The micro:bit is a versatile and classroom-friendly, programmable electronics board. Programming happens in the browser - no software rollout required. Suitable for primary and secondary students.


G'day, today I'm going to discuss the place that the BBC micro:bit has in the classroom. Now the micro:bit is a really tiny microcontroller board that is packed with heaps of goodies like an LED Matrix, a couple of buttons, and even some modern day Maker staples like an accelerometer, a magnetometer (which is a compass) and a low energy Bluetooth antenna. To connect the micro:bit to the world around it we have these tabs around one edge, and you can see those tabs are labelled 0, 1, 2 and then 3V and Ground for power. SO you can connect to these tabs just with an alligator clip, straight onto the tab, or with a 4mm Banana Plug for a sturdy fit.

Now it might seem like micro:bit only belongs in the physics and computer labs, but more and more programming and electronics are making their way into art and design projects and that's something that micro:bit have really embraced so let's have a look at the micro:bit website where you can build all your code for the micro:bit and also take a tour of some of the lesson plans and projects that they have put up.

I have already navigated to and for now, let's just take a very quick look at the code editors, so we can up to this "Let's Code" button and this will give us a choice between two different styles of editors. The graphical Javascript Blocks editors (or the PXT) and a python editor. For now, I'm just going to open up the Blocks editor, and I will just go over to blocks mode. So this is what you will see when you go to the Blocks editor, you can see that I've already got a project that I was working on before and immediately it's quite an intuitive layout all of these blocks, you can move them around and snap them into place and you can see that they want to snap in only one particular way, so you can't make any mistakes. Just like this thing called "Compass Heading" here, it has this jigsaw like tab coming off it, so it can only go into pieces that will receive that tab and I'll just familiarise you with this screen because we are going to look at some of the lesson plans and how it walks you through programming in this blocks editor.

Just a quick side note, because all of the code development for the micro:bit happens within the web browser, there's no need for any special software to be installed all you need is the micro:bit, a USB cable and your web browser.

Now that we've had a brief glance at the programming environment let's see how it's used in a lesson plan. So back over on the homepage, we can over to this teach link, which are the teaching resources and the BBC have put together this really cool 3-part lesson plan called "Defeat the Daleks", so you are using a micro:bit to help Doctor Who save the universe presumably, but the thing that I like about it is that it is super engaging. So I'll just skip right to the end so that we can see how that programming environment is used in one of the lesson plans. I'll open up one of the part 3 mission Hack, and it starts off with a kind of gamified version of programming where you use that same programming environment but in this game, environment to control a captured Dalek. So I'll just wait for that to load.

Okay, now that's finished loading, we can enter the lesson. I'll just skip through the intro scenes, and the very first thing we do is virtually wire up the micro:bit. So this is a nice intuition building exercise, where you can wire up the power supply to the micro:bit and then connect the motors to the General Purpose Input Output pins, and now we can recode this micro:bit to control this Dalek. So we have this 5x5 grid which forms a maze, and you might recognize this block structure which is exactly that PXT block programming that we saw before. So this Dalek, we need to move it forward to this orb so that's 1,2,3,4 steps, so we need to Loop 4 times and drive the motor forwards. And then you run the code and it executes the code right in front of you and you can see it working. So I'll just skip to perhaps the end to see something a little more substantial.

So now we're doing something a little more complicated, we have to move our Dalek through the course, turn it, and then blast this obstacle that is in the way. So in the rewire screen we get a new piece of hardware which is the blaster, it's connected to an input, or an output rather and now we've written some code, this time we're using the Python language, so we have the structure of the Python language but it is still in that broken down to the essence of we just need to Loop this several times and perform these actions, so it's more based on building programming intuition rather than memorizing syntax. And of course, you can move between the Blocks editor, Python and Javascript languages to cater for whatever a student is most comfortable with. And changes that you make in one are reflected in the others. So if you run that, you can see it is looping forward to move forward 4 times then it turns to the right and activates the blaster. And then it proceeds.

So that's all well and good as like an engaging, gamified, intuition building experience, but once that is complete the real fun begins down where you can program the micro:bit directly to perform a similar task. So that grid in that flash game was purposely chosen as 5x5 because that's the exact dimension of the LED grid that on the micro:bit. So this gives students an opportunity to essentially perform the same tasks, but on the hardware right in front them, rather than just in some web based game. So the idea is that you can print out a blank maze sheet, draw some walls in, and then get the LED grid on the micro:bit to behave in the correct pattern to solve that maze.

So that's just one lesson plan out of many that are available; another one that I quite like is this probably more traditional approach, it's this KS3 ICT topics bundle lesson and that is a lot more of a conventional approach to teaching these computer science ideas. Returning now to this idea of programming and electronics as components in art, music and design projects, we can jump over to the ideas page where micro:bit host lots of really cool projects that are good for inspiration and these aren't just made by micro:bit they're submitted by users of micro:bit so a lot of them are submitted by students, but you can really see that there is a broad emphasis on electronics as craft rather than just robots. So we can see there is this illuminated message box that has colourful LEDs inside that can change their colours so this message changes colours over time. Or a few audio and visual projects aswell.

So you can see there is a pretty big emphasis on electronics and craft with micro:bit, and because they're available at commodity prices they are super appropriate for that kind of projects.

There you have it a quick tour of the educational and teaching resources behind the BBC micro:bit, now if you make any projects with the micro:bit we'd love to hear from you in our forums. I'll catch you next time!



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