Binary 101

An intelligent tutor helps young children to learn the concept of the Binary

Binary 101

Teach children computational thinking through intelligent tutor. 

Project Overview 

Computational thinking is going to be a defining feature of the future—and it’s an incredibly important thing to be teaching to kids today. The concept of binary is the foundation of the computational thinking. We built an intelligent tutor by using the authoring tool CTAT to teach children the concept of binary.

My role in this two-people team project:

  • Responsible for the research: learning science literature review, children's learning characteristics

  • Designed the interfaces of the tutor;

  • Implement and deploy the design 


  • The binary concept is important for children to understand the computational thinking. The traditional teaching of binary numbers is too abstract for children.


  • Many of the existing intelligent tutor for binary numbers are designed for children to practice the conversion between the binary and the decimal rather than introduce and understand the concept itself.


  • Design an Example-tracing intelligent tutor to teach children the concept of the binary numbers and assess their understanding of the concept. 


  • The tool: CTAT (The Cognitive Tutor Authoring Tools), a tool suite that enables the educators/researchers/designers to add learning by doing (i.e., active learning) to online courses.(

My teammate and I were in the poster session of the workshop to present our design concept and the tutor we built.

My teammate was explaining to one visitor how the tutor works

How It Works

The screenshots are from one unit of this tutor that teaches students how computers write the numbers. The instruction embraces a learning activity: flipping the card,  that showed to be effective when teaching students the concept of the binary numbers. The tutor can track and update students' skill progress when the tasks are correctly completed.  The hint will automatically pop out when there is the error. Instead of presenting the simple "wrong answer", the explanatory feedback is provided to improve students' learning. 

The progress bar of the"counting the dots" skill grows to full when the cards are flipped correctly 

Error notification if the input is wrong

The exploratory feedback is given when get wrong

The progress bar regresses when get wrong

What I learned

This project was done before I officially studied in CMU. After studying learning design for one year, I think this project can be improved at least from three aspects: 


Pay more attention to the learners characteristics

Our initial target learners of this tutor is 5 ~ 7 years old children. While we considered their prior knowledge of the decimal numbers, more research on their learning pattern, e.g. attention span and emotional engagement, may help to determine the way that we present the worked example and offer feedback. 


Carefully decompose the knowledge components

To perform the knowledge tracing, defining and decomposing the knowledge component (KC) should be more accurate. For example, should converting decimal to binary it be one KC, or can it be broken down into individual production rules? Cognitive task analysis (CTA) with domain experts would be helpful. 


Apply E-learning principles  to the design 

Apply E-learning principles that are showed to be effective to the design. For example, the worked example can be used to reduce the extraneous cognitive load, especially when the learners are lower grades students. Fading effect and self- explanation can be applied to promote far transfer.