Introducing the BBC micro:bit

You’ve probably heard of the BBC micro:bit by now. It is a pocket-sized programmable computer.

The BBC will give one to every Year 7 child in the country. This is a huge project; the BBC will give away roughly one million micro:bits.The aim is to inspire a generation of designers, programmers, and engineers to see beyond the shiny exteriors of their electronic devices and to understand the mysterious inner workings that are the back bone of our digital age.

As one of the official product champions, London CLC was lucky enough to be invited to the launch event at BBC’s New Broadcasting House on Tuesday 7th July. It was massively exciting event with plenty of glitz and glam. We heard from BBC comedy panel show mainstay Dara O’Brien, and BBC Director General Tony Hall.

You will hear a lot about the micro:bit in the coming months. To help you (teachers) get your head around it we’ve summarised some key information below.

How does it work?

In short, your program it on the a website. Download the program to the micro:bit and run it. Et viola.

The website (which, despite the name, is not live until September) is based on Microsoft’s TouchDevelop environment. You can program the micro:bit using a block based programming language, à la Scratch. Or with a variety of big name text based languages (Python, C++, Javascript, and many more).

The micro:bit has a grid of 25 LED lights on the front, giving you a simple display for text and very basic graphics. It also has an accelerometer (tilt sensor), a compass, two buttons, and bluetooth built into the device. In addition, you can attach to external sensors, or output devices like LEDs or motors. It comes with AAA batteries so you can use it on the go.

What can I do with it?

Loads of stuff. Here are some of the example projects we’ve seen so far

– Display numbers on the LED display to make an simple score board. You could even connect it to this.

– Attach motors. Make something happen (like control a robot).

– Attach LEDs and mount on clothing to make a stylish fashion accessory.

– Connect it to your phone by bluetooth and use the buttons to control apps (e.g. skip through songs on a play list).

– Use the tilt sensor to make a simple games controller.

What do I next?

The micro:bit will be shipped out in September-October, so in the meanwhile why not have a quick look at the micro:bit site or familiarise yourself with Microsoft touch develop.

Download the Microsoft Quick Start guide.

We will run some training sessions in October, so stay in touch and we will announce a date soon.

I’m in Primary, but I want one. What do I do?

Be patient. After the mega give away, the BBC will license a not-for-profit organisation to distribute the micro:bit. Also they will release the design specification as open source, so the market may be flooded with knock offs by Christmas.

What do we really think about it?

The launch event was laced with polished media fanfare, and it can be easy to get cynical at such events. When large corporate bodies get involved in education we sometimes fear they are, at worst, doing it for appearances, or at best, behaving altruistically but lack the in depth knowledge of schools to provide meaningful help. However, we are particularly impressed with the BBC’s ambition with the micro:bit. The could have made a few thousand of them and created a lot of noise on social media. Instead they’ve made a million; they’re desire to change perceptions about technology comes as part of a public service agenda; and they have carefully and sympathetically designed and developed a device that has great potential. London CLC is incredibly excited to be involved and hope you are too.

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