater depths and report back to the class about.

Innovation Research

  • Introduce the topics: Make sure that students understand the scope of each of the potential topics.
    • Wearable Technology (eg. clothing, jewelry, or accessories with built-in computers)
    • Health and Safety (eg. devices that treat disease, track your health, or protect users from danger)
    • Agriculture (eg. technology to improve the effectiveness, sustainability, or efficiency of farming)
    • Manufacturing (eg. advancements in rapid prototyping, industrial robotics, and the production of goods)
    • Art and Design (eg. interactive art or public installations)
    • Smart Home (eg. devices that allow you to interact with your thermostat, locks, or lights using computers)
  • Explain the research task: The goal of this research is twofold:
    • First, develop a deeper understanding of your chosen topic. How is computer technology changing this field, what are some of the problems that people are trying to solve with technology?
    • Second, identify a handful of innovative devices within this topic. Students should focus on finding hardware devices that demonstrate unique or novel form factors. That is to say, computers that don't look like computers.
  • Send to Code Studio for resource links: On Code Studio we have compiled more detailed descriptions of the topics as well as couple of recommended sites to learn more about each topic. Use this as a jumping off point for student research.

An Innovative Solution

Once groups have selected a specific innovative device, they can complete the second page of this activity guide, which asks them to do the following:

  • What Problem Does It Solve?: For some topics this may be more clear (for example healthcare devices typically have a very specific goal), but for others students may need to think more broadly about what they consider problems. More frivolous wearables or digital art installations may be more concerned with personal expression than solving a specific problem.
  • What Is Innovative About It?: Encourage students to refer back to the earlier discussion about innovation for this. It can also be useful to compare against other devices found during the research phase.
  • How Do You Interact With It?: Ask students to think back to the Input, Output, Storage, Processing model that was introduced way back in Unit 1. The goal here is to identify specifically the Inputs and Outputs provided by a given device - the more specific these are, the more easily students will be able to connect elements of the Circuit Playground to these devices.
  • How Could You Improve It?: Feel free to make this as realistic or aspirational as you like. The goal here is just to get students thinking about how they might develop an innovation of their own by using an existing product as a jumping off point.

Share: Give groups a minute each to share their findings. See the extension activities for alternate ways to share.

Wrap Up (2 min)


Journal: What was the most surprising, cool, or impressive thing that you found in your research? If you could develop an innovation of your own, what would it be?


Innovation Posters

Ask groups to create a poster that shares the innovate device that they researched. Posters should include:

  • Who invented the device
  • What problem they were trying to solve
  • Why it is unique or innovative
  • How users interact with it (specifically, what Inputs does it take and how does it provide Output)

Keep these posters up throughout the unit for students to refer back to as they start to develop physical computing devices of their own.

Innovation Websites

Instead of (or in addition to) you posters, have students develop websites in Web Lab that include the same required content. Make sure that students include links to their source websites.

View on Code Studio

Here are some recommended sites for students to start their research. Although these sites are generally appropriate for school, the content within them changes frequently, so we strongly suggest you check each site for inappropriate content before sharing it with students.

Wearable Technology

Health and Safety



Art and Design

Smart Home

View on Code Studio

Innovation Research

Choose one of the following topics to look into. You'll want to find information about some of the most recent innovative computing devices related to your category.

Wearable Technology

Wearable technology includes any form of computing that is designed to be worn by the user, whether it's embedded into the clothing or worn as an accessory. Many wearables, such as smart pedometers, overlap somewhat with health and safety as the device is both wearable and intended to help improve your personal health.

Health and Safety

The broad range topic includes both consumer technology (things that you might use to improve your health or safety) and professional technology (gear that a doctor or other professional might use).


Agriculture might not be an obvious topic, but technological innovations have had a huge impact on how we approach farming. This includes incorporating computers into existing farm equipment, using sensors and robotics to monitor crops, and analyzing data to improve efficiency and sustainability.


Advancements in rapid prototyping, industrial robotics, and automation have had a major impact on how goods are produced. Whether it's technology to enable affordable small-scale manufacturing (like 3D printers and laser cutters) or the integration of computers into factory work, there are many interesting areas to research here.

Art and Design

The intersection of artistic expression and computing can yield impressive and unexpected results. While you are less likely to find commercially available products related to art and design, you will find a wide variety of homemade creations that use all manners of computing devices in creative and expressive ways.

Smart Home

The dream of a house that understands and even anticipates your needs is closer than ever. Whether controlled explicitly through voice commands, or by using sensors to monitor and respond to changing conditions, smart home devices take care of any number of mundane or repetitive tasks around the house.

Research Considerations

As you research devices on your topic, keep the following considerations in mind:

  • Focus on hardware based solutions over software programs
  • Focus on recent innovations over old news
  • Follow what interests you

In addition to the recommended sites listed for each topic, consider looking towards the various crowd funding websites (such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo) to see the products that haven't quite made it off the ground yet.

Standards Alignment

View full course alignment

CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards (2017)

IC - Impacts of Computing
  • 2-IC-20 - Compare tradeoffs associated with computing technologies that affect people's everyday activities and career options.