Inspiring a Generation – the BBC Micro Bit
Director of Education, BBC
It’s the time of year that many students (and parents) dread and for us in BBC Learning, it’s when what we do also really gets put to the test. For over 15 years, through Bitesize, we’ve been helping children and young people across the UK prepare for and survive, exam season.
Curriculum learning has always been important to us. We want to inspire our audience to achieve their academic potential and we usually do that by making films, games and resources that help consolidate what’s been learnt in the classroom.
But over the past 12 months, we’ve been plotting a more hands on approach – one that puts creative control in the hands of our audience and one which we hope will genuinely inspire an entire generation.
We started working on the early prototyping for a ground breaking device in September last year. Since then, we’ve created a small device which we’ve nicknamed the BBC Micro Bit and by working with a host of amazing partners, we’re planning to give one to every child in the UK starting their first year of secondary school (or equivalent) this autumn, as well as those who are home schooled.
But this is no ordinary giveaway – the BBC Micro Bit is programmable. And there’s no real way to tell you what it does – because that will be entirely dependent on how the children who get one, choose to program it.
Since we first announced the Micro Bit in March we’ve been working on the final version and are now in the last stages of design and testing, with my colleagues in the BBC collaborating with the organisations that have chosen to work with us on this brave and bold venture.
So I can’t yet unveil the finished product just yet, but I can reveal some details.
The Micro Bit is part of the BBC’s big educational campaign this year Make it Digital. It aims to inspire a new generation to get creative with coding, programming and digital technology and you can find out more about it here.
From the word go, we’ve been talking to teachers and getting their guidance on how best to create something that will work for them and for the curriculum. Their support has been invaluable, but we also need the Micro Bit to really appeal to the children themselves. We’ve been working with our partners to ensure that the branding and design captures the imagination of our 11 year old target audience.
From a tech perspective, we’ve been focusing on how best to create something that gives instant gratification for the most basic beginner but also, has the potential to handle much greater complexity. In our trials, we’ve seen children programme the ‘Bit to simply see their name in LED lights. But then in just a few short weeks, they’ve started attaching it to other devices – things like Arduinos and Raspberry Pis and that’s when the possibilities can really blow your mind. There has been talk of metal detectors, thermometers, real time messaging and weather forecasting and more, which can all be created by children with a Micro Bit.
In those trials, nine out of ten students said that they had learned something new, eight out of ten said that the Micro Bit made them more interested in coding, and seven out of ten said they’d be interested in going on to do more coding, using the Micro Bit or another device. And crucially, every teacher in the trial thought that the Micro Bit could be useful in teaching the curriculum.
For me, if I’m honest, this project has been massively daunting. I knew nothing about coding this time last year and I suspect many parents and teachers will have similar anxieties. So with that in mind, we’ll be working with our partners to provide resources that make it all make sense and that help suggest ways in which to bring the Micro Bit to life.
We are really excited by the Micro Bit and the potential we think it has to introduce a generation of children to digital technology that could literally change their lives – inspiring them along a path they’d never before considered. We’re excited about what that could do for digital industries and the sector as a whole within the UK when this generation comes of age. But we’ll need the help of teachers, parents and carers across the UK to really ensure this is all as good as it can be. You can register your interest to find out more by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the coming weeks, we’ll be emailing teachers at all the relevant schools in the UK to let them know that this initiative is coming, and that we’ll make sure that teachers have the chance to get up to speed on the device.
Finally, I wanted to flag that our ambition can only be realised through the hard work of over 25 partners, who are working on the hardware, software or educational aspects of the Micro Bit initiative. They are:
Product Partners - who are taking the lead on design, manufacture and distribution:
Technology Will Save Us
Product Champions - who are involved in outreach and educational resources:
Bluetooth Special Interest Group
Creative Digital Solutions
Institution of Engineering and Technology
London Connected Learning Centre
Python Software Foundation
Sinead Rocks is Head of BBC Learning.
- Read Sinead's blog 'New Computing Curriculum Resources from BBC Bitesize'.
- Read more about the Micro Bit on the BBC Media Centre website.