Computers: Big as a House, Small as an Envelope

Computers: Big as a House, Small as an Envelope
Mamie Eisenhower: Science, Medicine, Inventions and tech

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: One to two class periods

Standards Compliance
NCSS Strand 1
NCSS Strand 2
Time, Continuity, and Change
NCSS Strand 4
Individual Development and Identity
NCSS Strand 5
Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
NCSS Strand 6
Power, Authority, and Governance
NCSS Strand 8
Science, Technology, and Society
NCSS Strand 9
Global Connections
NCTE Standard 1
Students read fiction, nonfiction, classic, and contemporary works to acquire information for various purposes.
NCTE Standard 3
Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.
NCTE Standard 5
Students use a wide range of strategies and elements to write to communicate with different audiences and for purposes.
NCTE Standard 12
Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.
ISTE Standard 5
Technology research tools


The growth of computers can be measured in their shrinking size!  Their importance to modern life cannot be overestimated.  A computer has been the focus of evil (Hal in 2001:  A Space Odyssey) and of misunderstanding (Star Trek:  The Motion Picture).  The early development of computers took place during Mamie’s lifetime, and, in fact, an early computer called Univac correctly predicted the 1952 election results -- on live television-- that brought Dwight D. Eisenhower into the White House. 


The purpose of this lesson is to acquaint students with the short and varied history of the computer they now take for granted.   

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; access to print reference materials.


1.  Ask students if they remember not having computers in the school, libraries, or their homes.

2.  Divide students into small groups to conduct research on the early manifestations of computers and how they were portrayed in film.  The following topics should get students started; however, they should be able to find many more of interest:

  • Eniac
  • Univac
  • Hal in 2001:  A Space Odyssey
  • V’ger in Star Trek:  The Motion Picture
3.  Groups may report their findings through posters, short presentations, PowerPoints, etc.

Extending the Lesson:

Viewing the two films mentioned above may be an option for older, more mature students.  A discussion of the impact of computers on life as presented in these films could be quite stimulating.

Sources & Resources:



This lesson was developed by Bette Brooks, Kent State University.