In September 2015 I was very excited to be starting a job teaching KS3 Computing and ICT at the time when the BBC Microbit was being given, free of charge, to every Year 7 child in the country – or every Year 7 child whose teachers were aware of the scheme and registered for it which, I suspect, is not precisely the same thing.
But we are still waiting. This week I am planning my scheme of work for the Spring Term – and the BBC Microbit will not feature in my Year 7 plans. They were supposed to be with us in the Autumn term, and we are still waiting. At the moment, I can’t see them being used in school until the Summer term, even if I get them in the Spring term. The current Year 7s will be lucky if they get one term’s use out of them in school.
My confidence in the project is severely damaged. With such a huge delay, I am not prepared to spend any time planning lessons, or even block off weeks in the calendar for them, until we have a complete set in school. I know there are resources online, and I can play with the online code editor – but it’s not the same as having the devices. The selling point, surely, of the Microbit is its physicality – and until we teachers have them physically in our sweaty paws, I’m afraid it’s horribly like vapourware.
If schools had just been given 1 sample device each, that would have helped. I was lucky to get to play with one in a training session, but I had to hand it back at the end of the morning. If every teacher there had been given one, we would have gone off and evangelised about it, we would have played with it, made projects, we would even have planned lessons. We wouldn’t have been able to help ourselves.
Whilst we wait, the Raspberry Pi foundation has done something even more extraordinary, I think, than the Microbit: they have given away a computer on the cover of a magazine. I know the devices cannot be compared (apples and, er, raspberries), but it’s an extraordinary achievement that, I’m afraid, makes the BBC project look shambolic. I have no idea whose fault it is, I’m not pointing the finger. I want my Year 7s to get their Microbits, I want to use them, teach with them. But if people like me, sympathetic, broadly on-side, are frustrated, I fear the Microbit project may now be fatally damaged.