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Current national restrictions for England: if you've booked a face to face course which was scheduled to take place during the latest restriction period, please see here for more information. All remote and online courses are unaffected and running as planned.

Computer processors and instruction sets - face to face

CP231 Face to face course

Explore the core of a modern computer. Learn how the instructions that humans write in computer programs are translated into machine code that the computer can process.

Key stage 3 Key stage 4
Face to face course 1 day

Computer programs are written in a language that humans understand, but what about the computer itself? Every piece of software, and the instructions and data it contains, is made up of 1’s and 0’s, handled by the central processing unit or CPU.

Explore the core of a modern computer - the processor. Learn how the instructions that humans write in computer programs are translated into machine code that the computer can process. Compare the differences between high-level and low-level programming languages, and how these can used in the classroom.

Computer scientists have developed different computer architectures to retrieve and process data at eye watering speeds – using your knowledge of the processor you’ll learn how and why their performance differs, at a level appropriate for GCSE students.

Who is it for?

This course is for current or prospective teachers of GCSE computer science with some understanding of computer science fundamentals.

Prior knowledge:

You’ll need to know about the basic components of a computer system and how they work together. We recommend the course: Computer systems: input, output and storage

Course units:

  • 01 | Program and instruction sets – learn how low and high level languages are used by computers and humans. Explore the characteristics of translators including assemblers, compilers and interpreters.
  • 02 | Inside the CPU - understanding the role of the CPU is key to knowing how a computer functions. In this session, you’ll explore the different components found inside the CPU and how they feature in the fetch, decode, execute cycle.
  • 03 | CPU performance - The CPU plays a key part of the performance of a computer. Get to grips exploring how the cache size, clock speed and amount of cores can impact the performance of a CPU. You’ll also learn about embedded computer systems.

How will you learn?

You’ll engage with active learning in groups including direct instruction, hands-on activities and challenge-based learning. Examination practice with guidance linked to the specific requirements of the main awarding bodies. The course will model teaching approaches that can be taken back to the classroom.

Do you prefer to learn remotely?

If so, take a look at:

Computer processors

How long is the course?

This is a one-day course which consists of five hours of teaching time.

Recommended next steps:

This course forms part of the Computer Science Accelerator Programme. To learn how computers are programmed to carry out useful tasks, we recommend the one-day course: Python programming constructs - Sequence, selection and iteration delivered by your local Computing Hub or the online courseProgramming 101: An Introduction to Python for Educators.

This course is delivered as part of the National Centre for Computing Education.

You will:

  • Recognise that all computer instructions are executed in binary – and the different processes used to translate programming languages into computer-readable machine code.
  • Recognise the Von Neumann architecture, and different instruction sets including RISC and CISC.
  • Understand the fetch-decode-execute cycle in a computer processor, and the role of each CPU component.
  • Write simple programs in low-level assembler language.
  • Know the factors that can affect CPU performance.

This course is part of the Teach GCSE computer science certificate.

Teach GCSE computer science

Our certified professional development programme will equip you with the subject knowledge and confidence to successfully teach and lead GCSE computer science.

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