Post link 10 July 2015, 22:34
WAY BACK IN 1981, the BBC gave almost every school in the United Kingdom a computer. The BBC Micro, made by Acorn Computers, was a beige box that looked a lot like a typewriter and taught children how to code. Like the Commodore 64, the Micro ushered in a wave of computer literacy among kids who came of age in the 1980s.

MARGARET RHODES DESIGN DATE OF PUBLICATION: 07.10.15. TIME OF PUBLICATION: 5:45 AM. This is the Micro:bit computer. This October, the BBC Learning Research and Development group will give one million of them to Year 7 students in the UK. COURTESY OF TECHNOLOGY WILL SAVE US

In October, BBC Learning will launch its first digital literacy project since the Micro when it gives every student in Year 7 (11- and 12-year-olds) a credit card-sized BBC Micro:bit computer. The new device, unveiled this week, is the result of a massive, multi-year collaboration between the BBC and 29 partners ranging from Samsung and Microsoft to ARM and Technology Will Save Us, which designed the Micro:bit.

The initiative isn’t Micro redux, says Howard Baker, innovations editor at BBC Learning Research and Development. Whereas the 1980’s computer was a self-contained code-to-screen system, Micro:bit fosters digital interactions with the physical world. The Micro:bit features programmable buttons and LEDs, so it can become a handheld game. It uses Bluetooth to communicate with other devices. An accelerometer, compass, and temperature and moisture sensors make it responsive to its immediate environment. Crocodile clips and banana plugs make hooking it up to other things a breeze. All told, it’s an incredibly open-ended device, by design. “This is about getting kids making and doing stuff,” Baker says. “And through that they will start coding.” desperately needs such a program. A funny thing happened in the 20 years since the BBC Micro program taught kids to code: as people grew more accustomed to computers, they came to know less and less about how they work. “We’re so used to things just happening, you stroke a screen,” Baker says. That dissonance has led to a shortage of local talent for programming jobs, forcing tech companies to hire workers from other countries.

The Micro:bit, unlike our smartphones and tablets, “does nothing if you don’t write code for it,” Baker says. This could intimidate a digitally illiterate 11-year-old, which is why Technology Will Save Us took on the industrial and UX design. The gadget makers, which create DIY kits with an 8-bit aesthetic that teach kids how to build electronics, know how to pique young minds with technology. “It helps to kit-ify something,” says co-founder Bethany Koby. “In the geeky maker movement, things come à la carte, and you have to find them. But for an 11-year-old, they need to see some content, that’s engaging and powerful and simple. So put the things in the box with the products, batteries, croc clips, so that everything is there.” out a million Micro:bits constitutes a massive effort, and vast resources (the partner companies are shouldering the costs), so it’s crucial that the Micro:bits don’t suffer the fate of so many new toys, which are forgotten once their luster wears off. It will help that the BBC Learning team will work with teachers to develop curriculums that include Micro:bit. But Koby is adamant that digital learning shouldn’t be confined to the classroom. For that reason, Micro:bit is primed to become a game or smartphone companion that takes selfies as much as it could easily hitch onto a science experiment. Giving kids agency, Koby says, is essential. “We want them to have ownership of it.”

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