The BBC Micro:bit. A powerful tool for classroom coding

There has been a growing move towards the introduction of coding platforms and applications like Scratch and Hour of Code into our classrooms. Most teachers have by now, heard of and used these applications within their classes. In many schools there are students creating amazing projects during their school hours as well as in after school clubs. These tools are proven to help students develop an array of skills such as computational thinking, collaboration, and creativity. As well as this, they encourage the development of child-centered and immersive learning environments. One such tool, which has proven to be powerful and versatile is the BBC Micro:bit.

Since It’s Launch, this small, handheld programmable computer has become a tool of significant use and power for students and teachers alike. What is really interesting about Micro:bit is that it is a physical tool. Students use the code they input in the Makecode script (an online platform similar to Scratch) to design and manipulate the physical Micro:bit. The possibilities of what students can program and design using this Micro:bit are endless.

What makes the Micro:bit so powerful as a classroom tool?

The code

The Micro:bit Makecode user interface is simple, colourful and easy to use for students. It follows a similar design to Scratch so students who have experience with this can easily transfer their skills to Makecode. This online platform is where the coding is done. The platform provides users with a view of what will happen to the physical Micro:bit when the code/program is running. This is very useful for testing out the code before installing it into the Micro:bit. The Makecode platform allows students to jump between Makecode, Java script and Python, so students can see what their code looks like in another code script.

Makecode interface
options for different code languages
The Micro:bit

The Micro:bit itself is a nifty bit of equipment. The latest version comes with multiple features including an LED display (25 Lights), USB connections, Buttons, radio and Bluetooth antenna, temperature sensor, accelerometer, battery sockets, speaker, recorder and a compass. It has the ability to connect with other devices through radio and Bluetooth as well as through pins (where wires can be attached to produce a current).

Price and accessibility

Micro:bits are retailing at less then 20 euro and they can be bought online from multiple distributors. In many cases, they come with a kit that includes a battery connection, USB and some alligator clips that can be used to turn your Micro:bit into anything from a communication device to an alarm system. The Micro:bit is easy to store and keep tabs on in your classroom and this makes it a very handy tool to have. The Makecode coding application is available online. Students don’t need to sign up and it is free to use. The platform has lots of sample lessons and project ideas that students can get started into and guided through if they need help.

The Abundance of Resources and Ideas available

What makes this tool a must have for any classroom teacher interested in promoting computational thinking and project based learning is the availability of resources, from project ideas on the home page to video tutorials on the web.
Recently, Microsoft Dreamspace launched a series of lessons on Dreamspace TV where students and teachers alike can learn how to use Micro:bit to create amazing projects. The videos are perfect for watching along with as your students carry out investigations and projects.

Similarly, the Web page for Micro:bit Makecode is continually being contributed to. Currently there are lots of potential projects for students to get their hands on. There is also the option for teachers to go to the Micro:bit classroom. Here you will find a range of lesson plans and resources that can be used to help design your projects.

sample lesson plans from the Micro:bit classroom webpage
sample projects from the Makecode web page

The cost, use-ability, availability of resources and power of this tool make it so desirable for teachers worldwide. What really makes it work is the fact that it is something hands on and physical. The students can see how their code can be applied to something outside the screen. It opens doors for future engineers to learn how circuits, mechanics and robotics work alongside code.

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