British Kids Finally Get Their Micro:Bits

The little board that has at times seemed so plagued with delays as to become the Duke Nukem Forever of small computers has finally shipped. A million or so British seventh-grade schoolchildren and their teachers will today start receiving their free BBC micro:bits.

Announced early last year, the plan was to rekindle the learning of code in schools through handing out a powerful and easy to program small computer to the students. The hope is that it will recapture the spirit of the 1980s, when school computing meant programming Acorn’s BBC Micro rather than learning how to use Microsoft Word.

Sadly the project has been delayed multiple times, the original target of last October was missed, and a revised estimate from January suggested they might ship at half-term (about four weeks ago). With only a few days to go before the Easter school holidays the kids will have to try them out at home, but at least they’re arriving.

The board itself sports an ARM Cortex M0, accelerometer, compass, switches, GPIOs, and an array of LEDs. Connectivity comes via Bluetooth Low Energy and USB. It’s an mbed at heart, so it is expandable beyond its child-friendly, web-based programming environment. We had an opportunity to look at one a few months ago, and it’s definitely a board we can see finding uses within the hacker and maker community.

Remembering the impact of the BBC Micro in the 1980s, it’s likely that there will be a hard core of kids who will take this thing and make it their own. For the rest, it may be a passing fancy, but at least those who are interested will have been presented with the opportunity. It’s likely that the board will go on general sale in due course, but cynical voices suggest that the really uninterested kids may put their micro:bits straight on eBay as soon as they get home. British schools open their doors sometime around half past three UK time. On your marks!

We’ve mentioned the micro:bit a few times over the past year here at Hackaday, its launch, a port of Python to the platform, and the recent launch of a programming app for Android, from Samsung. We look forward to seeing what the kids do with it. If you are a parent whose offspring has performed a cool hack with one then we’d love to see it over on Hackaday.io!

80 thoughts on “British Kids Finally Get Their Micro:Bits

        1. Sounds familiar.
          We had a Sinclair ZX Spectrum at school back in the early 80s. The teacher was almost certainly afraid of it, never organised any teaching sessions with it beyond an introduction by somebody else who demoed it.
          “These new fangled computer things will never catch on you know, passing fad, nothing more.”, going on to describe how our local town had installed a computer system in the town library, was an utter disaster. Probably was.

          Back On topic -im still waiting for my damned Pi Zero for crying out loud, has got to be way more superior in most areas than a micro bit. Cost included?

      1. “Announced early last year, the plan was to rekindle the learning of code in schools through handing out a powerful and easy to program small computer to the students.”

        Sure sounds like it. Care to qualify your response?

          1. Raspberry Pis are standalone computers, capable of being programmed without the need of an additional, more powerful, computer.

            Both the micro:bit and Raspberry Pi require a power supply, keyboard/mouse, and display to program, only the micro:bit requires a computer as well. Neither the micro:bit nor the Raspberry Pi will usher in a programming revolution – they are hacker toys that appeal mainly to hackers. Putting a caseless circuit board in the hands of student that has no interest doesn’t make them interested in it, just like putting a box of charcoals in every student’s hands doesn’t mean they will suddenly develop an interest in art.

            Before you argue that the micro:bit gives an otherwise interested student access to something they never had before, think again – they most likely have access to a fully-capable desktop computer; you know, the one they need to program their micro:bit.

          2. As far as needing a computer, you can get a second-hand PC for less than a hundred quid. And Microbit is programmable by phone, they say. Suppose that includes tablets. Depending on how much typing you need, a tablet can run a keyboard and mouse, both cheap, with a pound-shop USB hub and an OTG lead. Many plug into the TV (yay! 80s style!). So they’re pretty good as computers and you can get them pretty cheap. Same applies to phones, using HMDI and keyboard / mouse.

            Failing that, if they really need a “real” computer, give ’em a Raspberry Pi, even a Zero, and use that as a desktop. Porting the development tools to Pi would be great. Since they’re apparently all web-based, might not even need any porting. You can get Android for the Pi right? If you need it.

            If need be, give kids who don’t have computers a Pi Zero each. Then they’ll be learning two things as they go. If schools are sensible they’ll get them, and the keyboard, USB hub, etc, from proper suppliers, rather than from special education sources who’ll charge 5x as much for speaking the language of teachers.

            Local hackers could even, if it turns out to be needed, work with a school to fix up a supply of Pi Zeroes for this. Most kids have a TV in their bedroom. Even without HDMI there’s still composite with a simple bit of soldering. A school’s science or technology teacher could do that.

            This microbit thing is just one example of dirt-cheap modern computers finding their way into schools. Arduino might be just as good, or Pis. The idea in general is good. The main problem with doing this is the support needed for the big push. Teachers generally aren’t smart, they need stuff like this in a format any idiot can use.

            A kid’s version of the Pi might be nice too, somebody write a free ebook going through the basics for them, giving them a system that works out of the box (important, any little bug or SNAFU can result in it going into a dark cupboard forever), and some programming tools. Must be standardised and foolproof, no obscure dependency nonsense. The big problem Linux has. The support is the critical thing in all of this, the hardware barely matters.

          3. You don’t need a standalone display and keyboard if you’re using the micro:bit with a laptop. Guess what kind of computer students are most likely to have these days? Guess what schools are going to use if they can’t set up a dedicated computer lab? The educational deployments the RPi Foundation have been bragging about generally involve dedicated labs for this reason. Also, the fact that the Raspberry Pi is a standalone computer is a downside if anything – UK schools already have IT infrastructure, they probably don’t want to deal with administrating another, parallel, incompatible set of full computers.

        1. The Pi is easy to program, but not in the way this is. With a Pi either kid or parent has to sort out all the mouse, keyboard, PSU etc. and create an SD card from the image. As someone who runs a Pi Jam I can tell you that’s daunting for a lot of parents, we sometimes forget this ‘cos it’s not for us.

          The micro:bit is a lot simpler to get running. Plug it into your PC or connect it to your phone with the app, create code. It’s not as powerful – sort of more like an Arduino in what it does – but it’s a step easier for the kid.

          Plus it’s free for them, of course.

          1. I like it that it’s so simple. I distinctly remember the giddiness the first time I made a microcontroller light up an LED. This is a chance at that for every kid. And for those that don’t get bitten by the electronics bug, their friend are going to take their unused board and connect two (or many more) of them together to do cool things.

        2. The BBC micro:bit seems to me more like an Arduino in that it runs an uploaded program, rather than a Pi which is a computer itself running an OS and applications. Both (BBC micro:bit & RPi) will find their place in the classroom, I’m sure, but the plan to give the BBC micro:bits to the children should be applauded I think. And yes, many probably will be sold on ebay, pinched by older siblings or lost down the back of the sofa. But I hope at least some of the pupils will make good use of them and be inspired.

    1. To be a little more verbose than “No”, the rPi is a full-fledged computer. It’s got embedded applications, but you’d program it with Bash scripts or Python code. This little guy is much lower-level. However their kid-friendly interface works, it runs bare assembly, and you have raw hardware access. None of the users, groups, permissions, or timing issues that emerge with a real computer.

    2. No it’s the niche that lego mindstorms or pneumatic sets and boxes of fischertechnik etc filled years ago. i.e. the dusty niche on top of the cupboards at the back of the classroom where things that no-one ever quite figured out how to shoehorn into the curriculum sit gathering dust and disappointing the students who would be interested who patiently wait for the lesson/project using it that never comes…

      1. When I was at school I sometimes got a bit of time to teach myself BASIC on the BBC Micro. For proper lessons though, we had a few more BBC Micros with Logo. Seymour Papert’s attempt at an educational language for kids. Simple loops provide attractive geometric patterns, there’s a simple logic to it, and it even teaches a bit of basic geometry. Logo was great, helped get kids into the very basics of programming, the idea of logical flow and imperatives.

        Can’t think of anything since that’s quite as good. I suppose the block-dragging things could be quite good. Still think there’s a place for Logo though. Came as a full pack with worksheets and educational material, starting off easy and advancing. Not just the smartest kids got on quite well with it. They should bring it back. Block-dragging too has logical flow and the like but programming really benefits from using a keyboard and typing out code, even simple code. BASIC too should have a place. Proper BASIC with line numbers and no shit like longwords and the like. Just numbers (integer and float, as one type), $trings, and simple arrays[]. Not the abominable half-C nightmare it was dragged into, against the point of a language for beginners. Nobody needs low-level stuff in BASIC, you’re using the wrong language!

        Education-wise I think we’ve lost a lot as computers have become so advanced. It both hides the real machine from users (a cause of all sorts of trouble once they need to venture beyond the half-dozen things Microsoft expects them to do), and requires too much knowledge to attain mastery over. Even partial mastery. The whole class of .jpg.exe malware wouldn’t be possible if not for Microsoft’s boneheaded default of hiding file extensions, cos some idiot decided it was confusing. It’s much more confusing without them, since the system is still based on them.

        Anyway… bring back Logo and BASIC! STOS and AMOS on the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga were great. Simple BASIC, with (optional) line numbers. Commands for music playing, sound, and sprites were all built in. So you could write a game with just the basics of logic, and it ran fast enough because the slow spritey stuff was all taken care of by the system, in machine code. Writing even simple 2D games would be very satisfying for kids. One or two commercial games, and a shitload of shareware, were written in STOS.

        That’s what’s needed, lower-complexity stuff. That does the job, gives rewarding results, and isn’t too complex, isn’t too simple. The smarter kids often enjoy helping out the ones who don’t do as well. All good learning.

        1. You make far too much sense.

          It’s just so much cooler giving kids something they don’t need or want. Really a embedded micro like this Microbits beast is just silly.

          They could have just as easily given them a couple of PicAxe boards to accomplish the same thing or better yet as you suggest give them a machine like the old Atari ST or Amiga with STOS, Both had a OS understandable by mere mortals.

  1. It’s not a handout for them to take home. It’s a teaching tool to use in school, for us to teach coding. After a period of teaching, then the microbit will be theirs to do with as they please.

    If any school just hands them out, then they’ve failed their students.

      1. You won’t like the answer. There’s no set curriculum / unit. It’s a case of who can teach what to the kids, and a lot of schools have failed to recruit computer scientists, or anyone who can code. There isn’t currently any published scheme to follow, but momentum for it is building. It feels a bit DIY but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

        From the kids I know, this won’t herald a new era of coding. The kids it will hit already have access to cheap arduino and RPI and the like. It might have been better to collaborate on a RPI 0.5 or something, However well see – I live in hope, and the microbit has some unique features like the accelerometer, compass, and music output might hit a spot.

        1. Right, so BBC hype then. The boards are the cheapest and most useless part without the support. All this hype and apparently none of the “journalists” reprinting, -cough- reporting on the press release, thought to ask who was gonna teach them? What a crock of shite.

    1. Having recently visited 5 Local secondary schools and discovering that ICT/Computing or whatever it’s known as is only timetabled for 1 hour a week on average (1 hour a fortnight in some) , I’d expect this to make very little difference to the 1 year group future skill set.

      Its not the schools failing the children it’s the bickering bureaucrats.

  2. are we expecting “programming micro controllers” to become a tremendous need in the near future?

    The only way to program these is to install a development stack on a desktop computer that includes, you know, a display, a keyboard, perhaps a mouse, a power supply and a case – why can’t kids be taught to program on the desktop computer they need to program this device?

    1. You have to excite them with programming. “Look, this PC does something on the screen!” isn’t as exciting to a 12-year-old as “Look, here’s a toy with flashing lights and buttons you can make do what you want!”.

      The skill is programming, not programming microcontrollers per se. The microcontroller is in this case a means to an end.

      1. You could do the same with the PicAxe or heaven forbid the BBC could have designed a modern version of the C64 with a H/W interface port in the back like the original had, coupled with a built in BASIC and a nice handbook of projects, they’d be in business.

      2. I recall reading the January 1975 issue of Popular electronics, particularly the article on the World’s first mini computer kit, the Altair 8800. Even though I some how understood that was the start of something that would grow into some large, I never pursued that route as a hobbyist because I had no application for it that could justify the cost of entry. I would be pretty much the lone ranger in in regard personal computers where I lived. In the event the kid aren’t shown how programing could enhance the activities they now enjoy, even at an entry cost of free they aren’t likely to be enticed into, directing effort from somewhere else to learning programming.

      1. I think that is a key point it pushes the IT and electronics lab out into the field, and homes of the students, otherwise you could learn as much or more using various simulators on a cheap desktop PC, or any of the plethora of credit card sized Linux systems on the market.

  3. [enable rage mode]
    UGH. More useless junk, designed by engineers wearing inch thick rose colored glasses about how “fun” and “inspiring” it was to code bare metal on an overgrown calculator back in the 80s. A serious casualty of Not Invented Here syndrome, – Arduino lacks the BBC logo on the board, better throw it all out and rebuild the ecosystem from scratch. Passed off to a nation of kids by educators chasing the STEM hype train, and shoved into the curriculum to educate the .05% of kids who will grow up to use this (while blocking out the time that could be spent learning actual, widely applicable life skills).

    Here, BBC, I have a suggestion for you. Take your design money and drop it on someone to get a Python interpreter built into Minecraft. Now teach them to code a sentry gun to protect their home from explodey creeper things. Great, you just taught them the basics of programming, in an environment they already know, AND they might actually care to pursue it since it’s useful to their interests. Not much of an exciting future in blinking LEDs, after all. “Look kids! With enough learning, you too could be designing the control board of a dishwasher!”
    [/rage]

      1. Minecraft? Get real. That’s just crap running on a computer, which btw not everybody have, still. Atleast with the BBC board you get some actual irl effects, It’s free, it’s still very educational in the basics. Teaching python in minecraft, that’s kind of a high jump, when you start from nothing when it comes to programming.

        Why don’t you glue your VR goggles on and rage in your block world. Just cause you don’t think it’s the best way doesn’t mean it’s shit.

        1. Uh… I didn’t intend for that bit to be taken so literally? Substitute “anything kids are currently finding interesting and sinking hours into” for “Minecraft”, and “any beginner-friendly programming language” for “Python”, and see where you end up.

          My point is this: 15 years from now, when one of these kids grows up and starts FaceBox or DropBook or whatever, she’ll get interviewed and they’ll ask how she got started in programming. And she’ll say “well I was introduced on the micro:bit and from there…”

          So then everyone involved with this project can pat themselves on the back and feel all justified that yes, this was a good use of taxpayer money and a fruitful disruption of the educational process, because without it we wouldn’t have GooPleSoft! Here’s proof! They could probably go on to get backing from that CEO to make micro:bit:bit to foist upon the next generation.

          Because grand educational experiments like this are almost always lacking in rigorous controls and testing methodology, so we HAVE NO WAY OF KNOWING if e.g. “kids who got the Raspberry Pi as the Foundation intended really DID improve in X, Y, Z skills, vs those who got traditional computer education, vs those who got nothing”. Were there focus testing done on these? Independent confirmation? Have we isolated the things that matter (programming language, concepts taught, projects) vs those that don’t (board name, microcontroller brand, etc)? How does the curriculum look? Aside from the feel-good implications of giving out an ARM dev-board to schoolchildren, does this really do anything else??

          The answer is: We have no idea. I merely suggest that the effort and expenditure of designing, building, and shipping (months late, to boot) a whole new board, ecosystem, and lesson plan is ONE HELL of a roundabout trip to reach the goal of “teaching kids the basics of programming” and “getting them interested in a future of programming”.

          1. Yup. Simply making a million boards and giving them away is the easiest part. They’re useless without all the educational support. That’s the difficult part. I suppose the BBC will be making a few TV programmes for education, but TV isn’t the best way to teach programming, you need interaction with a teacher who understands the subject. Something schools are very short of, especially for technology.

            The amount of stuff at school I heard from teachers who, I now realise, were bluffing, making shit up, or just repeating urban legends, is astounding. I’d have been better off going in one day a week, and reading the textbooks myself. Maybe with the money saved they could’ve got some teachers who actually knew a subject beyond teaching. So much of school is spent indoctrinating children with social attitudes and assumptions. The rest is mostly time-wasting.

            Partly it’s down to repeated budget cuts and growing class sizes. But partly schools haven’t evolved with the modern world. Nobody’s had any great ideas beyond the usual Victorian-derived rubbish. Pack ’em into a room, repeat boring nonsense at them, give them exams, then 2 years after they leave they’ve forgotten all of it.

            I know very few adults who understand even basic science, yet many of them passed exams in the subject. So many people on Facebook and other Internet places, can’t spell and have no understanding of simple grammar. But most of them must have passed exams as kids. What’s the point?

    1. Some nice, cheap, accessories could make the difference here. Cheap robot parts, or even just a car with sensors, for this board to control. By themselves 25 LEDs get a bit boring fast.

      Still, there is the unique joy of programming, getting stuff to work, then thinking of more stuff to try based on that. As long as it’s not a pain in the arse to wrestle with, as long as it’s mostly bug-free, there’s a lot of potential. Even just running through a terminal. But it will certainly benefit from all the accessories, the ones they haven’t mentioned the cost of in the press releases. Maybe it’s a market for the educational suppliers, or others, to move into. There’s already millions of users sitting waiting, an instant market.

      Maybe a “shield” with an LCD and joypad / buttons would be good, get ’em writing games. Does Microbit have a TV video out? It’d be nice to have.

      I’m speaking here as someone who went to British schools in the 1980s, and got on well with the computers there. Not the first generation of computer kids, with their teletypes to local colleges. But the generation with the 8-bit BBC Micros, and later horrible overpriced Nimbus almost-PCs. Modern Windows PCs have killed off accessibility and a lot of what my generation had. The 8-bits are why Britain still has so many software houses.

      1. So to rephrase what I said about Minecraft in the hardware world: the real hook of Lego Mindstorms isn’t the RCX block itself. It’s the fact that it fits into a whole bunch of other blocks that kids are already very, very familiar with. “Building a raceway is fun”, you say, “why not add a working traffic light?” Kids would be all about it!

        It could also be an issue of marketing. If what they’re really giving out is USB Parallel Port adapters with some smarts, it makes a lot more sense to me. Alternately, if they handed out calculators and built an ecosystem around that, it could make sense too. The calculator is still extremely useful in non-engineering situation, but for those who dare to explore, it has BASIC and a 5V tolerant port.

        I don’t think micro:bit has any of that yet, and it really surprises me that they decided to go all-in on a brand new ecosystem rather than picking something already existing (RPi, Arduino, PC, Lego, …).

      2. The main problem right now is that almost nobody uses TV out anymore. It would probably need HDMI. I guess most of the target audience doesn’t even know what the composite plug is for anymore. It would make sense a few years ago, when TVs had composite inputs on the front panel.

        And HDMI makes everything way more complicated and expensive, and you would probably either need to upscale your video or all the pixels would just make writing graphics code take way too long.

        A simple LCD would be a better idea.

    2. I’ve seen at second hand a Code Club – after school coding for kids, now part of the Pi Foundation but not limited to the Pi.

      And yes, kids go crazy for Minecraft coding. Show them how to make clever stuff in it and they react as though you’ve just given them the Holy Grail. But they also go crazy when you give them that Arduino shield that makes a slightly GameBoy-style games console with an LED matrix and loads of buttons. They *like* having something real they can fire up while holding it, and run their code on. Something very like the micro:bit, in fact.

      Sure, the micro:bit isn’t the perfect computer for all uses. But for what it is and in particular for the price it is it doesn’t do badly. This conversation in 15 years time will be full of 27-year-olds waxing lyrical about it as the board that got them into computing, you can be certain.

    3. Python for Minecraft? You mean like the free RPi version?
      Or maybe Lua is enough for you, in which case you have MinecraftEdu (a full school-targeted version of Minecraft) and a couple of mods like ComputerCraft or OpenComputers. If you prefer visual programming, you can run teach basics of flow control with Steve’s Factory Manager.
      For more hardware oriented types MineFactory Reloaded has it’s Programmable Rednet Controller that lets you create complicated logic circuits, almost like a small CPLD. If you want to go down to basic gates, mods like ProjectRed give you full set of gates and wiring to play with.

  4. This is excellent. I’m dyslexic and was at school in the 70’s / 80’s in the UK. I wanted to do computers, was told I could not cope. Well been a software engineer for nearly 30 years now. Glad to see they finally sorted this out. Hopefully it’ll fill the world with new engineers of all disciplines. If it was not for the 8bit home micro scene in the 80’s I would have been a road sweeper all my life. This is empowering and I am excited for them. Can I be 8 again? ;)

    1. Exactly, we should try to give all kids opportunities, in order to discover those with the right mix of talent and interest in any given topic, not because we expect them all to pursue any topic topic to an accomplished level, and we should not prejudge children by saying they don’t have what it takes. Conversely we should not tell kids they can do everything well, because that is a blatant lie, rather they need be encouraged to find out who they really are, accept themselves, and then make the most of their unique ability profiles.

    2. This is the best comment here! I made a triangle and a circle at lunch time in LOGO on a black-box 480Z but it wasn’t until a book showed me a smoothly moving balloon sprite from DATA statements on the C64 that I was hooked. It has to be cool.

      1. Yeah, nice but the prob with the C64 was the BASIC exposed none of the hardware features. There were no sprite commands, I don’t think it even had stuff for sound or joystick. It was all POKEs. Very annoying. The bloody thing had 32K ROM, what did they put in there!? A few BASIC commands to actually use the sprites would’ve been great. Same for the tile-mapping it supported.

        BASIC on the Atari 800 series (up through the 130XE) didn’t even have bloody string arrays! As well as the same lack of sprite etc control. What was wrong with those people!?

  5. Would be nice if the FCC took care of our kids like that…

    But then, someone would call that an over-reach of a liberal government. Forcing their kids to learn how to program…

    1. The BBC is an independent organization, and really isn’t part of the government. Your analogy would be better if you asked why Fox News, Apple or Google didn’t think of doing the same thing. And why haven’t they?

      1. The BBC’s an odd entity, in effect state-owned but as others have observed it’s not part of or under the control of the government. That goes back if I recall my BBC historical documentaries correctly to its first director-general who successfully fought off an attempt by the Government to control it during the 1926 General Strike. (Any historians please correct…)

        This puts it in the unique position of being about the only entity in the UK that can produce an initiative like this without either a political or commercial agenda. (many people decry the Beeb for its politics, but since this comes from both Right and Left in equal measure they probably don’t do too badly) The BBC Micro from the 1980s demonstrates how successful this can be: it’s a major reason why the UK has so many of the tech industries it does now, and also incidentally a key step in the pathway that gave us ARM.

        Our closest thing to the FCC is OFCOM, the government regulator of all things radio and telecom.

  6. Pretty neat to see another round of this. Neat to see what has been done with it and it should yield an interesting project or three ;) I liked the bitcoin alarmclock in particular.

  7. The more platforms available to teach kids to program the better. I’m still not sure where this fits though. The Raspberry Pi in my mind is a better fit as an Amigo/Commodore 64/BBC Micro equivalent. The Raspberry Pi can run full blown Python not just MicroPython. And since the Raspberry Pi is a true (if underpowered) computer (not a microcontroller) children can learn how to program and use a ‘real’ operating system early on. With tools like scratch, sonic pi, python and many more the Raspberry Pi platform is perfect for kids/children/students.

    If the goal is to make embedded systems more accessible to the young ones, arduino is the perfect fit. Easy to program, cheap and fun hardware….again not seeing the niche for the Micro:Bits. But perhaps its just me.

    1. The Pi is as you observe a much more powerful computer. But from my experience of running a Pi Jam I’d say it has a barrier to entry: mum and dad have to get several peripherals and set up an SD card with an OS for their kid. Really easy stuff for the average Hackaday reader, but not necessarily so for the Average Guy In The Street. So if the micro:bit has a niche it’s to give the child a self-contained computer they can easily program from within a browser of from the app on their phone, no extra input required. Sure it’s not the Best Computer Ever, and there are plenty of similar boards. But for what it is and the hands it’ll end up in I’m sure it’ll do the job well of exciting the kids who want to learn about coding. Most of them may then upgrade to a Pi or whatever, but the micro:bit will have done its job.

      1. Sure, but the Micro-bit itself needs more hardware! The accelerometer is better than nothing, but a few more buttons, like, say, a joypad, would’ve been better to get little games of Pong or teeny-Snake on it. The accessories, it’s “shields” or whatever they’re calling them, is what this will live and die on.

        An LCD and joypad / fire buttons will make it a shitload more useful, the CPU is certainly powerful enough. These already exist in quantity for the Arduino, as do an enormous amount of libraries. They’d have been better going with Arduino. Except they wouldn’t have been able to claim the credit for themselves, important part of the BBC’s image. Especially since more and more people are asking why we have to pay 145 quid a year for a station to show Hollywood films, sitcoms, expensive sport matches and endless car boot sale shows.

        Most of the stuff the BBC show could be done just as well by commercial channels. The patronising middle-class attitude would have to go, perhaps. I might support a TV license of, say, 20 quid a year to show niche programs, art, science, stuff that wouldn’t be commercially viable on another channel. But they’ve decided to compete with commercial channels for viewing figures to attempt to justify their existence. This is completely wrong-headed. You could subscribe to cable or satellite for not much more than a TV license.

        Channel 4 is the real gem of British TV. They have a charter where they’re not allowed to make a profit, every penny has to be re-invested in it’s services. But they’re completely self-funded by advertising. They even resurrected the joke that was the British film industry, in the 1990s, by funding many very popular (and good!) films that made a good return in the cinema. Their charter stops them showing lowest-common-denominator garbage (Noel Edmonds excepted), but they don’t dip into our pockets.

        The Micro-bit is another example of the BBC’s paternal attitude (or “auntie BBC” as nobody except themselves use as a nickname). They know what’s best, in their 1950s way.

  8. i still dont get why you need an extra computer to learn programming?

    Most kids today already got access to a computer! why in gods name do they need ANOTHER one?
    Why cant i just use the one i already OWN, with much more possibilitys to debug or visualize things?
    For me, learning to program was MUCH easier with a script language on my home computer. (I started programming with 3D-gamestudio A5, wich used some C-like scripting language they called WDL).

    After you got the idea, things get easy!

    In my perception, the problem simply is:
    Not every kid wants to be a programmer. in fact, by large margin, most dont (how i catched it in my school).

    Not every Programmer wants to do low-level stuff like µC or embedded systems.
    Not everyone has the “knack”. they just don’t get their heads around even simple things like an if or while condition, or how to break down a problem.
    Not every CS-class teacher is competent.
    Not every competent teacher really can teach stuff.

    And no graphical programming language, no Arduino, no development board is going to change this.
    and yet, there are people who want to make programming a mandatory class…

    I mean, be realistic:
    if some company would hand out free copies of Goethes works to kids the beauty of literacy, what would happen?

    1. That’s really simple. Because they can’t safely break stuff on the computer they have.

      The computer is either for the whole family (or even for the parents mostly, and the kids just get to play with it sometimes), or, even when kid’s own, it’s an expensive piece of equipment and breaking it would make the parents really upset. So only the most daring (or spoiled) kids actually try to do anything even moderately advanced. Almost nobody will try connecting wires to their computer (and there is a good reason for that too, but that’s beside the point).

      Now, if you have a cheap thing like raspberry pi or micro:bit, you can be much bolder. You can break and fix it repeatedly and nobody is going to get upset about it. You can connect a speaker, a LED, your younger sister, etc. to it. You can also put it in a box and pretend it’s a mission computer for your spaceship made out of blankets. And you can take it outside and show your friends at school. Believe me or not, but this changes everything.

  9. It’s just a magic black box that runs abstract code and doesn’t work, unless there is a compiler and various libraries/drivers for all the peripherals. Stupid idea to give something like that to kids to teach them about electronics. If they need to learn how to write code, any old linux box with GCC does the job. If they need to learn how a computer works, give them an old 6800 or 6502 board with discrete RAM, EEPROM and microprocessor, along with a 32channnel logic analyzer. Then they learn, how everything works together and how to write efficent assembly code, instead of using another inefficient abstraction layer (webUI or whatever) that changes all the time. (as soon as some other chip is used)

  10. My eldest managed to get his hands on one of these (by pestering head of IT). It seems the schools have them but aren’t giving them out because they don’t know how to teach with them. They should just give them out and let those who are interested and able to get cracking, we had simple animations coded and running in minutes.
    We had it beeping some tunes after attaching a piezo buzzer, not very loud says the boy, so we talk about resonant cavities and speaker design for a minute. Then put it through the stereo amp. Later I swap the piezo for an led, it’s still running the beep code. Why is it flashing I ask him? Few seconds of blank look and then “It’s the music!!” < that there is the point of these devices.
    Tremendous potential for these when they reach the playgrounds.

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