First whole-class micro:bit lesson – reflection

I did my first whole-class lesson with the BBC micro:bit in a Year 7 class today – here are my impressions.

It was a very short lesson so I just used the Technology Will Save Us demo that comes on box-fresh micro:bits as a starter to allow Year 7s to get to grips, literally and metaphorically, with the device.

I gave a LONG talk about safe handling – you can see my slides here – and explained that I’d had several fail because of static shocks given to them by children touching the gold pads on the back of the A button when they are plugged in.

I then gave the pupils USB extension leads to unravel and plug in (our base units are buried inside their desks, and the supplied micro:bit leads are far too short) and got them to plug the micro:bits in to the extensions and see what happened.

There was a very mixed response in this group. I gave minimal input, I just wanted to see what they would discover – some sailed though the demo so quickly I had to give them the heart easter egg to unlock the Snake game (you knew about that, right?).  One girl was frozen in terror by my safety lecture, too scared to push the A button.  A few got totally foxed by Chase the Dot – they needed others to tell them to tilt the micro:bit, though when I quizzed them after, they ALL said they’d played iPhone / iPad games that you tilt to play. We had a discussion about what an accelerometer does, and one girl said “is it a sensor?” which led on to talking about other things the micro:bit can sense.

I have to say I think the handling requirements – earth yourself, don’t touch the back when it’s plugged in, hold it by the edges – are unrealistic. Despite my dire warnings, I saw several violations. It’s really hard to give kids a new toy with shiny lights to explore, then expect them not touch the back when pressing the buttons (which really is the natural thing to do).

Next time we will do my Python intro lesson using the excellent standalone Mu editor. I found that the Microsoft Block Editor does not work at all well on our Virtual Desktops, and Nicholas Tollervey kindly did lots of work with us to get Mu to work well with the Citrix VDI. It makes transferring the code to the micro:bit much simpler than the browser-based coding platforms. You just click the ‘flash’ button and it copies it across.

The other huge challenge which I did not allow enough time for was packing them away. I have numbered each device and made a note of which pupil has each unit. This is partly because I am keeping them in school for now and I think it’s best they have the same unit with their code on. Also it’s to try to avoid arguments if they break. And I have had a high failure rate in testing, so I am braced for this possibility.

Already several pupils have asked about having them at home in the summer, which is great, but I have mixed feelings. They arrived so late, and we have trips and all sorts going on this short half term, we will be lucky to get even 2 or 3 full lessons out of them. I kind of want to hold on to them and teach more in the Autumn term with the same pupils, who will then be in Year 8, and let them take them home at Christmas.  I can’t see them all coming back to school after the summer hols…  one to ponder.




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3 Responses to First whole-class micro:bit lesson – reflection

  1. Mark Routledge says:

    Been following your Blog with interest, we’re going to start delivering to Yr7 next week. Straight in Mu and go from there. One thing I have found you might not be aware of, I have found if using Mu it will no longer allow you to code/program via Bluetooth, you need to use a web editor again before I could get it to work. Otherwise it would just not go into pair mode. I’ll keep you posted on our failure rate.

    I was chuffed I got a compas working, only showing N,NE,E… Etc. Not too much code, a bit of Maths! This seemed rubbish in the classroom (erroneous readings) but in my front room did a decent job! (Excuse to go out on the field with them? :/

    • blogmywiki says:

      Thanks Mark – yes I did know about the Bluetooth thing but had forgotten! So thanks for the reminder. Esp. useful since I’m using BT for data logging experiments. I had similar compass problems in school – I blame that elusive new particle, the childon…

  2. Pete Dring says:

    Great article – thank you. Really useful to hear what works and what doesn’t. We’ve only just received ours and haven’t handed them out to students yet, other than some testing with a variety of year groups. Like you, I’ve found mu to be a big improvement over the python editor on the micro:bit editor but I’ve got some students trialling an online python simulator which is working well so far – easier than debugging using the REPL with mu and handy for when devices break, go missing (or end up on eBay): Example and resources.

    I’ve had two students tear open the silica gel packs so far. Thankfully no-one’s eaten any yet (as far as I know!)

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