Micro:bit — BBC Gets A Million Kids Into Embedded Dev

In the Early 1980s, the BBC launched a project to teach computer literacy to a generation of British schoolchildren. This project resulted in the BBC Micro, a very capable home computer that showed a generation exactly what a computer could do. These children then went home, turned on their ZX Spectrums, and became a generation of software engineers. Still, the BBC Micro is remembered fondly.

The computer revolution is long over, but today we suffer a sea change of embedded processors and microcontrollers. With Arduinos and Raspberry Pis, the BBC has decided it’s time to put the power of an ARM microcontroller into the hands of a million 11- and 12-year olds. The result is the Micro:bit. It’s a small microcontroller board with an ARM processor, an IMU, buttons, Bluetooth and a 5×5 LED array – exactly what you need if you’re teaching a million kids how to blink an LED.

Although the BBC has finalized the design for the Micro:bit, there are no specs at all. However, a few educated guesses can be made. The USB controller is provided by Freescale, who also provide the digital compass and magnetometer. Programming is done through a web-based, Arduino-like IDE with what appears to be a decent Micro:bit specific library. The board is also mbed compatible. Bluetooth, and apparently the ARM Cortex M0 core, is provided by a Nordic nRF51822. There are only three alligator clip-compatible I/Os, and its doubtful any student will be building anything that would be too complex for an entry level ARM. It’s also 3V logic; finally, the tyranny of 5V has fallen.

The Micro:bit is best seen as a tool that enables the relatively recent addition of a computer science curriculum in UK schools. There is now a requirement for seven-year-olds to understand algorithms and create simple programs. Previously computer education in the UK has consisted of PowerPoint. Now, secondary school students will be learning Boolean logic.

While the Micro:bit is utterly useless as a tool for doing real work, education is not real work. For blinking a few LEDs, having a device react to movement, playing with Bluetooth, and other lesser evils of electronics, the Micro:bit is great. Not everyone will become the digital technologists this initiative is trying to create, but for those who have an inclination towards semicolons and electrons, this is a great introduction to technology.

149 thoughts on “Micro:bit — BBC Gets A Million Kids Into Embedded Dev

  1. While the Micro:bit is utterly useless as a tool for doing real work

    “ARM processor, an IMU, buttons, Bluetooth and a 5×5 LED array”

    Certainly sounds useless – can’t imagine anyone hacking that to get something useful…………..
    Especially with huge volume production and the backers they have – it’s bound to be super expensive as well.

    1. I think youve missed the 20+ io pins on the card edge connector and yes, that are going to be very expensive: Theyre giving them to 11 year-olds for free…

        1. Indeed, because tech from the USA never has any hidden backdoor surveillance functionality and surely never is used to spy on, limit and control people without their consent!

    2. No mention of internal RAM. No seperate chip so maybe it’s using the 4K cache of the CPU as a scratchpadwhile everything else has to come from the memory-stick. If this is the case, I can foresee people reprogramming the Sandisk memory sticks (that have their own ARM CPU) to place things needed fast across the first 256 bytes of many pages since, the way the memory on the stick is stored means that to get to the last byte of a 4 or 8K NOR or NAND memory page is to read the WHOLE PAGE. Likewise, on Games Consoles, if you are reading data (such as sound or graphics) as you walk around a map (for example), you build the CD/DVD with that data on the outside of the disc. Nintendo and Atari (remember the Jaguar CD?) actually had programs to help you do this.

      1. Yup. They wanted a decent processor for their new computer, couldn’t find one, so made their own. And that computer was the successor to the BBC micro.

        Apparently back in 1988 or so, it had the power of a low-end 80486, not commonly available (at any sort of price a sane person could pay) for a good few years later. And not even invented til 1989.

  2. According to Nordic Semiconductor it’s an nRF51822. Original prototypes were Atmega32u4, but have been changed to Nordic Semiconductor part. It is a Cortex M0 with a softstack. This is similar to the announcement previously about the nRF52 part on hackaday, but this uses their older nRF51 series that is on the 3rd revision of hardware.

    1. Yeah, it does look like they are connected. If they are actually connected to IO lines on the ARM it makes for a pretty cool design. You could plug this into some kind of card edge type connector on a little back plane board for more advanced fun.

    1. I don’t think that there is a country in the world without bats#1+ crazy people having influence. And as for people starving, it is a by product of unlimited consumerism on a planet with finite resources.

      Helping to educate kids may not solve the above in the short term, but it can not make things worse.

      1. As far as Christian bullshit, nobody under 60 seriously believes that in Europe. In the UK we’re nominally Christian but most people only see the inside of a church for births, deaths, and marriages. And church weddings are needlessly expensive for young brides who want a big show, other people just go to the local council’s registry office.

        Churches have very little power here. The C of E are meek and amiable to an almost comical degree, a former Archbishop of Canterbury (head of CoE) admitted in an interview he didn’t know if he really believed in a god as a personal figure. No mate, you do! You’re a Christian! You’re the BOSS Christian, that IS what you believe!

        But they’re nice and nobody hates them, and they don’t seem to hate anybody.

        As far as poverty… OK we could take some lessons from Cuba about not starving your poor. Currently several hundred disabled people have had their benefits cut off, and subsequently starved to death. In the world’s fourth-richest country. We’re having an “austerity” apparently, because we need to pay off our bank loans all of a sudden.

        The starved to death thing is a real fact, and accepted by most people in the country. The government have the figures but refuse to release the plain figures, preferring to release them as various ratios that make the horror less comprehensible.

        1. Sadly, Europe is slowly being taken over by believers of a religion very different from Christianity…
          People who believe it is okay to slit the throat of anyone who refuses to convert.
          People who are not becoming Europeans, and are reproducing at much higher rates than traditional Europeans.
          As one of them said “All your great cathedrals will be mosques in 100 years”.

      1. The US has a gun related death rate of 10.64 per 100,000 population per year. New Zealand’s is 1.45/100,000/year.

        Just by flying to the US, I’m 7.4 times more likely to die from being shot to death.

        1. “Just by flying to the US, I’m 7.4 times more likely to die from being shot to death”: That would only be true if gun deaths were completely random. They’re not.

          1. Could be but unlikely given that the UK for example has population density of 260 per sq km (compared with the USA being ~35) but with the gun related death rate a mere 0.26/100,000
            There’s a stronger correlation with gun ownership (USA=888/1000, New Zealand=226/1000, UK=66/1000)

          2. Of course the gun related death rate is sharply less in the UK, because most people aren’t allowed to own guns. In the UK, people simply beat each other to death with cricket bats instead. Yes, that’s a silly statement, but no sillier than the comparison you made.

            Even if you compare homicide rates, they are not directly comparable. The US counts all homicides in those rates. The UK does not – their stats typically exclude any cases which do not result in conviction. Someone killed in self-defense? Doesn’t count. Someone stabbed to death in a robbery or by a gang, and the killer was never found, or there was insufficient evidence to convict? Doesn’t count either. And so on.

            Quoting a few out-of-context stats in an attempt to prove something usually does nothing but prove one’s ignorance.

          3. I wonder how the death rate due to knives compares between the US, UK and New Zealand? Someone will always find a weapon. What is the death rate due to ball point pens?

          4. you can run away from someone with a knife, that’s the advice I give to my kids – it’s also why we moved to NZ when our kids started high school

          5. You can’t run away from someone with a knife Criminals are probably fitter than you. But even if you’re the fat kid, or in a wheelchair, you can shoot the. Wih a gun.

        2. So? Your simple minded math does not account for many things, as mentioned population density, diversity etc. Please go preach your anti-gun stuff somewhere else. We don’t want your phobias here.

          1. Chairman J says shut up and stop stating facts, its getting in the way of my story. Meanwhile the rest of us are examining an ARM M0 board. Get with the program folks. Beware or the HaD Troll Rat might get ya.

          2. States like New Hampshire have gun homicide rates comparable to Europe. Yes, the US is not like the rest of the world. We have diversity unlike any place on earth. It is also interesting that companies like Google are slammed for not being “diverse” enough… but I bet the demographics here mirror any tech company.

            But then, why not talk smack since my $9 dollar computer doesn’t ship until December?

        3. Actually if you remove suicides since that is self inflicted then it is only 3.7 per 100,000 and by taking a driving a car in New Zealand you are more than twice as likely to die than from guns in the US. Also it really is not random. The whole gun violence thing plays well on the news and yes it needs to be worked on but the US is far from the crack pot wild west that you are lead to believe from your media.

        4. The are at least 14 States with the murder rate below New Zealand’s. Vermont’s & New Hampshire’s were below 1.0/100k. I’ll submit that when you have states with demographics comparable to Western Europe, you get comparable results.

    2. I don’t know why you Americans complain. Your education system is ideally suited to your needs. Every kids get enough education on how to flip burgers for the ever increasing waistlines.

      1. The US has the 11th highest GDP per capita in the world. I don’t know what country you’re in, but we’re probably more productive here than you are there. Three of the countries that are more productive are Gulf oil states, so that doesn’t reflect well on their labor force. The places more productive than the US are Qatar, Luxembourg, Singapore, Brunei, Kuwait, Norway, United Arab Emirates, San Marino, Switzerland, and Hong Kong. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28PPP%29_per_capita.

        In short, you’d be lucky to flip burgers as well as we do. :-)

        1. Umm.. All are small nations that get a large percentage of revenue from oil or banking. Not really producing much folks and a large number have a lot of imported workers that do not count as “population” for the per capita.

        2. GDP per capita is quite a useless metric. Consider Singapore with it’s massively higher GDP per capita compared to the USA. Not matter how high this number is, the fact remains that Singapore had a big poverty problem and had the second biggest income inequality ratios in the whole of Asia.
          You see, you can have a high GDPpC and still be a backward borderline third world country for the most part.

          1. “GDP per capita is quite a useless metric”: First, I think it’s a useful metric when comparing countries with similar economies. E.g. it is useful when comparing the US to the UK, France, Germany, etc. It’s less useful when comparing the US to Kuwait or Singapore.

            Second, I’m citing GDPpC in response to a snide comment about flipping burgers – something that is “supported” by little more than oft-repeated anecdotes. I think GDPpC, for all its flaws, is a better metric than what the original poster has.

      2. Yet the EU continues to sue Microsoft & Google because they can home-brew truly comparable tech companies. Foreign students still flock to the US top get advanced degrees or work for siad tech companies (most of us engineer complain of H1-B visas… after all, it’s not our country losing it’s best & brightest.

        I also noted that when I lived in Germany in the 80’s that their school system was 3-tiered, with general education, vocational training and University-bound students going into different tracks. Guess which group’s science & math test scores are used to compare to the US’s “where all students lumped into one batch” test scores.

        Yes, we have our burger flippers. But we also have some of the best nerds the world has to offer. And your are on one of their web sites right now…

    3. I think we have more kids on free school meals in the UK than you do in the US. And as for your hatred of creationists, we have the other extreme – kids in the UK are about to get sent to Gitmo for being extremists if they’re not pro-homosexuality. (Look up EDOs, and Nicky Morgan’s – our education secretary’s – comments)
      And anyway, creationists don’t seem to have messed up the US too badly – your high tech industry is second only to China – which ironically is probably the only country with more Christians :)

    4. Meanwhile in the US they at least have the concept of separation of church and state, whereas in europe no such concept has arrived so far. And in fact in britiain the church of england’s head is the queen.

      But I guess what’s on paper and what’s actually done is often quite separate.

      1. Yet in the USA churches have quite a lot of power, particularly socially and over popular opinion. Compare how often Americans attend churches with Euros. Or how likely they are to believe particular Biblical points. There are no creationists at all in Europe, in America you’ve got them telling schools what to teach.

        Our churches weren’t big on running the state anyway, they’ve kept out of each others’ business. Perhaps the USA’s original founders being a bunch of puritan extremists and other weirdos, who wanted to be free to tell everyone else how to live, is at the root of the difference. There were a couple of centuries of colonisation before 1776.

        The populations of Europe generally know better than to listen to religion as a guide to how life ought to be. So we don’t need to hold them back, they’re not taken seriously to start with. Couples who get married in a church are unlikely to have been there before or afterward. They just do it cos it’s a romantic tradition, and for the nice scenery.

        The Queen has basically no power whatever, and hasn’t had back to Queen Victoria. She does as she’s told, and she accepts it gracefully. A ceremonial head of state, or perhaps even an ornamental one. Gods help us we don’t actually put her in charge of anything.

    5. Yep, those dang creationists and their forcing their kids to do their homework before watching TV. My dad was one of those loons (you know, the generation that sent men to the moon…) and yet 4 out of 5 of his kids (2 were adopted) graduated from college, and two of us got Master’s degrees. I now run an R&D dept. I wonder what you do?

  3. It looks like those long, thin divisions between the alligator pins might be connected to something; I think I see traces coming into a few of those pads. Perhaps they’ve broken out the rest of the processor’s pins for the more ambitious students?

    In any case, I’m not sure why the BBC felt the need to design their own hardware and IDE. Just drop a big box of Arduinos or RasPis on the problem. There are already several competing educational devices that solve this.

    1. RasPi would be cost prohibitive in this situation. Along with 1 million RasPi’s you need 1 million monitors, 1 million keyboards, 1 million mice, 1 million SD cards…you get the idea.

        1. Computers the schools already have. Or computers the kids parents already have. Or the Android app that Samsung is writing for the Micro:Bit running on an Android device some of these kids have.

          1. If the schools and parents already have computers you’re willing to include in the parts list, doesn’t that by definition also mean they already have keyboards and monitors and everything needed for using a raspi that you refuse to include in your parts list too?

            Your only legit complaint may be SD cards, since only most people and not all people have those, and they are only 2-3 dollars more on top of the $25 for the computer.

          2. @Dissy – So it only adds 2 – 3 million dollars on top of the $25 million price tag.
            Most people own tablets or laptops these days.
            The additional cost and complexity is not warranted for a production role-out that will result in the vast majority of these being thrown in the trash by the children that are not technically inclined, not of sufficient IQ, or uninterested in learning about electronics or software.

          3. I’d want a keyboard throwing in for an Android if I was gonna code on it. Even if it’s a graphical dragging-jigsaw-pieces-around kind of coding. You still need variable names and string constants.

            You know what I think’s responsible for the UK’s unusual proliferation of games programmers? As well as the ZX Spectrum? BASIC. All computers booted up to a BASIC prompt. So you could make a start with a simple program on the raw computer. Computers need a powerful and simple BASIC to teach kids with. At school aged 10 or so we did Logo, but lots of kids tried BASIC at home, then moved on to assembler. Often hand-assembled and POKEd into memory with a BASIC loader. To start with at least.

            We need a BASIC that’s powerful, that does graphical stuff easily, including sprites. Not 3D cos that’s a whole separate headache of maths. STOS / AMOS on the Atari ST / Amiga was one such. Proper BASIC, interpreted, with line numbers and all that sort of thing. Modern BASIC may as well be C, if you’re going to use it’s style and syntax, and stuff like DWORDs. DWORDS have no place in BASIC. BASIC is solid, foolproof (immediate errors on entering a bad line), and down to earth. I started on BASIC with a couple of books when I was 7. The ZX Spectrum+’s manual was a great step by step tutorial too.

    2. Neither of those would interest/excite many of the kids this is aimed at… my youngest step-daughter is the right age to be getting one of these next year, and she was quite excited by it – not something she has been by either the Pi (“it’s just a computer”) or an Arduino… In my experience the BBC is very good at pitching these things at the right level, and the BBC Micro was a generation-altering device in the 1980s.

      1. It is how you present them, and what you do with them. I think scratch is great for teaching kids programming, and you can use it with arduino hardware. Why not use resources to make teaching materials for existing platforms?

        1. Because creating something that did not exist draws more corporate sponsors and lowers the end user (the school system) cost. Selecting a preexisting platform would show favoritism to one company.

          1. While there is always some level of “not invented here” attitudes with practically everything, as the RasberryPi is purely UK designed (again with an ARM core), I suspect that there’s less of that and more of economies, sponsors and wanting a stronger leverage off the back of the original BBC Micro this time around.
            Ebon at RPi tried to point out the linkage with the original ‘beeb’ computer but he didn’t have the backing of the BBC – although without that first step to demonstrate a demand and seed the UK with the ideas, this endeavour may have not have gained quite as much backing.

          2. The Raspi’s on it’s way out anyway. Using an SoC, set-top box hardware, to make a computer with graphics and USB, was a novel idea. Now there’s dozens of them. The Pi has a nice user base and software library. But I’m sure that could be moved on to something faster and better. Essentially all these ARM SoCs are the same anyway.

    3. I did some work for an outreach program last year. You’re assuming that teachers are the same way inclined as engineers, trust me, they most definitely are not (for the most part). The raspberry pi is hyped up to be this amazing easy to use, cheap computer that’s gods gift to a computer science curriculum for children of all ages…. It isn’t.
      it’s great for me and you to use because we know our way around linux (well sort of for me….), we understand that packages and dependancies change so instructions you find on a website to do something might not work if they’re old. We can usually come up with a workaround or fix the problem, but it’s very time consuming. the majority of teachers charged with teaching this magical new computer science curriculum are infact IT teachers, with no computer science or engineering qualifications – so most are a wizz with word but not much else (a generalisation, don’t get your knickers in a twist). The time it takes to flash an SD card if you’ve got no experience doing it, booting up the pi, and compiling a C/C++/Python hello world program is measured in days, not minutes and teachers simply do not have the time nor the expertise to do this (again from what iv’e seen). Unfortuanlty, most of the raspbery pi’s purchased by schools have wound up sat in a draw collecting dust.
      Arduino is a better option but again presents similar problems, yeah it’s easier to get up and running, but you’re assuming the teacher knows how to wire up a sensor and knows how to debug faults in software and hardware. They do not.
      This BBC micro is a much better option because the entire design is integrated, the documentation will be designed for teachers to solve problems with students, i’m not bashing the arduino and raspberry pi comminity, but you can’t deny the amount of stuff that’s left unfinished, piss poorly explained, un commented or just doesn’t work.
      Aslo the online compiler is one of the best things, very few schools are able to install software as they please on their computers, typically it requires IT services doing it on all machines which is just another obsticle to overcome, they add up fast, trust me.
      The teachers we encountered in manchester were their own worst enemy, I’m a PhD student in Robotics and my undergrad was EEE, my supervisor is a doctor of robotics and has a degree in EE. So you’d think that when we suggested they go about things a certain way they’d listen, but no. They were the ones that said it themselves – raspberry pi’s just sit in draws collecting dust, but they were planning to buy more. PURELY because of the hype. They’re like magpies and shiny shit i swear!
      In the end we gave up with them because they were completely un sustainable. We’re now working with a technical college / highschool up in cumbria that we’ve found to be a lot easier to work with, mainly because the teachers all have industrial backgrounds and aren’t as easily swayed by hype.
      \hopefully the BBC micro bit thing will have enough hype to be self sustaining with the rest of the population.

      1. When are you running for President of the World? I will vote as many times as I can. Thank you for shoveling the hype aside to give the real world experience with these constant snake oil “educational devices”.

        1. Just a brief note on the RM Nimbuses that infested schools when I was a kid. Semi-compatible 80186 PCs that cost more than twice the price of competitors. Because they knew how to work with the education system. And I suppose most teachers, when faced with a complete lack of understanding, throw their money in the same direction other schools have.

          I’m sure RM’s customer service wasn’t free. But it was well in with it’s market. If you can tap the education system, you can write your own cheques. Completely ignorant and helpless, and rather than doing something to, gods help us, learn, they just give tons of money to have someone else do it for them. No business would do that.

          A later school I was at, a science teacher knew his PCs, so kitted the place out with a network of 386s for probably less money. Though no class was ever allowed to use them. Not once, ever. Oh well! May as well have sold them empty cases.

  4. When I was very young, we didn’t have the kind of money kicking around for any kind of computer. My mother was a teacher however, and one summer holiday she borrowed the school BBC Micro.

    Over the course of that summer my father taught himself to program from the manual and wrote a pong clone. He then printed out the source code at the end of the summer on the dot matrix printer to keep, and back it went to the school.

    The idea that making your own computer games was something you could just do if you wanted made a big impression on my younger self. These days I program games for a living on a high powered PC and love it, but the bleep as the BBC boots up (and the Amiga floppy drive startup noise) will always remind me of where I came from. Thanks BBC!

    1. Very familiar, except I’m in the (very) embedded world now, and my father was the teacher. Our generation truly has a better grasp of low-resouce computing than now. It’s very difficult to recruit good coders for this nowadays. Hopefully this will help (much more so than the bloated arduinos fostering tolerance of slow over-layered software, and the vastly over-resourced pis)

      1. I would too! I ordered a $9 computer off Kickstarter once I saw it on HaD. If noting else, it would add to the community and make more resources available for the kids…

      1. Certainly! If element14 invested in it I don’t see why they would limit sales. This card can be sold for a few dollars so it could be a bigger it than Arduino.

        1. I agree. And it is open source, so anyone can make boards it will attach to, or make completely new footprint / pinout boards. And it has some very nice features, so it should be popular. Pretty soon after the schematics are released China will start making all kinds of clones.
          It has a magnetometer and an accelerometer, so if you add a rate gyro, barometric pressure sensor and maybe some external memory, you have the basis of a quadcopter brain.

          1. Hopefully something can connect to the edge connector easily. Maybe a PCB that brings it out to a pin header, since it looks like the contacts are quite tiny. It would be nice to include that as a cheap option.

    1. I (think) there is a version of Scratch that runs in Raspbian, but I have only heard of a few programs in grade schools. They are certainly not being used for middle school students (as we call them in the US) around my area. The local high school has a micro controller basics class that is available for more advanced students. They use Arduino.
      For the most part, if you want your kids to learn about these things at grade school age in the US, you teach them yourself.

    2. While I’m arguably in a not-entirely-representative demographic (I live and work around Cambridge where both the RPi was designed but ARM also has its headquarters), most of the schools have some sort of “code club” set up as an after-school activity to attempt to entice and help kids with coding basics.

  5. Supported languages blockly (scratch) or Microsoft TouchDevelop does not sounds good to me, but it is for 11-12 year olds, who probably do not want to program on bare metal.

    1. Looks like I got it wrong the two supported languages out of the box are:both Microsoft.
      Microsoft Blocks ( a graphical coding language)
      or
      Microsoft TouchDevelop (a text-based language)

    2. I would have been so much more comfortable if it were ‘Scratch’ and not M$ blocks.

      As much as this is an opportunity to encourages young minds into this field it can also have the opposite effect and turn them away if poorly implemented.

      mbed certainly gives them an exit path for further learning.

      I couldn’t find an info of M$ Blocks which is typical of M$.

      I would have liked to see an open source graphical language that also shows the resulting code so that it’s easy to start and easy to move on to the next step.

      Kinda like having a taste before committing to a meal.

      1. I like the idea of fully open tools, that if you are curious you can dig deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, without hitting a closed source wall I had a BBC computer and it was OK until I got the BBC Microcomputer Advanced User Guide ( http://stardot.org.uk/mirrors/www.bbcdocs.com/filebase/essentials/BBC%20Microcomputer%20Advanced%20User%20Guide.pdf ) it is where I learned Assembly. The Basic user guide supplied with the hardware was OK, but the Advanced User Guide just blew my mind.

        1. Thanks for the link. I read that you can write inline assembly with BBC basic so I will look into cloning this old PC. I never did the 6502 assembly in the day. The Advanced book for the CPC series was called SOFT968. I had to import it at the time.

          Do you know anything about the copywrite status of the ROMs/BASIC etc.

      2. Whoa, you must be pretty edgy to use M$. The reality is the the MS languages are probably going to be much better for kids than anything else. They actually have kids to test with, unlike the open source crowd. Those guys aren’t allowed near them.

  6. BBC produces great documentaries, and initiate great educational projects like this, surprising for a public broadcaster. The recent cuts are rather sad. Two thumbs up for BBC.

  7. Most of these will end up in the trash. Everyone reading this blog hangs around with other hackers and makers, so it’s easy to forget that 95+% of the population has absolutely no interest in something like this.

      1. My first thoughts were exactly that. However thinking it through, since they are cheap as chips, the vast majority may well end up as landfill, who could be bothered to set up a fleabay auction for one board that they got for nothing, and can probably only flog for roughly the cost of a postage stamp.

    1. it doesn’t take 95% of the population to get involved, less than 2% will do and it doesn’t necessarily have to inspire all of that 2%, it’s a great way of reaching out to a generation just like the original BBC and the raspberry pi and inspiring a generation to take up all manner of exciting and fulfilling hobbies/career paths other than learning to use office.

      1. There’s gotta be a smarter – and cheaper and less environmentally wasteful – way to reach the 2% than by blasting something out to the 100%. E.g. give it away for free but only to people who request it on a web site. That would have other benefits, like making it available to kids of any age instead of arbitrarily limiting it to 11 & 12 year olds. Or ship them in bulk to middle schools and let the kids ask their teachers for one.

        1. Splendid idea! Now we should take it a step further. Why exactly are we wasting resources on literature books for our enginners? Physics for the factory workers? Finance for the nurses? Languages for the gardeners? This is a crazy stupid waste of everything!

          Let’s pick kids at birth and condition them to their future professions! I love being a Beta. It’s so much better than being a Gamma, and does not come with the Alpha responsibilities. How about you?

          1. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley for those that don’t get the reference.

            You expose kids to all sorts of ideas at school, and in doing so they discover what they like to do and what they have aptitude for. Letting them self-select would be counter productive. You want them to find out about the field by giving them a simple taster, after which they can either forget about it or move on to more capable systems like the Pi having discovered an interest.

          2. The difference between my suggestion and your “Brave New World” scenario is that I’m letting the kids choose for themselves whether they want a Micro:Bit. In “Brave New World” the decision was made for them.

          3. But you’ve failed to address my point. How do the kids know that it’s something they want to do or are good at unless they have tried it? Much of earlier education is about exposing kids to different subjects so they can gain this knowledge, plus a breadth of experience. They start to specialise later (first with GCSEs, then A levels and on to Degrees).

          4. Sweeney, as I wrote elsewhere, giving kids Micro:Bits (as in giving them ownership) is not a requirement for exposing them to Micro:Bits. Give them to the schools, develop a curriculum, and make them part of their education. I have no problem with that.

            But schools don’t give the kids textbooks – they lend textbooks out to the kids for the year. Heck, schools don’t even give the kids scissors. If you need scissors at school, they’ll lend them to you but if you want them at home, you buy them.

            Yes, expose kids to hacking. Yes, let them use computers – be they Micro:Bits or desktops – at school. But give them ownership of something that 95+% of them will throw away? No – that’s ridiculous.

          5. And as I pointed out elsewhere the Micro:Bit devices aren’t funded by the schools or the BBC, they are funded by industry. Industry wants people out there learning how to use its devices. These boards are small and cheap (in the volume we’re looking at I’m guessing at less than £10 each), and are effectively been given away as souvenirs. If they are sold on then they have still achieved the manufacturers objective.

            Conversely your approach of only handing them out to kids who request them leads in the direction of a technocracy. Only parents who understand the technology or are pushy high achievers will get their kids to apply. Imagine if you had to apply to go to school, rather than it being a legal requirement. The lower end of society wouldn’t bother, and there are plenty of bright kids who would miss out.

        2. I think the important step is – and that is the idea behind the whole scoup – to encourage teachers to start a project with the kids and support them with teaching material through BBC created material.

          In this case at least the boards get used once, perhaps lie in the drawer in most of the kids rooms but certainly some of them will pick it up at a later time for example for a physics -school- project or anything else. Especially because this brute force method will create a huge support for applications (e.g. games with BLE – smartphone connectivity).

        3. In high school I was exposed to car machanics, metal working, wood working and it is only when I was exposed to electronics that I got interested. I would’nt have got interested to it by myself. Kids must be exposed to different subjects and choose from that.

          1. Jacques, they didn’t give you a car or a hand saw; the school LENT you the tools. The school didn’t give you your textbooks or even a pair of scissors: they’re all owned by the school and lent to you.

            Giving every kid ownership of a Micro:Bit is not a prerequisite for teaching every kid to program a Micro:Bit. Give them to the schools, develop a curriculum, and incorporate it into the classroom. Kids who are interested in going beyond what the school teaches can buy their own Micro:Bit, just as every kid who wants to cut paper at home can buy his own scissors.

            Giving ownership of a Micro:Bit to every kid is as stupid as giving ownership of the textbooks to every kid. It’ll result in 95+% of them ending up in the trash.

          2. Neither the school, nor the BBC are paying for the devices. That’s been covered by the commercial partners in the scheme. What school wouldn’t give their kids a simple toolbox that had been provided for free by industry to try to encourage the kids to learn the skills.

      2. Its got to have a killer app too. Something that fires the imagination. If not, it joins the large collection of sundry other junk that protects the average kids bedroom carpet from the damaging effects of sunlight.

  8. Specifically, the BMB uses a 48 pin Cortex M0 with 20K of flash-RAM for code & data. It has low-power bluetooth so a simple SMS should be possible. There are 1 million and 1 things you CA. Link up the whole classes Micro Bit and have a good scrolling message effect. or a 5×5 matrix. All simple stuff but give them some good code with source to learn from. I would certainly have a networking program so that, if out of range, the message can go through othe BMBs. BECAUSE it’s so basic, lots of information theory can be learned. Show them a bucket-sort, then a binary-sort and finally a bucket-sort. Just need something to ensure they always have it with them is the trick. I think a mini-SMS would be that something. Have block options to stop bullying and keep them learning.

  9. umm, Arduinos are open source well supported and documented , and if a Chinese manufacture can sell me nanos at $3 USD a pop surly the BBC could have came up with a cheap dev board based around that or simply handed out some clones and bread boards a lot cheaper. Why reinvent the wheel?

    Although unlike the author of this article I don’t see a three pin two button device with bluetooth as useless. I can think of a dozen fun and practical projects off the top of my head that only use a few pins.

  10. Just a thought, but I bet I know what’d be wildly popular with the smarter students, who could also help the less capable ones… make your own smartphone! Running simple apps on a Linux backdrop. No Android, just simple graphics done by the user. Writing your own code to detect a click within a box is no trouble. Let them write their own little apps, with little OS interaction. Like Borland C on an old DOS PC. Actually adding a phone module would be optional, but certainly kids would love it. Get some support from one of the phone networks for SIMs with a special cheap, limited plan. Even without a phone, it’s your own programmable tablet, kids could write games and share them.

    You could perhaps have child-safety things built into it before the kids start programming. Limiting phone numbers callable, putting network blocks on, etc, could be done in the OS. The kids would mostly be doing front-end stuff, but in a basic way, so developing the routines to draw and manage windows, buttons etc. Limited complexity.

    If you standardised the hardware, and did it in bulk, could be cheap enough. And the one phone-thing, the kids could keep for years, learning at home and at school. Programming can be infectious. The kids who don’t get the bug can do what’s necessary for lessons, and maybe just use the games / apps their friends create. The ones who are bitten, can go as far as they like.

    1. Or Plan B… Java… where kids could start with their own sound or windowing library, then move on to one of the standard ones if they like, once they understand how it’s done. A nice mix from near-the-OS to pure applications. There are Java libraries for all sorts, write your own first, then you’ll understand the pre-written libraries better when you move onto them, because they include more stuff and are better written. IF they’re better written.

      It’s a shame the NES / Master System aren’t exciting to kids any more. Or maybe they would be. There’s a place to write low-level code supporting the higher-level game routines.

      Finally it pisses all over Powerpoint! This thing has a LOT of potential, to shape a generation who OWN their computers, instead of just serving them. The opposite of what Microsoft have been working for over the last couple of decades.

    2. lol – you have been coding for so long and have long since forgotten you humble beginnings.

      Quote:”Writing your own code to detect a click within a box is no trouble”

      Ok, so they are going to write an event driven abstraction that is overlaid on top of an object model. Clearly you think this is a simple task (probably due to your experience) however (in my opinion) this would be daunting to most beginners. This task is at about “Lua” level coding.

      I agree with some others about simplicity. BASIC has been suggested – ie

      10 PRINT”Hello”
      20 GOTO 10

      Wow, how simple is that. I agree BASIC is a good start but today we should be able to offer a visual coding platform to make it even easier and be more engaging and being easier to enter with a smart-phone or tablet.

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