micro:bit and Microsoft go to Butlin’s

We’ve been involved in the BBC micro:bit in a number of different ways and feel proud to have played our part in getting this ambitious venture up and running. So it was fantastic to find myself and my family in a room full of kids programming the micro:bit as part of ‘The Astonishing Family Science Weekend’ at the Skegness Butlins.

The session was delivered brilliantly by a small team from Microsoft. I have an eight-year-old and a six-year-old, both much younger than the target age for the school program that saw over one million micro:bits being delivered for free to Year 7 students. They both instantly bonded with the device. Somehow the combination of the the size, the simplicity and the flashing lights provoked their curiosity.

We used Microsoft’s Surface tablet device to do the programming, another first for our family, and we used a set of tutorials using Microsoft’s Touch Develop software to get started.

micro-bit in use

There is nothing quite like just getting started when it comes to coding. I think it is one of those experiences that is made worse by too much explanation. Although it feels slightly counterintuitive just messing about with code and syntax without quite grasping what’s going on, it can kick start new cognitive processes. This is certainly how my older son approached it.

He quickly created a rock-paper-scissors game, but then his mind immediately turned to how he might adapt it, which is a very easy thing to do in Touch Develop. This idea of skills development and conceptual development through play and trial and error is exactly the experience I used to have when mucking about with ActionScript to make Flash games back in the 90s, and even before then in the 80s on the BBC Micro making my turtle go crazy with the Logo programming language.

It is clear to me that play is an enormously important mode of interaction for all learners no matter the age, and something to keep in mind when developing a new learning experience. Play need not be frivolous; it can be a serious affair. But what play must do is put you, the learner, in control and give you the space to try and and fail all without feeling like a failure.

That’s the tone the Microsoft team set up in their session, but actually it was the underpinning idea for the whole of the Butlin’s Science weekend and it was a complete success.

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