Advantages of Real World Technology Camps: Robotics with Micro:bit

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What is a micro:bit?

A micro:bit is a pocket sized microcontroller designed by the BBC for use in Technology Education education in schools. It can be programmed using JavaScript, Python or block code. A micro:bit has:

– 25 red LED lights that can flash messages and be used to create games.

– two programmable buttons that can be used to control games or hardware prototypes.

– an accelerometer, so it can detect motion and knows when the user is moving.

– a built-in compass which can be used to detect the direction and it can use a low energy

– a Bluetooth connection to interact with other devices and the Internet.

– power input and can be powered by a battery and additional sensors can be attached.

You can find more information about the micro:bit features here.

Students can use micro:bit to build a wide range of tools like gaming consoles, fitness trackers, wearables, autonomous vehicles, soil moisture and temperature sensors. In the process of programming a micro:bit and building tools with it, students develop skills like Design Thinking, prototyping, coding, experience working with materials and electronics, using hardware and collaboration. Let’s take a look at the skills students learn:

Design Thinking and Product Design

To build any functional tool, it’s of utmost importance to understand who the users are and to clearly define the problem – this is a direct application of Design Thinking.

While building tools with micro:bit, students will be encouraged to research and define who their user is, what the users’ needs are, and what problems their tool will solve. If students do not have this information, they will spend time researching.

Students will also learn to think about their tools as a product, so they will not only consider how it works and what problem it solves but will also have to consider what it looks like and what the user’s experience will be i.e. how the user will use it and interact with it.

Prototyping and Testing

Building a commercially viable product is a resource intensive task. In the industrial world, it takes the combined effort of numerous experts backed with R&D, financial resources and time. Before a product is ready for commercial use, it has to go through cycles of prototyping, testing, feedback and improvements.

Using micro:bit to build tools, helps students learn invaluable,real world industrial skills of prototyping and testing. Using low cost and easily available materials, students can easily make multiple prototypes or modify their designs based on user feedback.

Materials

Most products or tools are built using numerous components and materials, the same is true for working prototypes.

While building products with micro:bit, students will have to consider:

– the users: who will use it and how

– the use case: where and in which situations will it be used

– the wear and tear: does it have moving parts or does it need to be carried around or is it exposed to air and water

– the safety for the products: are there any moving parts or open wiring

Based on the above the criteria, students may cycle through different materials based on cost, strength, flexibility, weight, portability, etc. In BSD’s robotics classes, students have used materials like cardboard, paper, acrylic, PVC and wood.

Basics of electronics

Micro:bit is powered by electricity, either via two AAA batteries or via a USB port. Students who use Micro:bit will learn how electricity works, how to wire different components together to create a circuit, how to ensure that device has the correct amount of electricity and what the electricity requirements are for different components like LED lights and motors or sensors like ultrasonic and moisture sensors.

Sensors

A micro:bit comes equipped with 4 inbuilt sensors:
– light sensor: detects ambient light
– temperature sensors: detects the current temperature of the device, in Celsius
– accelerometer: detects the acceleration of the micro:bit; it senses when the micro:bit is moved and other actions like shake, tilt, and free-fall
– compass: detects the earth’s magnetic field, allowing it to detect which direction the micro:bit is facing

Connecting additional sensors to the micro:bit opens a world of opportunities. A micro:bit can be connected to sound, ultrasonic, temperature and moisture sensors. For example, a micro:bit powered plant watering bot will need light, moisture and temperature sensors.

Learn to code

A micro:bit can be programmed using 3 coding languages – JavaScript, Python and Blocks. Learning how to program a micro:bit enables students to learn how to code as well as empowers them to have total control over the features of the micro:bit.

Learning to code is more than a technical skill. Coding develops soft skills like Computational Thinking, attention to detail, collaboration, creativity and problem solving.

Teamwork and collaboration

As previously mentioned, building a product or a working prototype requires collaboration between numerous people with different skills and working styles. Similarly, to mirror real world professional situations, students in our classes are grouped together when developing a product with micro:bit. Every member of the team has to select a specific responsibility, decide on deadline, communicate progress with the team members and learn from each other.

Learning to make products or prototypes with micro:bit is a well rounded activity which teaches students technical skills like electronics, prototyping, testing, and coding. Students also gain transferable life skills like design thinking, communication and collaboration. Activities like this expose students to the emerging technologies they interact with every day, and encourages them to not just be consumers of technology but also creators of solutions while preparing them for technology first careers.

If you are using micro:bit in your lessons we would love to hear how you are using them and would love to feature your experience and your students’ products in our future newsletters.

about Mo
Mo is the Head of Learning Experience. He is an aeronautical engineer who found his calling in education and lifelong learning.
He helps to integrate technology programs of learning through professional development training, coaching, and classroom visits. He also manages our Customer Support, QA, and Performance team in the Philippines.

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