The BBC micro:bit with Giles Booth

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This episode features an interview with Giles Booth about the BBC micro:bit. Giles is the Educational Content Manager at the BBC Microbit Foundation, and a former Information and Communication Technology teacher in London.

So besides being the Education Content Manager for the Micro:bit Educational Foundation, Giles is also a Raspberry Pi-certified Educator and previously used to teach Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in primary and secondary schools in London. Before working as a teacher, Giles was working at BBC Radio for 22 years. There, he was recording, mixing and editing programmes, making podcasts, updating programme web pages, setting up broadcasts, etc. – what a great fit for being on the KidsLab Podcast! Giles even has his own podcast, which is not about STEAM education, but Beer in Breweries.

Let’s explore the micro:bit – it’s an open source hardware ARM-based embedded system designed by the BBC for use in computer education in the UK. It was announced in 2015, delivered finally in 2016 and at least the initial plan was to deliver 1 million devices to pupils in the UK. 

Images: Copyright Giles Booth – used with permission

So in plain English: it’s a device about half the size of a credit card, plugs into a computer via a micro usb cable and then can easily be programmed via some web-based editors. In the end you download the compiled program with the click of a button in one of the editors and drag it over to the micro:bit like you would drop a file onto an USB stick. It’s super simple. 

The micro:bit as interesting in/outputs, for example

  • sensors such as the accelerometer, magnetometer, light level sensor or processor temperature
  • a display consisting of 25 LEDs
  • and two programmable buttons

The micro:bit also features Bluetooth and USB connectivity and at the bottom of the micro:bit there are several pins that can be used to detect touches or connect to extensions – by now there is a huge amount of micro:bit accessories available – everything from robot kits to light rings, inputs such as microphones etc.

To program the micro:bit, students will either use a visual editor such as the MakeCode Editor or the Python Editor – either way both can easily be used via a web browser and the programs created are simply downloaded and copied over to the micro:bit.

MakeCode Editor
Python Editor

If there is a single educational computer science-related toy that you want to buy, that one is the BBC micro:bit. The BBC micro:bit is a really revolutionary educational tool – it’s the first of it’s kind that was mass produced and many teachers and students all over the world use by now for introductions to coding. In some cases, local variations such as the Calliope Mini in Germany for example are even based on the micro:bit reference designs – all perfectly OK as the designs are open source.

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