Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Hands On with the BBC Micro:Bit

Recently a padded envelop showed up in the mail. No return address. No identifying information. Inside was a BBC Micro:Bit. Now I have played with one once or twice and of course tried out software in emulation at the official BBC Micro:Bit website this is my first chance to really get into it. And I am grateful for the chance..

Micro accessoriesIt comes with a power source, which uses two AAA batteries, and a short USB cable for attaching to  your computer. When you plug in the Micro:Bit (at least on my Windows 10 systems) it shows up as an external disk drive. More about that shortly.

The device itself is pretty cool and obviously meant to be easy to understand. One side has the “stuff that makes it work” and is clearly labeled.


Seeing things like compass and accelerometer is a good clue that there are more to this gadget than some pretty lights. Though it does have pretty lights on the other side. Twenty five of them to be specific.


Here we see the A and B buttons which are programmable, the LED grid and the labeled pins for attaching things to it. I have a Makey Makey that may be plugged in soon. We’ll see. BTW I blurred out the white box in case it has information to track down where it came from just in case someone might get into a fix for sharing it on the wrong side of the pond.

My idea of a “hello world” is to make the lights light up and rotate around the screen. I used the version of TouchDevelop for my first couple of tests. There are JavaScript, Block Editor, and Python options as well.


The way it works is that you write code, test it in the emulator (assuming you are the testing sort – I am), and then compile it to a .HEX file. The .HEX file is then copied to the MICROBIT where it runs.

The .HEX file is downloaded to your Downloads folder (at least on Windows 10) and has the name of the script as its name. You could easily have a bunch of scripts compiled and ready to move to the Micro:Bit. Copies go quickly.

The Micro:Bit will run without the separate power supply while it is connected to the computer. But to take it and show off your program to you friends you’ll need to plug in the power supply.  Losing power does not lose your program from the Micro:Bit. So you don’t have to keep the power on all the time. When you plug in the power the last program you downloaded will run right away.

You could. in theory, use these without a class set but I wouldn’t recommend it. If my experience is any indication it is much more motivating to see the program run on the device than the emulator. Somehow the emulator is just not as real. Plus you can take the device around to show your friends a lot easier than you can a full size computer. Students will want to move around showing off for a while and you can’t do that with less than a class set.

It will be a while (sometime next week) before I can show this to students and get their impressions. In the mean time I’m going to try a few things and think about how I might use these next year if they become more widely available.

I would love to hear from teachers and students in the UK who are using them though. What works? What is cool? What should I watch out for?

No comments: