“The reality is that as a country, we haven’t done enough to nurture the next generation of tech talent.”
That’s the view of Hugh Milward, Director of Corporate Affairs at Microsoft UK.
Yet things are about to change.
This month, every Year 7 pupil (or equivalent) in the UK will be given a free BBC micro:bit: a handheld codeable computer designed to introduce young people to coding. It’s a small device with a big future. Especially considering it’s 70 times smaller and 18 times faster than the original BBC Micro computers used in schools during the early 1980s. Assuming you’re old enough to remember them, of course.
If not, well, lucky you. But even so, there’s plenty to be excited about – whether you’re a pupil, parent or teacher.
But what’s all this got to with Microsoft? As one of the BBC’s key project partners, the company developed the micro:bit’s online programming environment and even ensured it was available to use offline as well. It houses two easy-to-use code editors: Touch Develop and Block Editor that kids can use these to create anything from a flashing message device or digital watch, to a Pac Man game or Magic 8 fortune teller. Children’s imagination really is the limit – and these children show just how far that imagination will take them.
“Supporting computer science education is in our DNA,” explains Clare Riley, Group Manager of Microsoft’s Education Relations unit. “So it makes sense that our role in the BBC micro:bit is to provide the ‘engine room’ for the device. We like to think of it as the really exciting part that takes a child’s initial creative idea and helps them turn it into an actual codeable reality.”
But it’s not just about the pupils. Microsoft has developed a wealth of resources to help teachers get the most out of the BBC micro:bit. After all, many staff only received their device in the last month, so imagine having to then stand in front of a classroom of 11-year-olds eagerly awaiting your next instruction.
The Quick Start Guide for Teachers provides simple, step-by-step lesson guides and walkthroughs to get them started. Meanwhile, a host of lesson plans are available for the Touch Develop and Block Editor code editors – at all levels of experience. There are also some great project examples for staff and students to check out on this specially-developed OneNote Notebook.
“Helping teachers feel comfortable in using the device is critical to its success – in computer science lessons and beyond,” Riley continues. “We’ve all put a great deal of effort into ensuring we have the right supporting materials to give them and their pupils the best possible micro:bit experience.”
So far, that effort seems to be paying off. To the point that Microsoft has worked with teachers to pinpoint five top tips for using the BBC micro:bit in the classroom:
- “Start by working through activities in the Quick Start Guide for Teachers. It’s a really great hands-on introduction to the BBC micro:bit” – Steve Richards, ICT Teacher and Curriculum Team Leader at Eastlea Community School
- “Explore the projects and resources on the BBC micro:bit website. There are some really effective lesson plans for the Touch Develop code editor, targeted at all skill levels.” – Nic Hughes, Head of Computing at Latymer Prep School
- “Kick off with the Block Editor. It’s a great graphical coding environment to introduce students to the BBC micro:bit before you start using the text-based programming language.” – Jane Waite, Computing at School London Regional Coordinator (CAS London)
- “After students have learnt some basic concepts and skills, give them time to experiment. Our best results, and some really creative projects, have come when we’ve given pupils the independence to explore the new skills they’ve learnt.” – Clifford French, ICT Strategy Manager at Camden School for Girls
- “Look for ways to incorporate the BBC micro:bit into a wider project. Some of our kids used them as a brain for a self-driving car, a controller for a robotic arm and as part of a fitness strap.” – Steve Richards, ICT Teacher and Curriculum Team Leader at Eastlea Community School
“As soon as we saw the ambition and scale of this project, we jumped at the chance to be involved,” says Milward. “The BBC micro:bit is a huge step forward, because it shows young people the creative power of digital skills.”