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Hands on the BBC micro:bit

What’s micro:bit and what’s its goal?

Yesterday, I received a parcel containing 10 micro:bit cards I ordered online. Micro:bit is a non-profit organization based in the UK, with the objective of making computer science education affordable and approachable to kids. I invite my readers to go and check their website to learn more about their project: In a nutshell, the idea is to allow kids to program the micro:bit cards themselves using a visual programming language (VPL) based on Blockly. Using Blockly, a developer create small programs by assembling blocks of instructions. The rationale for such a user interface is simple: it is more important to learn about concepts than it is to learn a specific programming language.

Micro:bit has known a wide success since its release, and there are several reasons for that. First, it is really cheap. It cost me only 20€ a piece, while some other similar products cost almost tenfold. Then, teachers do not really need any training thanks to the visual programming language. This factor has been long known as a key point in teachers adopting technology in classrooms. And finally, the variety of components implemented on the card allows for plenty of applications.

What’s my interest in these cards?

My interest in these micro:bit cards comes from a research project I work on at ISEP. The idea is to enhance these cards with additional components and to turn them into moving robots. This should allow the robots to interact more easily with their surroundings, and I think this also gives us more opportunities to design interesting learning scenarios. In particular, I am thinking about scenarios in Physics. I want to have children program their robots, and challenge their understandings of some concepts with the behavior of the robot. By working on their algorithms or tweaking some variables, children should also learn basic notions of Computer Science.

Now, I am supervising four ISEP students whom are working on developing a similar web interface implementing a VPL. On my own, I am also looking into Blockly and the process of generating the binary files from blocks. You can check my GitHub repository to know more about the progress of the project. After this bit, I will have to find a way to create custom blocks to program the additional components. Two colleagues of mine are supervising some more students whom are working on the hardware. At the end of the semester, we hope to have a prototypical version of the robot. With these, I want to conduct experiments with children to evaluate the effects of using this system on the learning of CS and Physics knowledge.

I will give some updates as they arrive in future posts.

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