Micro:bit is a simple, yet robust, mini-computer that contains 25 LED lights, buttons, sensors, sounds, and the ability to connect with input and output devices. Students code the device on another computer using block coding, and they can use their imaginations to program countless products with this simple interface. Even if students don’t have access to the physical micro:bits, they can code a simulated unit online. This feature provides equitable access to schools who might not be able to afford the physical product.
In this episode, we are joined by Giles Booth, the Education Content Manager for Micro:bit Educational Foundation. Giles shares his insights and passions for using Micro:bit and coding in the classroom and how it can empower students and allow them to develop powerful and transferable skills through the process of coding.
Coding is today’s language of creativity. All of our children deserve a chance to become creators instead of consumers of computer science.
Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College
The following resources are available on AVID Open Access to explore related topics in more depth:
- Saving Sea Creatures: Light-up Fishing Nets (grab-and-go lesson)
- Emotion Badge (grab-and-go lesson)
- Demystify Computational Thinking (article collection)
- Empower Students Through Creativity and Choice (article collection)
- Engage in Creative Coding with Scratch (podcast episode)
- The Wonder of STEM and Robotics in the Elementary Classroom (podcast episode)
- Inspire K–12 Students to Learn Computer Science (podcast episode)
- Computational Thinking: A Conversation with Tammie Schrader (podcast episode)
The Power of Creativity
Creativity is at the center of what the Micro:bit Educational Foundation is all about. Our guest, Giles Booth, explains, “We aim to help every child create their best digital future, but the creativity is a really key aspect of how we go about that.” This approach includes giving students a voice in what they create as well as the freedom to pursue their own interests and passions. By experiencing the design process, students develop skills in problem solving and computational thinking that are applicable to nearly any future career.
Join us as we dive into the world of Micro:bit. Giles describes the product—what it is, what it can do, and how it might be integrated into your classroom. He also shares resources that you can access to get you started as well as suggestions for simple, beginner projects. His passion is infectious, and the product offers nearly endless creative possibilities. Here are a few highlights from our conversation:
- Micro:bit Origins: Micro:bit was founded in 2016 in the United Kingdom (UK) by the BBC and 26 other business and academic partners. They strive to “inspire every child to create their best digital future.”
- What It Can Do: As mentioned above, this simple, yet robust, mini-computer contains 25 LED lights, buttons, sensors, sounds, and the ability to connect with input and output devices. Students code the device on another computer using block coding. Sensors on the device can measure light and sound levels, temperature, 3D movements, direction, and magnetism. Giles explains, “You get your students to experience the whole process of creating something in code that then gets transferred to a physical device.”
- Computational Thinking: Computational thinking consists of four key categories of skills: algorithms, decomposition, abstraction, and pattern recognition. All four of these processes are integral in computer programming and the design process. Even students not interested in pursuing a career in computer science will grow from developing these transferable life skills.
- Transferable Skills: Coding and creating with Micro:bit allows students to demystify technology and better understand what goes into creating it. This understanding can lead to greater empathy for and appreciation of accessibility. Giles comments that creating with Micro:bit can “help students understand that decisions are made at a quite fundamental and early level in designing any technological system or product, and they can understand how they can influence those decisions and make sure that they are reflected in the technology that will develop around them in the years to come.”
- Empathy and Equity: As students consider the needs of their end users, they must apply practices of empathy and consider equity of access and understanding. Giles explains that students really engage in this part of the process. He says, “Young people are naturally empathetic creatures.” He goes on to highlight the importance of “thinking about how you can make a simple product using a Micro:bit or simple electronics that will create a digital artifact that will be a good interactive experience for someone whose experience of the world is very different from your own.”
- Expansion: Micro:bit has been exploding in popularity. This nonprofit that started in the UK in 2016 has now spread worldwide to over 25 million children, using 6 million micro:bits in 60 countries.
- The Power of Creation: By using micro:bits, students get to create and take “ownership of the technology.” Giles shares, “The thing that really makes my day is seeing things that children have created.” He adds that teachers should take opportunities to be flexible with their lessons and go with great student ideas when they pop up. He says, “The students always have the best ideas. They are the most creative. They will take things in unexpected directions.”
- Professional Learning: The Micro:bit website is filled with powerful learning opportunities. There is a simulator built into the site for those who do not have access to the physical products. There is also a “Teach” section featuring animated videos that you can use with your students or to learn yourself. New professional development courses are going to be released soon. A great starter course is “Meet Tiny Computer.” Courses are free, self-paced, and come with a workbook and downloadable materials that you can immediately use in your classroom.
- Text-Based Coding: In addition to new professional learning, Micro:bit is in the process of developing a new Python Editor that will be ideal for slightly older students who want to try text-based coding. A beta version is currently available. The finished tool will feature auto-complete suggestions, a library of code that you can drag and drop, and complete projects that you can access and modify.
If you are listening to the podcast with your teaching team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:
- What do you know about computer coding?
- What elements or features of Micro:bit intrigue you, and why?
- What transferable skills do you see students developing through the use of Micro:bit?
- How might coding help students develop and reinforce practices of empathy and equity?
- What are the benefits of allowing students to be creative?
- What professional learning opportunities from Micro:bit sound appealing to you?
- How might you use Micro:bit in your classroom?