An Introduction to the BBC Micro:bit

The BBC Micro:bit is a low-cost, handheld, fully programmable computer. It’s 70 times smaller and 18 times faster than the original BBC Micro computers used in schools in the early 1980s. Mine has finally arrived, and I’ve had a chance to play with it and see what it can do.

This little device is very much like an arduino, or similar programmable boards. You create code on a computer, then upload it to the Micro:bit to carry it out. It has 25 red LED lights that can flash messages,  two programmable buttons that can be used to control games and a motion detector. It can also use a low energy Bluetooth connection to interact with other devices and, through them, the Internet.

The two buttons are inputs that can be programmed to trigger events. Buttons give you the opportunity to add control to your BBC micro:bit. Use them to start an animation, begin recording data, control a game or anything else you can imagine.

The BBC Micro:bit contains an accelerometer which can detect if you are shaking it or which way up it is being held. As well as detecting if it’s upside down, accelerometers can detect some of the forces that are acting on it.

There are some great guides to get started here.

BBC Microbit

At the moment, Micro:bits are being given free to every Year 7 or equivalent child across the UK. But if you want to buy additional micro:bits, they are now available for sale from sites such as Pimoroni or Technology Will Save Us.  Some primary schools are already using them with year 5/6 pupils. It’s a logical extension of their work in Scratch.

You can create code for the Micro:Bit here using the following browser-based applications:

Microsoft Blocks Editor: A graphical, drag and drop code editor, where coding blocks snap together. This will be very familar to users of Scratch. It’s probably worth getting started with this first.

Microsoft Touch Develop: A flexible, text-based programming language, which comes with a BBC micro:bit library of commands installed.

Code Kingdoms Javascipt: One environment for graphical ‘drag and drop’ and text-based programming. Perfect for beginners, experts and transitioning from blocks to typing.

Python: An easy-to-learn programming language for everyone, from kids to teachers to professional software engineers.

There are guides and tutorials for using these coding platforms here: www.microbit.co.uk/editor-documentation

Microbit code

The coding pages come with a simulation of a Micro:bit so you can test your code out before installing it to the microbit. This is handy if you don’t have one Micro:bit for every child or group – they can test their code on their own before needing to get access to an actual Micro:bit.

To install, compile the code then drag the hex file that’s produced onto the Microbit via the USB lead. When connected, the Micro:bit acts just like a USB stick.

For iPad and other tablet users there’s also micro:bit mobile app that lets you send your code to your micro:bit over Bluetooth (without using a USB cable). The mobile page will tell you all about it. Just make sure that your micro:bit is powered up and within easy reach of the phone or tablet running the app. Download the iPad App here.

There’s lots of fun ways the Micro:bit can be used. For ideas on projects to make and do with your Microbit, check out the Tech Will Save Us website.

Teachers and Parents should also take a look at this section of the BBC website, which provides help and guides to get started.

I’ve been having great fun trying out the Micro:bit to see what it can do, and I’ve only scratched the surface. Will write more about it another time. In the meantime, share any good things your classes have already done in the comments below!

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Author: Danny Nicholson

Danny is an author, Science teacher, ICT Consultant, PGCE lecturer and computing / interactive whiteboard trainer. He has delivered training courses across the UK, in Europe, and in Canada. Please get in touch with your training requests.

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