Introduction to the Micro:bit

What is a micro:bit?

Put simply, a micro:bit is a tiny programmable computer with lots of toys built-in.

It’s durable, about half the size of a credit card, and features the following built-in components:

  1. Radio and Bluetooth antenna

  2. Compass

  3. Accelerometer

  4. LED lights

  5. Light sensor

  6. Temperature sensor

  7. 2 programmable buttons

Originally created by the BBC, the micro:bit serves as a platform to teach kids 21st century skills like programming and engineering.

The BBC’s introduction to the micro:bit video sums up its capabilities quite well:

Every micro:bit project involves programming. For example, you might use a micro:bit to build a car that can avoid obstacles. You would write a program that reads data from a proximity sensor and turns the axle to avoid the obstacle.

That sounds complicated, but programming the micro:bit is very kid-friendly (and teacher-friendly!). The micro:bit supports two real-world, popular programming languages: JavaScript and Python.

Microsoft MakeCode is an online editor that lets you program the device using JavaScript. It also offers a graphical block interface that uses JavaScript under the hood:

Microsoft MakeCode for micro bit.png

Blocks are great for beginner programmers and younger students, but are harder to use for more advanced logic. MakeCode features a live micro:bit simulator that allows users to test run their code and troubleshoot right in the browser.

The micro:bit also supports Python, specifically MicroPython, a version of Python designed to run on microcontrollers. Python is more capable than the blocks interface, and well-suited for more advanced programmers and older students. The only thing they have to make sure is to save their files as .hex as the micro:bit only reads those file types. JavaScript automatically saves files as .hex, but Python doesn’t. Alternatively, you can download Mu, a Python editor for the micro:bit, and flash the micro:bit directly.

Integration to the Science Curriculum

As a science teacher, I aim to fully integrate educational technology tools into my curriculum so that learning is meaningful and relevant for my students. With its plethora of capabilities, ease of use, and durability the micro:bit is a great tool in the science laboratory. You can use the micro:bit to automate experiments or build sensors. With automation, students are able to focus on fine-tuning laboratory skills such as making a standard solution, plating their bacterial colonies, or analyzing their data.

These technological skills are invaluable in university and beyond if students choose to pursue a science career. Of course, learning how to program is also valuable in and of itself.

I hope you get a general idea of what the micro:bit is and how powerful it is for students. Click here for a working list of science projects that I have developed using the micro:bit.