Micro:bit Educational Foundation launches to push micro:bit into Europe “and beyond”
“Today is a significant milestone in the story of the BBC micro:bit,” said Gareth Stockdale, head of operations for BBC Learning. “We always said that we wanted it to have an ongoing legacy, and at the launch of BBC micro:bit, we said a not-for-profit organisation would be the way to do that.”
And that has proven to be the next step of the micro:bit’s journey. Announced privately yesterday at a small gathering of journalists and educators, the Micro:bit Educational Foundation will ensure the little coding block gets pushed out to “Europe and beyond” after almost a million units have spread across the UK. The foundation will be, according to Stockdale, “an independent organisation that will build on all the great stuff that we’ve done with our little coding device”.
And there’s quite a lot of great stuff to celebrate. Before passing off to the Foundation’s CEO Zach Shelby, Stockdale rattles through some pleasing stats that show the micro:bit is able to convert wavering hearts and minds to STEM subjects. A Discovery Research report for BBC Learning showed genuine behavioural change: 39% of girls using the micro:bit for the first time said they would definitely take up computer science as an option, up from 23% in pre-testing, for example. Elsewhere, 88% of all respondents – boys and girls – said the micro:bit made coding seem less difficult than they previously believed.
“The new goal is to reach 100 million people worldwide, making a real impact on learning around the globe.”
That is vital to the micro:bit’s mission statement. Building on the original goal of giving away one million micro:bits in the UK, Shelby explains that the new goal is to reach 100 million people worldwide, making a real impact on learning around the globe. “For us micro:bit is not the solution to everything, it’s the first step in a young person’s educational experience with technology,” he explains. “We expect them to start with micro:bit, because it’s very very open and accessible to them. And then they’ll move on – they’ll start using Raspberry Pis, which is a great next step; they’ll start doing Code Club exercises online; they’ll start scripting; they might start doing professional studies in colleges and universities.”
“For us at the Foundation, we see every child being an inventor of the future,” he continues, arguing that the problems we have today can’t just be left to companies, with everybody else dismissed as idle consumers.
“For technology to really be used to solve problems, we need to enable our young people to embrace technology to solve their problems in the place where they live – which will vary hugely from Africa to rapidly growing industrialised Asia, to [the] already industrialised Western world. Very different problems.”
To that end, the Foundation’s first move will to be release new micro:bits early next year, promising “more computing resources, maybe some interesting new sensors and support for internationalisation”. Alongside this, Shelby also mentions a reference design, with everything from schematics to assembly instructions “so that people can build and modify their own micro:bits”. Shelby describes this as something for the “makers and developers” of the community. “I don’t talk about makers and developers as an audience – we’re not trying to sell things to them. They’re our partners. They help us make most of these projects,” he adds.
Some of the aforementioned makers and developers are in attendance, and I get to see firsthand some of the amazing projects they’ve built with schools in order to show children the potential of the device. Kitronik, for example, demonstrates what can be done by attaching micro:bits to standard toys, allowing a car to be remotely controlled via an app, and a toy crane to be moved around via the built-in accelerometers. The idea is to show the real-world applications of coding outside of dry lines on a screen, and the company sells a kit with some easy ideas and parts to get curious minds started.
Elsewhere I’m shown resources for teachers to introduce the micro:bit into classes outside of computer science (one setup monitors plant soil water content, and displays a big smiley face when the water levels are just right), and simple games for primary- and secondary-school children to easily code onto the micro:bit (one involves flipping a pancake in time with instructions, using the device’s accelerometer).
“The micro:bit is seen as an important antidote to that kind of thinking. A world where our cutting-edge technology is seen as a stepping stone on a long journey, rather than the final destination”
But for me, the star of the show is “Technology Will Save Us” – a group that provides kits and instructions for a simple but brilliant micro:bit implementation. I’m shown some examples built from tutorials on the site: a musical instrument built played by conducting electricity through pencil graphite, a Tamagotchi-style pet modeled on BMO from Adventure Time, and a private messaging Morse code translator.
All the representatives are evangelical about the micro:bit, of course, but something I hear a couple of times is this: our current batch of smartphones makes life far too easy. The walled garden is too restricting, and everything is done for us, leaving a generation that, left to their own devices, might not see the need to code. That limits our potential in future, and the micro:bit is seen as an important antidote to that kind of thinking. A world where our cutting-edge technology is seen as a stepping stone on a long journey, rather than the final destination.