That’s a confusing title. What’s a BBC micro:bit? Why are people from HackOldham being referred to as experts by otherwise responsible adults? Is STEMnet that thing from Terminator? What’s a museum? All, and more, shall be revealed.
On Wednesday evening (27-Apr-2016) Tony, Nathan and I headed for the Museum of Science and Industry, or MOSI to its friends, for an evening hosted by STEMnet to help familiarise teachers and STEM ambassadors with the BBC micro:bit.
The micro:bit is a small, self-contained micro-controller equipped with numerous on-board sensors that can be programmed from a phone, tablet or laptop. All of the development toys are hosted in a browser and the device itself can either connect via a USB cable or Bluetooth – so there’s no nasty operating system requirements. Which is lucky, seeing as all year 7 pupils are being given one. For free.
Although the BBC head up the project, there are currently 30 different commercial partners involved in the project. Companies such as Microsoft, Samsung and Element14, plus charities and educational establishments such as The Wellcome Trust and Lancaster University are all involved supplying everything from the development tools and hardware to the teaching materials. It is quite a big thing.
We’ve been lucky enough to have played with these little beauties for the last few weeks and have introduced a number of the target audience (young people) to them. Not only do they work as a clever little Internet of Things (IoT) device, but they work as a way of introducing the concepts of programming embedded systems surprisingly rapidly.
Due to having used the micro:bits in anger, the three of us were there as experts (really not) along with a member of the BBC Innovations team (really is) to help get the people who will be introducing the micro:bits in schools and code clubs up and running. About 25 STEM ambassadors and teachers attended, plus the MOSI STEM team. By the end of the evening most people seemed happy that they could at least write a simple script and program it to a device. So that’s handy.
We also demonstrated some of our creations. These included games which makes use of the micro:bit’s 5 x 5 LED display and 3 accelerometers, and a simple musical instrument controlled by the musician’s (I use that term lightly) movement that make use of the on-board audio controls (plus an external speaker) and various sensors.
The micro:bit is a terrific device, but more importantly the rest of the ecosystem, including the teaching materials and development tools, have been just as lovingly designed and developed. Will it result in a generation of IoT entrepreneurs? I’ve absolutely no idea. But it certainly won’t do any harm and, when they become commercially available later this year, there’s definitely a decent new platform for people like us to use in our cosplay, home automation, wearable tech and other projects. So that can’t be bad.
If you want to know more about the BBC micro:bit, just ask Tony, Nathan or me. We’re experts apparently. Alternatively for decent information, try the BBC micro:bit website.
If you don’t know about MOSI, where have you been? Or try here.
Oh, and a museum is a place where you can look at interesting things. Some times, if you are really lucky, you can touch them too.