Computer Logic Lesson #1: How is Turing Tumble a Computer?

Our goal at Turing Tumble is to create resources that will help facilitate the best learning in each classroom. For this reason, we will be focusing our blog posts on unpacking our Educator Guide so tackling each lesson with your students is just a click away.

Computer Logic Lesson #1: How is Turing Tumble a Computer?

Your students may be surprised to learn that Turing Tumble is in fact, a computer. The inside of an electronic desktop computer is packed with wires, fans, lights, circuit boards, motors and many other parts. The most important part is the computer processor.

 

The Processor Makes the Computer Smart:

The computer’s processor, or central processing unit – CPU, is what makes a computer smart. This little rectangular chip with pins on it is responsible for all of the math and logic that a computer performs to run programs.

 

Inputs and Outputs:

On the bottom of the processor, you can see over a thousand little pins sticking out. The pins connect the inside of the processor to the parts on the outside. Some pins are inputs – they send information into the processor, like the input from a keyboard. Other pins act as outputs from the processor and send information to the rest of the computer, like when information travels from the processor to the computer screen where we see images.

Inside the Processor:

The processor is full of billions of switches. The switches are so small that you can’t even see them with your eye. In fact, they’re so small that you can’t even see them through a microscope because visible light itself is too big. These days, the switches in a computer processor are about a thousand times smaller than the thickness of a human hair.

The following video zooms into a computer processor all the way until you can see the individual switches (called “transistors”) inside and the tiny copper wires connecting them together. As it zooms further and further in, you’ll notice the images change from color to black and white. That’s when the creators of the video had to switch from taking pictures with light to taking pictures with electrons, because they’re so much smaller. You can see the video here.

How Can A Switch Do Anything Smart?

When you hear “switch” you probably think about the switch on your wall that turns the light on and off. It seems impossible to think that switches like that could do anything other than turn something on or off. And you’d be right about your light switch. It can’t do anything smart.

In order for switches to be able to do smart things, the key is that they must be able to be flipped by the same type of energy they control. With a light switch, your hand uses mechanical energy to flip the switch, but it controls electrical energy through wires.

Electrical Switches Inside Processors Are Called Transistors:

The electrical switches inside processors are called transistors. In an electronic computer, transistors are flipped by electrical energy and also control electrical energy. The image below is of a relatively large, individual transistor that’s about the size of the nail on your pinky finger.

This is how it works: pin 1 controls the flow of electricity from pin 2 to pin 3. If electricity is being pushed into pin 1, electricity can flow from pin 2 to pin 3. Without electricity flowing into pin 1, it will not reach pins 2 or 3. Pin 1 serves as the gatekeeper.

Switches in Turing Tumble:

Similarly, in Turing Tumble, the switches (that is, the blue and purple parts we call “bits” and “gear bits”) are flipped by mechanical energy, and they also control mechanical energy: They’re flipped by a marble rolling over them, and they control whether a marble rolls off their left or right side.

Since the switches in computer processors and in Turing Tumble are flipped by the same type of energy they control, it’s possible for one switch to cause another switch to flip. As you work through the puzzles in Turing Tumble, you’ll discover how this one, simple property makes it possible to build machines of limitless capability!

The following video will also demonstrate Computer Logic Lesson #1: How is Turing Tumble a Computer?

We hope that this explanation will serve you well in your classroom as you work with your students on Turing Tumble. For more resources, please visit our educator page on our website at edu.turingtumble.com.