Monthly Archives: April 2017

Micro:bit review

PC Cannibals

I finished running a Wrekshop for kids with a Year 4 class near Bridgend (UK). A typical Wrekshop combines creative taking apart and reconstruction of electronic waste with coding. The kids made sort of robots from electronic waste. For the coding aspect I decided to use the recently released BBC Micro:bits. Micro:bits are small, child-friendly programmable devices developed by the BBC, the University of Lancaster, Microsoft and other partners.

croestyRobotDetail

micro:bit in a scrap robot’s “brain socket”

The BBC and partners are aiming to generate an enthusiasm for coding in young people similar to what happened when the original BBC Microcomputer was released in 1981. A generation of British coders learned their skills on this flexible machine (and me 15 years later). Unlike current computers or tablets, the user had to code so as to get the best of the machine’s possibilities.

bbc micro

Positives:

After ten sessions in the class, I find the BBC Micro:bit well suited for the task of engaging children into coding and interfacing. They can get quick gratification with the built-in 5×5 LED display and 2 buttons. The JavaScript Block Editor programming environment (similar to Scratch) is intuitive and easy to use and there is ample way to progress with the availability of MicroPython and Java programming environments.

micro:bit block editor

I used Micropython to finalise the programs for the class, not an ideal solution for the children who were used to the block editor, but the only way so far for including speech in the project. The kids were keen to get their robots to speak.

Downsides:

Unfortunately the Block Editor is only available online, which can be seriously limiting if you have no or slow internet access. For more advanced users I recommend the MU editor, a self-contained, downloadable MicroPython programming environment that works very well.

bbcMicrobitFront

The crocodile clips connections system, although a good idea, makes it easy to short-circuit the board as the 3 Volts and Ground holes are next to each other. The clips can also easily cross-connect adjacent pins. Most 8 year olds do not find it straightforward to use crocodile clips and several of the boards used in the project have suffered already. Still, with a little care it works fine.