BBC is making good on a promise it made in May 2015 to distribute tiny computers to one million children with the intention of “inspiring” them to embrace coding. The tiny devices, called Micro Bits, can be plugged into a computer and programmed to perform various actions.
Year 7 pupils (6th grade in the United States) in England and Wales, and similarly-aged students in Scotland and Northern Ireland, have been told it is theirs to take home. Although teachers are encouraged to work them into their curricula, the pocket-sized bits are student’s to keep, so their programming adventures can grow with them.
The BBC partnered with 31 companies and organizations, from Microsoft and Samsung to Technology Will Save Us, to produce the coding devices, which include several buttons, a compass, an accelerometer, and LEDs. Their hardware and much of the software will be open-sourced, and can be bought by non-students, as well.
One group in West Yorkshire wrote a program to let their Micro Bits sense temperature, then attached it to a helium balloon and sent it to measure the stratosphere (an adventure that led local air traffic authorities to temporarily redirect all planes around Nottingham). Another developed programs to help autistic peers recognize others’ emotions.
The BBC’s Micro Bits are arriving several months behind schedule, leading to fears that it’s too late for this year’s teachers to work them into lessons, and they’ll be relegated to school clubs and breaks. But many teachers say their students have already experimented with the devices, with impressive results they couldn’t have worked toward any other way.