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Lesson 1.2
The Birth of a Network

Lesson 1.2
The Birth of a Network

LEARNING GOAL: The Basics of Web History

Students will understand how the Internet evolved from a classified government research project into a world wide resource with the help of highly educated teachers and students.

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After the end of World War II, 400,000 American lives had been lost and we were tired. All of that time and money the government had spent on research and technology had definitely made a difference, but after the war was over, research and technology didn’t seem that important anymore. At least not for a few years.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the Soviet Union began a research and development team and even managed to build their own atomic bombs. Eventually, they put a satellite in space, which made Americans really nervous because it seemed like Soviets were spying on them from above. And that’s when, once again, the “sleeping giant” woke up. The United States and the Soviet Union began competing with each other in research and science, but since both countries had nuclear weapons, we call this period (1945-1991) the Cold War. Neither of them ever fired on the other, but the race to be the best would last for more than 50 years.

During this technology race, a small agency was created in the United States to begin research on new ideas and new projects. This agency was called ARPA and they would eventually be the organization that built the Internet. In this lesson, you will learn about ARPA, why it was created, and some of the things they figured out about communication in the early days of their research.

PART 1: CLASS DISCUSSION (30 Minutes) – Cold War & New Research

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After those two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan in 1945, the whole world sat up and started paying attention. The Soviet Union began its own research team and within four years (1949), had their own atomic bombs ready for war. This meant that two important countries, the United States and the Soviet Union, both had weapons that were powerful enough to wipe out entire cities.

As you can probably imagine, there was quite a lot of tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. Soviets (Russians) didn’t trust Americans. And Americans didn’t trust the Soviets. Both countries always feared the other would try to aim a nuclear weapon at one of their cities. And even though this never happened, the period from 1945-1991 was called the Cold War because no bombs were ever dropped and no missiles were ever fired.

Between 1945, when the United States dropped two atomic bombs, and 1957, about twelve years passed with very little scientific research. The “giant” went back to sleep.

Do you remember from Lesson 1.1 who the “giants” of the United States were?

Last year, there were about 300 million people living in the United States. Almost 100 million (or 1/3) of those people were students ranging from PreK to College. In other words, a HUGE part of our population is built on people who are being asked to solve problems and come up with solutions in science, math, social studies, language arts, and engineering. People just like you. Remember the smartest people in the world are right here in this room. But usually, someone has to tap into your mind to wake it up or you will also stay asleep.


On October 4, 1957, President Eisenhower received news that the Soviet Union had just launched an object into space. Rumors spread through every American newspaper that this “object” had cameras that could spy on Americans. The United States went into a slight panic. Some claimed that they could see the object at night and called it “the eye in the sky.”

Processing Question #1 (one minute with the globes): Why else would Americans have been so freaked out about this rumor?

In reality, the Soviet Union had launched a basketball-sized satellite, called Sputnik, with a small radio frequency that just beeped and beeped. It had no cameras and no special features. It was just an object they were tracking in space. You could say that Sputnik sort of “woke up the sleeping giant” again, but this time, without any violence. Once word spread that Sputnik was in the sky, the United States government went out and got some more teachers and students from the best schools in the country. And just like during World War II, a new research team was formed.


Within a few months of the Sputnik launch, President Eisenhower started the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), a classified operation with almost no limits on what they could research or what they could build. With the help of Congress, the president gave them $2 billion to start researching new projects. But for the first year or so, ARPA just looked at ideas and couldn’t get much done. Sort of like how some of you might look at an assignment and not know where to start for a little while.

Processing Question #2 (five minutes): If you were a part of ARPA during the 1950s and 1960s, and you had $2 billion to use for unlimited research and engineering, what would YOU have done? What ideas would YOU have come up with?

When the president saw that ARPA wasn’t getting much done, he created a new agency called the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, otherwise known as NASA. Part of that $2 billion that had originally gone to ARPA was now going to NASA. At least for a little while, it seemed like ARPA might never get anything done. After all, everyone knows NASA because they built rockets and shuttles to space. But what very few know is that little ARPA finally found a new project that would eventually lead to one of the single most important technologies in human history: the Internet.

PART 2: THE MIND OF ARPA (45 Minutes) – Understanding Communications

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IDEA DEMO #1 – POINT 2 POINT TECHNOLOGY (Communication Interruptions)

After a few years of getting nowhere, the people over at ARPA started thinking about communication. One of the first things they started talking about was Point 2 Point Technology. What this means is that it is possible for a one person to talk to another person, but if a third person enters the conversation, the original conversation gets interrupted. When two or more people or machines share information, or data, this is called a network, but sometimes having multiple people or machines can cause a break in the network.

networkprotocolsIDEA DEMO #2 – ROUTING PROTOCOLS (Alternative Mapping)

ARPA teams began to realize that the only way for communication to work, whether it’s between people or machines, was to follow a certain set of rules, or protocols. If, for example, Person A is talking to Person B, but Person B loses their hearing, would there still be a way to communicate a message? Of course!

Processing Question #3 (one minute): If Person A is providing information to Person B, but Person B loses their hearing, what rule could you put in place that would fix the problem? How could you be sure that Person B still gets the message?

We might find it easier to solve communication problems when the rules apply to people. But how about solving a communication problem between two computers? Remember that when two or more people or machines share information, or data, this is called a network. Here is a complicated network protocol that exists for the modern Internet.

One of the ideas that ARPA came up with was called a Routing Protocol. And it works sort of like a map. For example, let’s imagine that your family has just traveled to a Disney theme park and you are coming back along Interstate 4. But along the way, you get stopped in wall-to-wall traffic because of an accident nearly 10 miles ahead. From the looks of it, you could be waiting for hours to move. Would you stay and wait or would you look for another route? Most of us would want our family to find another way around the traffic. And if this happened again, several months later, you might agree to a rule, or a protocol for getting around bad traffic.

Activity #1 (15 Minutes): Creating an Alternative Mapping Protocol

Step #1 – Go to Google Maps and look up 1818 Longwood Lake Mary Blvd.

Processing Question #4 (30 seconds): With your team, identify this address. What is located at 1818 Longwood Lake Mary Blvd?

Step #2 – Now find directions from 1818 Longwood Lake Mary Blvd to Milwee Middle School.

Processing Question #5 (one minute): With your team, identify the fastest route. What is the fastest way to get from that location to ours?

Step #3 – The fastest route doesn’t always work. Sometimes there are accidents. Sometimes the roads are blocked. Using Google Maps, find at least five alternative routes from 1818 Longwood Lake Mary Blvd. to Milwee Middle School that are DIFFERENT from the fastest route. All students should create a Notepad document and save it as “routing-protocol.txt” in their “misc” folder.

Processing Question #6 (10 minutes): With your team, develop at least five different routes between the two locations. Make sure that every member of your team understands how to use Google Maps because every member of your team must have at least one unique route with clear instructions on how to get from one place to the next. All routing instructions should be written onto your “routing-protocol.txt” file.

NOTE: Please come up with and choose reasonable routes. For example, going all the way to Georgia or North Carolina or Canada isn’t reasonable, but it might be reasonable to drive a little out of the way to reach I-4 or the 417 in order to eventually come back to Milwee.

Step #4 – Understanding Why – When someone sitting at one computer presses “send” on an email, that message is turned into a packet of information that begins to go toward a destination. In order to reach that destination, the packet must follow a path, or a route. But with thousands of computers sending their own packets of information, sometimes the fastest routes get congested (sort of like a traffic jam), so the packets of information have to go follow alternate routes, which may sometimes be slower. This process of two or more computers trying to communicate back and forth is called a network. And every network has a set of rules, or protocols, that instruct that packet on where to go at every turn, just like you and our team decided there was more than one way to get from one point to the next

Activity #2 (10-15 Minutes): Developing Global Protocols (Teacher Led)

IDEA DEMO #3 – PACKET SWITCHING (Moving Information)

All information comes in different sizes. For example, if you send your friend a text that says “hey,” then this will travel faster and take less time to reach your friend than a picture or a video. The larger a piece of information, the harder it is for that information to reach its destination. Sometimes the information has to be broken down into packets that get moved around. Try to imagine that we had to move all of the computers in this classroom to another room. We could not simply pick up this room and put it on top of the next room. We would have to move everything in pieces. The computers have to be taken apart and put back together again. The same is true of information. Depending on how large or small it is, information moves the same way. In pieces, or packets.

The bigger the file, like a picture or a video, the more pieces it has to be broken into. And once those pieces are broken up, they become packets that travel across the network. The only problem is that these packets do not all travel along the same routes. Remember that idea about routing protocols? If a big piece of information is broken into lots of pieces, or packets, then those packets might get thrown across multiple routes. We call this packet switching.

Activity #3 (10 Minutes): Packet Sizing

Now that we have a better understanding of how computers were taught to communicate through a variety of network ideas, we also need to learn how the various files that move between computers can also come in different sizes.

Step #1: Open up your U:Drive and make sure that you have a folder called WebDesign.

Step #2: Go into your WebDesign folder and make sure that you have the following subfolders:

1. css

2. pages

3. misc

Step #3: Go to your Start Menu and search for “Notepad,” then open up Notepad (not Notepad++)

Step #4: Make sure there is nothing typed into your Notepad, then use “Save As” to save a new file called “filesize.txt” into your “misc” folder.

Step #5: Go to your “misc” folder and right-click on the “filesize” file you just created, then go down to Properties and look at the size. On a computer, files are measured in “bytes,” so how big is it?

Step #6: Now go back to your Notepad and type a single letter, save your work, and check the file size again. How big is it now?

*Every character, or space, that is used (including space itself) equals 1 byte

Step #7: Now go back to your Notepad and type “Four Score and Seven Years Ago,” save your work, then check the file size. How big is it now in bytes? Does that match the number of bytes you typed?

Step #8: (Time Permitting) A Similar Demo in Paint with a single pixel image.

Reset Workstation (2-3 Minutes)

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