Networking with the micro:bit

6th December 2017

Anthony Kirby and Cigdem Sengul
Researcher and Senior Researcher

Just over a year ago, Nominet helped found the Micro:bit Educational Foundation, an organisation seeking to continue the work started by the BBC and its partners by taking the micro:bit global, accessing as many young people as possible to impart valuable coding skills.

The BBC micro:bit was designed to get children involved in writing software and making devices, allowing them to learn to control computers rather than just use them. This is increasingly important as technology becomes dominant in most aspects of our lives. It is vital to help the next generation develop the skills required by industry in the coming years to keep them relevant and employable.

As part of their campaign run two years ago, the BBC gave every Year 7 pupil in the country a micro:bit to help them learn to code. The Educational Foundation seeks to further this work by making micro:bits available to all young people interested in learning to code and providing resources to support teachers, both in the UK and across the world.

This isn’t just about teaching enjoyable new skills. We will need these fledgling coders to help meet the digital skills crisis, especially here in the UK. Already the Government has warned of a shortfall of 745,000 workers with the right digital skills to meet demand in coming years. Similar issues are being faced worldwide, so the global reach of the programme is important. The BBC micro:bit has resources and distributors in dozens of countries, most recently in China.

Here in the UK, there were already many excellent resources using the micro:bit to help children learn about programming, but there wasn’t anything that used the micro:bit to help learn about computer networks. This is a crucial area of understanding computers, as data networks underpin almost all businesses and could soon connect our homes too. We identified this as a good area for us to contribute, especially as computer networking underpins much of what we do at Nominet.

In line with this, we have written a series of activities using the micro:bit’s built-in short-range radio to communicate from one micro:bit to another. The lessons start off with different types of communication, like broadcasts (one to many) and unicast (one to one), and work towards reliable communication and error-handling. After every few activities, there is a challenge to code a simple game using what has been learnt so far. Our work inspired us to run a family day at Nominet during which we taught some of our staff’s youngsters about how computers work, using a micro:bit themed activity – and had a fun day!

Not only will these activities help children get more out of the micro:bit, the resources themselves should be a useful help for teachers who may struggle to find the time to plan activities themselves. Some of these teachers will also have grown up in an era before technology was ubiquitous, so the micro:bit may not be intuitive to them. We hope these resources will help more children learn more from their micro:bit and ensure the next generation are prepared for a digital future. You can download it as a printable PDF book and we’ll be releasing the content in other formats and variations.