Friday, June 01, 2018

Micro:Bits and Teaching Networking

This year i taught advanced Placement Computer Science Principles with a mix of high school juniors and seniors. Because of the schedule I had the juniors for several days after the seniors were done. The challenge was to come up with something useful and interesting to keep them busy and learning.  I looked at the classroom set of BBC Micro:bits and thought – networking! Obvious right? OK maybe not but I had been thinking about the ability of these little devices to communicate using radio signs and this seemed like a good opportunity for some experimentation.

I broke the students in to groups of two and three and asked them to create an app that used communication between two of the devices. Other than pointing them to the MakeCode for Micro:bit app for Windows (in beta - requires Windows 10 though there are also iOS and Android versions) and the MakeCode web site I didn’t give them more instructions. Hey, it’s an AP course!

A few students decided to use the Python editor from the Micro:bit web site but most used MakeCode. The MakeCode students used a mix of the block editing and the JavaScript editing. I think having options was a plus as students worked with what they were most comfortable using.

On one hand the students didn’t quite get to the level of application I had hoped for. I wasn’t any help there so I think I need to dig deeper into this myself over the summer. Time was an issue as well since the end of the year brings a lot of interruptions.

On the other hand, they did learn a lot. Several students told me they learned more sending between actual devices than using a software simulator. The APCS P resources I used have an outstanding simulator which the students did use. The devices made it more real, dare I say solid, to the students. One student suggested starting with the simulator and moving on to the devices for deeper learning.

As I listened to them talk about their projects under development they discussed things like throughput and bandwidth as well as how to encode information. These are all topics we had discussed during the year of course. Here though was a practical application and visuals that really brought things home. There is something about pressing buttons and seeing lights on another device light up that brings extra meaning.

My thinking now is that I will be bringing these little devices out earlier next year. We’ll do some networking with them for sure. Maybe some other projects as well. They seem motivating and interesting. Finding thinks that students want to use, want to learn more about, and which reinforce concepts is a wonderful thing.


Garth said...

Micro:bit seems to be one of the biggest bangs for the buck out there now. I have to dig into these a bit more. I use them briefly in one class. I need to find time to see what they can really do other than blink little lights. Something to add to the summer list.

hutch said...

I use them to consolidate python python knowledge. The radio feature is slick and I had them implement encryption techniques. It provide a more authentic learning environment for a few $$. The MU editor provides a better tool to work with than a website.