Mellow Mummy: BBC micro:bit - Lara's first steps in coding : Taking life as it comes...

Monday 25 July 2016

BBC micro:bit - Lara's first steps in coding

As a software developer myself, it's fairly natural that I want to get my girls coding as soon as humanly possible - learning to write code opened up an exciting and rewarding career for me, but it also helps me learn about the world, keep up with technology and come up with innovative solutions to every day problems. If I can set my girls up to do the same, I'll be a happy Mummy.  Lara has been learning very basic coding concepts at school this year but I think it will be up to me and Mr. B. to really show her the ropes and that's where the BBC micro:bit comes in.

BBC micro:bit from element14 is a pocket-sized programmable device that can be coded in a matter of seconds - Lara had written her first program for it in less than 5 minutes using one of the selection of free coding suites available on the micro:bit website. The micro:bit can become anything you want it to - a die, a fitness tracker, a messaging application, a calculator, a music player.. you name it. It has been designed to be a fun and easy-to-use introduction to the world of technology and is packed with features that provide endless possibilities for creativity.

Before I let Lara loose on the micro:bit, I had a bit of a play around on each of the four script editors.  Each script editor comes with a tutorial and some example projects to get you started. As a developer, I found the python script editor to offer me the most freedom to write what I'd consider "traditional" code but I don't think I'd recommend it for an absolute beginner (plus, when you use python, you can't use bluetooth to sync your scripts with your tablet via bluetooth).  I liked the microsoft drag and drop editors but I just knew that as a beginner, Lara would find the Code Kingdom editor the most intuitive - I think she has used something similar before.  The Code Kingdom javascript editor is a drag and drop editor which has pre-programmed methods you can use to exercise all of the features of the micro:bit including sounds, buttons, lights and movement.

Lara and I sat down after school one evening and I showed her the micro:bit and the editor and we talked about all the amazing things she could do with it. I started her off on a very simple application in which she selected a message to display in scrolling letters across the screen. It took her 5 minutes while I showed her around the methods she needed to use. I showed her how to test her script before saving it... something I REALLY like about the Code Kingdoms editor because testing is just as important as writing code and its good to teach that lesson from day one. Once you've saved the script you copy it onto the device (which you connect to your PC using a USB cable, or to your tablet using Bluetooth) and then you're ready to go.

Lara thought it was fabulous that she could write a message for her friends and so we experimented with that for a while before moving on to explore some of the other capabilities of the micro:bit. I taught her how to hook into the button presses so that you can change what's on the screen depending on which button is pressed. Then we played around with the accelerometer inside the micro:bit using one of the tutorials to teach us how to display a random number when the micro:bit is shaken - a bit like a dice roll. You can even respond to actions on the linked device!

Lara is very inspired. She can see that it would be easy to create different things - she has asked me to buy some crocodile clips so that we can connect the micro:bit to headphones and we can program it to play music. There are 20 pins across the bottom that you can connect to (given the right equipment) to perform different interactions. I'm sure we will explore them in time.  And that's the thing - this is the beginning of a journey and the coding experiences we can have on the micro:bit are just limited by experience. There is so much for Lara to learn.

I'm excited about the micro:bit - I've found a real way of inspiring Lara to learn to code!  If you're not a developer like me, then fear not, the BBC micro:bit website is packed full of training and tutorials to help you support your child (or indeed yourself) in their learning.  I'm so keen to get both of my girls started with code and, judging by the responses I got on LinkedIn when I posted this picture of Lara with her first creation, lots of people are keen to see more young, female software developers learning from an early age - they are the future!

The BBC micro:bit is available to buy from a number of outlets but I've seen them at Maplin for about £14.99 including a USB cable and battery power pack from when it is not connected via USB.

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