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Episode thirteen

The Virtual Staffroom Podcast

Episode 13: micro:bit...mega possibilities 

 

Joachim Cohen: 

Welcome to The Virtual Staffroom. A podcast made for teachers by teachers and all with a dash of educational technology thrown at you. My name is Joachim Cohen, and today, like every day, I'm joined by two rather awesome members of the technology for learning team, Linda Lazenby and Yvette Poshoglian. Welcome team. So, what do we have in store for you today? It's a focus on digital problem-solving. Let's get straight into it. 

Joachim Cohen: 

Now, many of you might have heard of a little piece of technology called the micro:bit, a small micro-controller that puts the power of physical computing circuits and programming in the hands of students, makers, and so much more. Now it shot to fame in the UK. When as part of a collaboration with the BBC, the micro:bit was rolled out to every year seven student. A rather awesome and game-changing initiative, but that was quite a few years ago now. However, the little digital dynamo is still about, and today we are going to see what is new with micro:bit and also learn about a way, they in the hands of students, have the power to change the world. 

Joachim Cohen: 

As we speak with micro:bit guru and their education manager in the Asia- Pacific region, Waris Candra. Beaming in live from Hong Kong. Welcome, Waris. 

Waris Candra: 

Hi, Joe. 

Joachim Cohen: 

Now, Waris, we are so lucky to have you. And you've had such an amazing life's journey. We want to know if you can tell us about your passion for digital technologies and empowering the next generation, how was it sparked? 

Waris Candra: 

Oh, thank you. Really, many thanks for inviting me here. And it is good to be in this program. My starting point is from my own childhood. My own experience back in Indonesia, parents were both illiterate and they just want to give their best education to their kids. And as I grow up and becoming parents, I like to pass this to my kids. Back in year 2000, marking the millennium back then. I had the opportunity to witness the growth of internet technology. And that has made its way to become mobile technology now. Back then, human resources with digital skills and technology were in huge demand, and it can only get more demand in the future. And back in 2016, I started experimenting with micro:bit and I thought, I have to introduce this to my kids and probably to a lot of other students in all of Asia. And I was really fortunate that I had the opportunity to join the foundation in 2017. And I never looked back. 

Joachim Cohen: 

Such an amazing story Waris, and coming out of really being something that made you passionate because of the opportunities that it provided for you and can provide for so many people. That really brings it right at home. Don't you agree, Linda? 

Linda Lazenby: 

It sure does. So, Waris, many of our listeners know what a Micro:bit is, but for those who don't, can you give us the lowdown? 

Waris Candra: 

Sure. Mm-hmm (affirmative). The BBC micro:bit is a pocket sized computer. It introduces you how software and hardware work together. It has a few sensors on the board, LED light display buttons, sensors. And also the amazing input and output features. That when you program it, it can interact with you and also your world. And my daughter always likes to say this, "micro:bit is just magical". It actually stands for some... It makes the digital and physical world connect together. We have worked very closely with all our community to make it even easier to get the most out of the device. I think the first thing that we need to do is to getting hands on and experimenting with the micro:bit. 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

So, Waris, it is Yvette here. We know that it is a very powerful tool. How are students using it in the classroom? Such a little piece of tech but yielding some great results. What are they doing with it? 

Waris Candra: 

Oh, okay. So, I think the micro:bit helps us to understand how a computer works. When we type on our laptop or touch the screen on our phone, we are actually using an input device. Our inputs allow computers to sense things that is happening in the real world so they can make something happen. And usually, we need an output like a screen or headphones to listen to the music. And in between the input and output, there is a processor. It takes information from inputs like buttons and make something happens on the output, playing a song. 

Waris Candra: 

In the classroom, students are using it in their projects, in the group work. Always in within computing technology and science lessons. But every now and then we have a lot of teachers and students who are using it in arts classes as well. 

Linda Lazenby: 

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, we've definitely learned that it's not just about the technology, but the problems it can solve. I know you talked about group work and things. Can you tell us some of the amazing solutions you've seen students develop using the micro:bit? 

Waris Candra: 

Oh, wow. I think, it is anything really. To me, it matters when the students take the initiative to figure out how to solve problems and not just consuming the technology. I'm always impressed when they tell me, "I like to use the technology to save the planet". So, students who are embracing how to use the micro:bit in different stages, they have different type of solutions and thinking about what they want to do with it. And what is amazing is the originality and the creativity of their ideas on how to solve these problems. Normally, they find this out from their daily lives and surroundings. And lately, with the introduction of new challenges in our daily life, they like to add a social purpose through digital learning as well. I think, when they apply digital skills to real world solutions, that is when it is best. 

Joachim Cohen: 

Absolutely. And I think that is a mantra that we all hear in the Technology 4 Learning team, a hundred percent agree with you. It is not just about using the tech. It is about using the tech to think about how it could make a difference, that is for sure. And the micro:bit company itself or the foundation, it is a bit unusual. It is not like other companies. Can you kind of tell us a little bit about the foundation? Its mission and its vision? 

Waris Candra: 

Sure. The micro:bit Educational Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation. We are based in the UK. Although, we have a lot of colleagues everywhere else in the world. Our mission is to inspire every child to create the best digital future, not by making them coders but finding out those solutions to solve their future. By making the Micro:bit the easiest and most effective learning tool for digital skills and creativity, we enable children to participate in the digital world. And we particularly focus on girls and those from the disadvantaged groups. Our mission guides as to support exceptional educational programs across the globe and working with you is one very classic example, but it makes a lot of impact. 

Waris Candra: 

The foundation works in partnership in more than 60 countries now. Collaborating with a lot of educators, partners, government organisations, to create and curate exceptional curriculum materials. Yeah. Collaboration is really key for us. And we always like to build support for communities of educators and partners. And hopefully that removes the barriers of learning digital skills. 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Such a cool vision, Waris. What are the skills the students are actually going to need to succeed in using a Micro:bit or in problem solving real world challenges? What are some of those skills that we want them to develop? 

Waris Candra: 

I think, the 21st century competencies is definitely very critical. We always like to promote the creative use of technology to unlock their own potential. Since its launch in 2016, the micro:bit has helped over 25 million children to learn comparing their digital creativity skills. And we are really happy to be able to work with you. And hopefully we can make our contribution to extend the reach of the Micro:bit usage and get it in the hands of every child. 

Linda Lazenby: 

Incredible. Now, Waris, many of our listeners might be just about to tune out because they don't have a micro:bit at home or at school. Do they need one? Is there anything we can do to help them? 

Waris Candra: 

Yeah, this is an easy answer. Is a no. Anyone could learn how to use the micro:bit from a website. And there are lots of various videos and learning resources which can teach them step-by-step and embrace the use of micro:bit at home or from classroom. And during the pandemic, a lot of students are using MakeCode platform. This is a free platform with great micro:bit simulator. Students can program the micro:bit on the simulator. And what is even better, within the MakeCode platform, it also comes with hundreds of lessons and resources. So, they don't need one. 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

Yeah. I love that. Waris, now there is something very exciting in the works this year with micro:bit and also with us. We are working towards solving some very big global challenges. Can you tell us a little bit about the do your:bit challenge that is happening right now? 

Waris Candra: 

Oh, yeah. Sure. do your:bit is produced by the micro:bit educational foundation in partnership with the British Council and World's Largest Lesson. I think, the objective is to have fun with Micro:bit and develop world changing ideas and solutions using technology. So, the do your:bit challenge, we focus on goal number three and goal number 13, which is good health and well-being, and also crime and action. And the do your:bit is open for everybody to join. 

Linda Lazenby: 

And I know there are a lot of students and teachers that are keen to support some of those global challenges we are faced with. If teachers are keen to connect their students into this competition, what should they do? And again, do they need a micro:bit? 

Waris Candra: 

They don't need a micro:bit. So what happens is that, they can check out our website and microbit.org/do-your-bit. We just want the students to design a solution to a problem that affects the students and their own community or another community, somewhere else in the world. There are two categories this year, one for eight to 14 years old. And then the other one is 15 to 18 years old. To enter the challenge, they will just need to tell us the solution of the problem, what they have created, why they have created it and how it will help the community or another community. So please, do check out our website. 

Joachim Cohen: 

That is fantastic. I love the idea that you don't need to have a device. It can be a totally a dream activity where you just get to think about how technology could really make an impact on the world. It is a fantastic idea. And to be solving some of those amazing global challenges that I think it would be... I can't wait to see what students create. It will be unbelievable. I want to geek out to finish off here, Waris. And I have heard that there is a new version of the micro:bit, like a version two on the street. Can you tell us about it? Why is it awesome? 

Waris Candra: 

The new micro:bit, it continues to support all of the same features that teachers and students have come to love. With all the assets and lessons and code for the original micro:bit, will be compatible with the new device. We added a few features like, built-in speakers so students can take their creativity to a new level. They can compose music, give projects a voice and personality or even be an orchestra of interactive motion, sensitive instruments. And with the microphone, it also allows the device to respond to sound. You can voice control and controllable creations, or even make a disco lights that dances along in time with the music. So what happened with the new micro:bit is that we want it to be a little bit more powerful. Just powerful enough to run machine learning systems. And the foundation hopefully will support this new resources in the future. And as our community spends more time with the device and explores the capability of the hardware, they can then take advantage of this exciting machine learning and AI possibilities through applications that responds to advanced patterns of sound, voice, motion, or light. And it is all on the micro:bit board. 

Joachim Cohen: 

It is amazing, isn't it? It is unbelievable to think that such a small little device like that, Waris, can actually help our students to tinker, to develop these skills that they can actually use to solve real problems at school, but also beyond. They are gaining those key skills to use with technology tools for the future. Now, before you go, we are nearing the end of our podcast. One thing we do with every one of our guests, is we play something that is a little bit similar to Desert Island Discs, which is famous from a UK podcast, except we call it Rocket Ship Robots, Waris. Now, what the challenge is, you have got to imagine. We are really good at imagining here. You are imagining you are in a rocket ship. You are on your way into outer space. What piece of technology would you take with you? 

Waris Candra: 

I would take a micro:bit. 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

I knew it. 

Joachim Cohen: 

I love it. It will keep you going forever, won't it? You'll never be bored. 

Waris Candra: 

It will, because imagination is the only limit. I would like to bring that with me. That will keep me company for a long way to go and I will be able to experiment, just to think about what I can do, to solve any problem that I might my face in the space. 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

That is a classic answer right there, Waris. 

Joachim Cohen: 

Good thinking. 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

That was good. 

Joachim Cohen: 

You are exactly right. Yeah. As Yvette said, Waris, thank you so much for joining us. It is really great work you and the foundation do to build the next generation of makers and creators. So, don't stop. 

Waris Candra: 

Thank you so much. 

Joachim Cohen: 

Oh, thank you. Thank you for speaking with us here on The Virtual Staffroom. 

Waris Candra: 

Appreciate it. Thank you 

Joachim Cohen: 

So, listeners, if you are like us here in The Virtual Staffroom, you would have been really inspired by hearing Waris's talk just then. Now we did have a few technical issues. Unbelievably, Waris's has got two of his children at home, homeschooling and our amazing Linda Lazenby troubleshooted. She figured it out. Didn't you, Linda? 

Linda Lazenby: 

Yes, that was my win for the day. I realized that the children on their live video calls may have been causing connection issues. 

Joachim Cohen: 

So we managed to right it, so Hopefully, you heard everything that Waris said. But Linda, Yvette, I was totally inspired. What would you do with a Micro:bit? 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

Okay. As a keen gardener, there is one very cool thing you can do with the micro:bit. And that is measuring the moisture in your soil. And I think that is quite a useful thing, especially if you are rushing out to check all the time, what is happening with your garden. That is one thing that we have actually got in the magazine coming up this month. 

Joachim Cohen: 

You know what Yvette, in addition to actually just being able to measure the moisture, you get really geeky. 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

Joachim Cohen: 

You can kind of connect a pump to it as well. 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

Oh my gosh. 

Joachim Cohen: 

And make yourself a self-watering plant. 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

Next level. Are you free to set that up for me, aren't you, Joe? 

Joachim Cohen: 

I think I can do it. 

Linda Lazenby: 

It takes away you needing to garden anything. I stumbled across the Step Counter that you can create using the micro:bit, which helps support the UN Global Goal of Good Health and Well-being, which is the third goal. But the Step Counter, super simple to make. Pop it in your sock. If you don't use an Apple watch, you can track your steps that way instead. 

Joachim Cohen: 

Wow. I love that one. 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

I know you would be a fan of that, Linda. 

Linda Lazenby: 

Yeah, I am. Joe, what did you find? 

Joachim Cohen: 

Well, everyone knows I like everything with wheels on it. So, I would absolutely create some form of smart city. That would be what I would be doing. So think traffic lights, think sensors that automatically turn on street lights, those kinds of things. That would be what I would get out and create. I know I would need a whole fleet of micro:bits to make that happen. 

Linda Lazenby: 

Yeah, I thought I only had one that is why I went with it. 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

I'm sorry to visualize for dummies here. Is it like, say with matchbox cars? 

Joachim Cohen: 

Yes, absolutely. 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

Okay. 

Joachim Cohen: 

Exactly right. And you would have sensors that they would run across. 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

Okay. 

Joachim Cohen: 

So it would actually trigger. 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

Got it. 

Joachim Cohen: 

Because that is how the lights actually work. When you park to a set of lights, there is a magnet that can actually sense, or maybe I have got this wrong, but I think I'm right. There is a magnet that can sense your car is there. See I used to be a scooter rider. 

Linda Lazenby: 

I though that was an urban myth. 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

Well, yes. I was behind a motorbike the other day and I had to wait through three sets of changes. 

Joachim Cohen: 

That is right. Because it didn't sense the motorbike. It is really frustrating when you are a motorbike rider. I find myself going backwards and forwards until I figure out where the magnet is. 

Linda Lazenby: 

And the car drivers thank you, Joe. 

Joachim Cohen: 

Exactly. 

Joachim Cohen: 

Now, maybe you are considering where to start in this big world of digital technologies and micro-controllers. Team, what are some of the amazing resources you have discovered that will empower young digital problem solvers? What have we got to share? Yvette, start us out. 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

Okay. So, I'll admit this is micro:bit adjacent. It is not actually a micro:bit technology, but just given that we are celebrating yet another Mars Rover landing very successfully this week, Mars Perseverance. I have been having a look around at the NASA website and students were actually involved themselves in the States in naming that craft, but there's also a wonderful repository of resources called Space Place. And it has got really practical activities for the classroom, including building a physics machine, using whatever you might have on hand. It is really comprehensive. It is broken down into things like earth, sun, solar system, universe. It is really great for the science classroom or for the STEM classroom. So, that is a nice one there. And we'll link out to that. Linda, what have you found? 

Linda Lazenby: 

I would recommend you look at the STEM learning library. And in our search at the front of the page, it is if you go to, "I want to explore how to use" and you can choose Micro:bit. There are some fantastic resources there. Some of our learning challenges on the use of smart cars and bee pollinators, all linking on to how you can use a Micro:bit in your classroom to do some project based learning. Some fantastic resources in there and there is information about the do your:bit challenge there, also. 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

Yes. Can I also do a little mini plug to for magazine.T4L? Because we are covering micro:bit as well, the do your:bit challenge too. And we have got links out to some of the activities we have discussed today. 

Linda Lazenby: 

Fantastic. Joe, what have you stumbled across? Where can people go? 

Joachim Cohen: 

Look, I love the resources that Waris mentioned. He mentioned the MakeCode website, which has got some great lesson plans and also the micro:bit website, which contains some super resources there as well. But one of the things that sticks out to me about the micro:bit is that it is a physical computer so it is not something you have just online. 

Joachim Cohen: 

I jumped into the Edbuy catalog to take a look at some of the extra little accessories you can get to go along with your Micro:bit. There are loads of them there. I'm actually going to put a link out to an external site though which contains some great inspiration. And as I was talking about it kind of contains streetlights. It contains traffic lights, it contained badges. You make a micro:bit badge, what a cool activity to do with your new students coming into your seven or transition students. And you can actually wear your name on electronic badge. It blows my mind, the physicality of the micro:bit. So, that is my go-to. 

Joachim Cohen: 

So, whilst we often have the last word in our podcast. From now on, we want to give you a voice. And so to close this out, here is a little gem of techno wizardry wisdom from one of our amazing teachers in New South Wales Public Schools. 

Rebecca Toltz: 

Hi, my name is Rebecca Toltz. I'm a teacher-librarian at Bourke Street Public School. My teacher tip is Google Jamboard. It is such an easy and straightforward Google Suite application that staff and students can use it for many, many different activities. We have been using it this week in year three and four to Google image search photographs of food, and then use the pens over the top to illustrate and make our own search block inspired metaphors or similes. We add a text box. We type in what our metaphor or simile is. And if you look on my Twitter feed, @toltzable, you will see that I have taken a photograph of an egg and I'm cracking up. Thank you. 

Joachim Cohen: 

Okay, Team Supreme. Are you inspired? 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

Yes. 

Joachim Cohen: 

An amazing guests. The best of techno-wizardry wisdom, jam-packed episode is all I can say. Linda and Yvette, are you already excited about our next episode? 

Linda Lazenby: 

Absolutely. 

Joachim Cohen: 

Any sneak peaks? 

Staffroom Team: 

No. 

Joachim Cohen: 

No. You're not going to give it away? I can tell you, you are going to want to tune in. 

Yvette Poshoglian: 

Just a little note. Please be aware that all views expressed by the podcast presenters, that is us, our, our personal opinions and not representative of the New South Wales Department of Education. Discussions are not endorsements of third party products, services, or events. And please note that as much as we sound like it, we are not experts in LegalEASE, TechSpeak or anything in between. We are just passionate people keen to boost technology for learning in the classroom and to help build the skills in your students and for you to solve the problems of tomorrow. Do your due diligence, read further and if we have got something wrong, let us know. We too are always learning and always improving. 

Joachim Cohen: 

This podcast has been produced by the masterful Jacob Drew with the assistance and supreme coordination of the Technology 4 Learning team. Before we go, please make sure you send us through your comments, your word of techno wizardry wisdom and your thoughts for new guests and segments. And if you liked the podcast, give us a rating. So more and more educators find us and be inspired to get little techie in the classroom. Stay compassionate, stay curious, get creative everyone. And thanks for joining us.