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The BBC micro:bit in the classroom: learning experience and first impressions


Abstract and Figures

Introduction to computer science has been part in school curriculum for many years now. However, the way it has been performed traditionally poses motivational and collaboration challenges, thus having limited engagement from students. There is a renewed interest in enhancing learning with physical computing, owing to its positive impact on motivation and enhanced opportunities for collaboration and creativity. Recognizing this, a BBC-led consortium developed a portable and low-cost programmable device, the micro:bit. In this study, we report the impressions of students and teachers when they encountered it in the classroom for the first time. The device was presented to a group of 36 students and 5 teachers from 4 countries, and then after the brief tutorial, all of them familiarized with it by programming it themselves. We evaluate the ease of use and tangibility of the device, and analyze student quality of experience, that validate the aforementioned benefits of this approach for learning to code.
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The BBC Micro:bit in the International Classroom:
Learning Experiences and First Impressions
Maja Videnovik, Eftim Zdravevski, Petre Lameski, Vladimir Trajkovik
DIG-ED NGO, Skopje, Macedonia
Faculty of Computer Science and Engineering
Sts.Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje, Macedonia
Abstract—Introduction to computer science has been part
in school curriculum for many years now. However, the way
it has been performed traditionally poses motivational and
collaboration challenges, thus having limited engagement from
students. There is a renewed interest in enhancing learning with
physical computing, owing to its positive impact on motivation
and enhanced opportunities for collaboration and creativity.
Recognizing this, a BBC-led consortium developed a portable
and low-cost programmable device, the micro:bit. In this study,
we report the impressions of students and teachers when they
encountered it in the classroom for the first time. The device
was presented to a group of 36 students and 5 teachers from
4 countries, and then after the brief tutorial, all of them
familiarized with it by programming it themselves. We evaluate
the ease of use and tangibility of the device, and analyze student
quality of experience, that validate the aforementioned benefits
of this approach for learning to code.
Index Terms—BBC micro:bit, quality of experience, primary
school computer science
The traditional based concepts on the knowledge acquisition
and the repetition model has provided a lot of doubt about the
quality of primary education [1]. There are many approaches
that can be used to make education process more attractive to
pupils and students.
The primary school education approach is shifting from
teacher-lead and knowledge oriented towards students-engaged
and skills development. In this manner, teacher role is more
of a facilitator who encourages the class to think and question
the world around students, than educator that leads the class
from the classroom front [2]. The approach transforms the
lesson plans by emphasizing the development of thinking
skills, providing examples of applied thinking, and adapting
to diverse student needs. Teachers help students to develop
higher order learning skills through the scaffolding concept.
The scaffolding approach is a dynamic intervention of teacher
giving students support at the beginning of a lesson and gradu-
ally requiring students to practice the skills independently [3].
This way of learning changes students towards higher-order
thinking abilities to work in teams or individually and become
This work was partially financed by the Faculty of Computer Science and
Engineering at the Sts. Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje, Macedonia.
leaders while being accountable and adaptable, making them
a socially responsible. Furthermore, the higher order thinking
can be practiced by examples of open-ended questions that
encourage students to analyze the known facts in order to
make a concrete conclusion independently. This will support
students when making choices, team brainstorming, finding
solutions and practicing interpersonal and self-directed skills
Different ways of thinking that include the skills for
problem-solving; creativity and critical thinking have sup-
ported the development and increased children’s interests in
STEM subjects and careers [5]. Critical thinking and problem-
solving approach within digital learning environments have
an associated relationship in the learning process. Critical
thinking is a meta-cognitive process that evaluates information
through exploration of validity and produces logical conclu-
sions to arguments or solutions and achieves resolutions [6].
This skill is becoming very important for education with the
large quantity of information and resources made available
with the Internet and connected society. Effective critical
thinking skills within a digital learning environment will help
students become more adaptable, flexible and better able to
cope with the rapid development of ever-evolving information
The ever-increasing range of technology tools available to
support learning in the classroom enables students and teachers
to use digital tools to personalize learning and promote creative
thinking within a connected learning classroom [7]. The digital
revolution brings many benefits for education and makes
students be able to engage in fact-finding, understand bias and
validity testing. Furthermore, most of the employers expect
that today’s graduate students are tech savvy and know how
to use technology in their future careers. The digital literacy to-
day means that a person understands computing technologies,
programming, and computational concepts, which has become
a core skill for an informed participant in modern society [8].
Therefore, it is very important to engage students with the
computing concepts in the primary schools.
Today’s tech-devices have extended student’s opportunities
for creative learning across time and space. For years, aca-
demic have tried to use virtual and augmented reality envi-
ronments [9], or different resources within distance education
systems [10] in order to increase both educational outcomes
and quality of experience of the educational process [11]. All
these approaches are really simulating hands on experience.
With the latest development in educational technology, the
price of educational resources enable educators to change
simulation environments based on e-learning paradigms with
low cost resources that can be used directly in the classroom
on a large scale [12].
The micro:bit is an ARM-based embedded system designed
by the BBC for use in computer education [13]. The reason
why it was developed was to address a trend that there
were not enough students taking university computer science
courses and not enough working people skilled in computer
technologies [14]. This had happened because schools had
stopped teaching children about computers and how to code
them. It is an attempt to better educate people about computer
science concepts, regardless of their (professional) goals in life
The ultimate goal of micro:bit is to innovate the educational
process of learning how to code by providing the easy to un-
derstand solution from Scratch inspired learning environment
[15] to higher level languages programming environment,
such as Python [16]. At the same time, it provides hands-
on experiences on not only coding, but provides insights to
basics of embedded programming.
The main goal of this paper is to illustrate how the micro:bit
platform can be integrated in the classroom and evaluate how it
will be accepted by students in terms of the achieved learning
outcomes, and the obtained quality of experience.
Next Section II provides the background information on
micro:bit platform. Next, Section III present the used method-
ological approach in our study. The results of the study are
discussed in Section IV. Finally, Section V concludes the
The BBC micro:bit is a pocket-sized (4cm by 5cm), codable
computer, designed to allow children to get creative with
technology. It allows students to create ubiquitous computing
applications in a simple way [17]. It is powered by an ARM
Cortex-M0 Processor and has 256K non-volatile flash (for a
program and static data) and 16K volatile RAM (for stack,
heap) [13]. its production is low-cost, and because of the
compact size, its transport is easy and it can easily become
accessible. The chip is self-contained with sufficient on-board
sensors and buttons for input, as well as LEDs acting as an
output. This makes the BBC micro:bit a creative tool that
can be used in order primary school students to become
more familiar with concepts of algorithmic thinking, coding,
programming, game development and robotics.
The BBC micro:bit device has a possibility to connect
with other devices, sensors, kits and objects, and is intended
as a companion rather than a competitor to other devices
(Arduino, Raspberry Pi and etc.) acting as a springboard for
more complex learning [13].
Each micro:bit device has the following physical features,
and their layout is shown in Figure 1.
25 individually-programmable LEDs
2 programmable buttons
Physical connection pins
Light and temperature sensors
Motion sensors (accelerometer and compass)
Wireless Communication, via Radio and Bluetooth
USB interface
Figure 2 shows the interactive web-based editor where all
code is written through dragging and dropping components in
a logical order.
Creating programs is through drag and drop of various com-
ponents, and the experience resembles to playing with LEGO.
Underneath this, however, each component corresponds to a
code-block from a programming language. In Figure 3, an
exemplary block of commands is shown as blocks in the
editor, but also the corresponding Python code. The similarity
is obvious, and the idea is that this will simplify the transition
from programming micro:bit to programming real software.
The same paradigm is used in the Scratch environment for
learning to code.
In this study, we report the impressions of students and
teachers when they encountered the micro:bit in the classroom
for the first time. The device was presented to a group of 36
students of age 12 and 13, and 5 teachers from 4 countries.
Then after the brief tutorial, all students familiarized with it
by programming it themselves.
The first goal the experiment was to identify different
features that influence on qualitative integration of tools that
incorporate digital learning in the classroom and investigate
their value in the educational process. The parameters refer
to students’ attitudes, opinions and interactions while using
educational tool. Ease of use is a factor that determines
students’ motivation for using the tool for learning. We also
took into account the use of a tool for achieving educational
goals (not only as an assessment method). In that way, we tried
to make a correlation between motivational and educational
value of a tool. The second goal of the experiment was
to investigate whether there is a need to deploy different
educational tolls regarding the gender of the students.
The major challenge that we have faced in this class was
the lack of time to deliver thorough and practical training. We
wanted to promote a creative and simple approach to coding,
and application of digital technologies. Our tool was a very
simple computer (Micro:bit) that accepts input instructions,
processes it according to the previously inputed instructions,
and then generates an appropriate output. In general, our focus
was to draw attention to digital creativity.
During the training, we have organized students and teachers
to work in international teams. The class engaged all teachers
because they were required to describe Micro: bit features
Fig. 1: Physical layout of hardware sensors on the micro:bit board
and to support students with their practice. The teachers were
instructed to use open questions, and to encourage competition
with other teams. The goal was to create "most fun" solution
within the group. Students were free to check all the other
groups at any time, and to discuss among students from others
groups at all the time.
After the classes, which lasted about 4 hours, each student
was given a questionnaire with the following questions:
1) Age
2) Gender
3) City
4) Country
5) What did you learn about programming micro:bit?
6) I had fun programming micro:bit?
7) It was hard to program micro:bit?
8) I liked coding before?
9) I like coding now?
10) I would like to learn more about micro:bit?
Students could write free-text answers on the first 5 ques-
tions. On questions 6-10, they could choose an answer from 1
to 5, 1 meaning strongly disagree and 5 meaning strongly
agree. The results from the questionnaire are presented in
Table I.
Given that there were only five teachers, each responsible
for up to 8 students, the time dedicated to each student was
limited, so the students needed to explore the possibilities on
their own. Students managed to find already functional code
and transfer it to the device using on-line tutorials with no,
or very little support from the teachers. Once they understood
which part of the code is responsible for which input (with a
teachers’ support), they were able to modify it and produce
new alternatives to the existing solutions.
Working in teams encouraged them to compete to create
more appealing solutions than the other teams, which resulted
in more efficient way of learning the basic coding concepts.
The learning was based on student inquires, and the teachers
only helped students teams to realize their ideas, The gamifi-
cation of the process proved to increase the efficiency of the
learning process.
Working in international teams in the environment that
requires collaboration in order to achieve better results (due to
the gamification based competing element encouraged during
the class) increased both the communication skills of all
students and the self detected leadership skills of some of the
There were no significant difference in answers or results
from students from different countries or age. This is due to
the fact that they work collaboratively and in mixed teams.
This helped in sharing of the obtained knowledge.
More extrovert students asked questions and things were
clarified to them. Therefore, it is understandable that there
were positive comments, reported in the questionnaire, and
some of them are listed below:
‘I learned to program rock paper scissors.’
‘I learned how to make a dice out of it and how to make
a program that would count your jumps.
‘That by shaking the device the number can change.
‘It is not very hard and its fun.
‘It was very easy to program.
However, there were comments which illustrated the lack
of time, such are:
‘Nothing really; I didn’t see anything. I just know how
to program text.
‘It was so hard, I learned that micro:bit is difficult to
‘I don’t know’, reported by few students.
Fig. 2: Interactive web-based editor
TABLE I: Gender distribution of average answers of grading questions (1-strongly disagree, 5-strongly agree).
Gender Fun programming micro:bit Hard to program micro:bit Liked coding before Like coding now Like to learn more about micro:bit
Boy 4.0 3.4 3.7 3.7 4.1
Girl 4.1 3.8 3.5 3.6 4.1
Total 4.1 3.6 3.6 3.7 4.1
Fig. 3: Comparison of editor blocks and corresponding Python
The possibility to be connected to devices and sensors is
lowering the barrier to entry into programming due to the
fact that students can see and touch the results of their work.
In the same time, they can independently create notions in
benefit of computational concepts and become familiar with
the basics of programming. Its low-cost price, easy and simple
web-based interface and variety of sensors increases students’
interest to continue developing computational thinking skills
independently. We believe that these factors increase students’
quality of experience (fun) while learning. This reflects with
the interest in more detailed knowledge about the tool used
for learning to code that is bigger than the general interest
in learning how to code. At the same time, we think, that
increase in the value of "like to code" variable from 3.6 to 3.7
in only few hours is also due to the high quality of experience
obtained using the tool.
The students that have more fun have increased interest in
learning how to code. The students that declared lower quality
of experience (fun), show no increase of interest about learning
to code. In matter of fact, two students with low level of quality
of experience, decreased their interest in learning to code.
Different studies show that there is still gender imbalance
in learning computer science [18]. To see how this is reflected
when learning the micro:bit, we paid special attention to this
aspect. The average results from the questionnaire grouped
using gender data are given in Table I.
During the tutorials, there was an initial gender preference
regarding which students were prone to try to program the
devices first. Boys were more forthcoming and girls were more
reserved. However, after properly explaining the functionalities
and encouraging girls to participate more, this initial interest
seemed to change. This was achieved by explicitly instruct-
ing girls to lead the programing, as opposed to picking a
volunteer, which was in more cases a boy. Then the same
girls, which were initially reluctant to lead the development,
paid more attention, were intrigued by the programming, and
then they were able to do the practical tasks correctly. On
ambiguous questions, or when some things could be done in
multiple ways, girls picked the right way to do some task
more frequently and answered the questions more accurately
than boys. This reinforces the thesis that the preferences for
learning programming and computer science in general is not
about gender specifics and usage of learning tools, but rather
about learning opportunities.
In this paper we described the first impressions of students
when they had the first encounter with BBC micro:bit. We
conducted an experiment in order to investigate different
features that influence on qualitative integration of digital
educational tools in the classroom. The presented results show
clear relation between quality of experience obtained by using
tool for learning and educational value of a tool.
We also analyzed how the experience is affected by gender
and learning opportunities. Interestingly, after the course girls
liked coding more than they did before, which we attribute to
opportunities provided to them during the class.
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... (S2). This comment can be related to Videnovik et al., 2018 who observed an increase in attention and skill development in girls after using BBC Micro:bit and an increase in their enthusiasm for coding. But the author points out that this has certainly more to do with the opportunity offered by the course to discover and learn programming than with the tool itself. ...
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