Review of Computing Without Computers

This free book by Paul Curzon (yes, the one who wrote The Magic of Human-Computer Communication), attempts to explain programming in non-technical language. I’ve looked at similar books designed for students, and they were not as good as this one. So what makes this one so great?

There are two things in particular that I like about it. First, concepts are explained patiently, using everyday examples, or at least examples we can all relate to.

For instance, when explaining what an algorithm is, and what it is not, the author says:

“[...] on the emergency exit door is the following:

Emergency opening

1. Pull cover aside

2. Push lever to open position and release.

3. Push door outwards.

These instructions are about how to escape. In the event of an emergency I do not want a list of rules that just say what I am and am not allowed to do, I want some instructions that tell me how to get out of the plane in the quickest way. I want the instructions to be clear, unambiguous and be very, very precise. I want there to be no opportunity for me to be confused about what I am expected to do, or the order I am expected to do it. I want an algorithm.” (Page 11)

Second, right from the start the author sets puzzles and invites you to think about and try to solve them before moving on in the text. So in that sense, the book is more interactive than it might have been.

This book won’t teach you how to code, but it will teach you the basic programming concepts that underlie all programming languages. It should also enable you to write convincing pseudocode, ie the ordinary language equivalent of an instruction in an application, such as:

Check temperature.

If temperature is more than 30 degrees, open window.

That should also enable you to teach it to your pupils.

If you’re new to programming, and the whole idea scares you to bits, then download this book and read it. In fact, I’d recommend you do so in conjunction with some practical work like teaching yourself coding in CodeAcademy. That way you’ll be learning the theory and practice of programming at the same time.

You can download Computing Without Computers from here:

You’ll find other useful resources, including classroom activities, here:

Finally, Look at the Computer Science for Fun website for copies of a great magazine and resources aimed at students.

This article first appeared in Digital Education, the free newsletter for those with a professional interest in educational ICT and Computing. To sign up, please complete the short form on our newsletter page. We use a double opt-in system, and you won’t get spammed.

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Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant with over 35 years of experience in education. He publishes the ICT in Education website and the newsletter “Digital Education."