Physical computing

Physical computing, (graded 85%)

Through EI506 a physical computing module at the University of Brighton, I explore how to meet the national curriculum aims through the use of the BBC micro:bit and scratch. The general National curriculum  for computing aims to ensure that all pupils:

  • Can understand and apply the fundamental principles and concepts of computer science, including abstraction, logic, algorithms and data representation.
  • Can analyse problems in computational terms, and have repeated practical experience of writing computer programs in order to solve such problems.
  • Can evaluate and apply information technology, including new or unfamiliar technologies, analytically to solve problems.
  • Are responsible, competent, confident and creative users of information and communication technology.

The resources I have created and display in this blog are aimed at KS2 students but could easily be adapted to be accessible to KS1 students, or the delivery of such resources could be tailored to offer more support such as mixed ability pairs to scaffold learning rather than random partners or ability grouping, which would enable younger children to access the same resources. Therefore for the purpose of this blog, the overall National curriculum aims are in blue and the KS2 National curriculum aims are in orange.


Scratch in the classroom 

Scratch can be a fantastic educational resource, however before coding a game students will need to have a prior understanding of  scratch which could be gained through debugging simple games. This could be further supported through mixed ability pairs. This will enable students to

  • Understand and apply the fundamental principles and concepts of computer science, including abstraction, logic, algorithms and data representation.
  • Design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems.
  • Select, use and combine a variety of software (including internet services) on a range of digital devices to design and create a range of programs, systems and content that accomplish given goals, including collecting, analysing, evaluating and presenting data and information. 

This understanding can then be further built upon by creating a simple game such as a race track with a lap counter. If students create their own game they are then meeting the KS2 National curriculum aims.


BBC micro:bit in the classroom

In my micro:bit blog post, I have labelled the anatomy of the BBC micro:bit and have showcased potential case designs for the micro:bit with a cross curricular link to DT. The BBC micro:bit can either be used within scratch as an input device or blocks as a output device. Blocks can be used to program the micro:bit which I will explore further, later on in the output section of this post.  However the BBC micro:bit doesn’t only need to be used in computing lessons, the temperature and light sensors could easily be used in a science experiment. In addition in my previous job working as a teaching assistant in a special needs school we used micro:bits as a reward for completing work as well as wet play activities.

Using the micro:bit in blocks or scratch underpins the KS2 National curriculum aim to

  • Design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems.

which helps build fluency and confidence of coding.


Scratch using the BBC micro:bit as a controller

An input device receives data from another device, where as an output device sends data to another device. Therefore the input device for this game is the BBC micro:bit which sends data to the scratch game.  However the BBC micro:bit’s LEDs function as an output device as they are receiving data from the scratch game.

Here is a video demonstrating how a micro:bit could be used as a controller for a scratch game. Highlighting how the micro:bit can be programmed to be both an input and output device.

Debugging is when you edit code that isn’t currently working in the way you want it to and make it work. This is a great learning opportunity as students have to

  • Use sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; work with variables and various forms of input and output. 
  • Use logical reasoning to explain how some simple algorithms work and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs. 

KS2 National curriculum. 

Therefore, I have created four debugging activities from my scratch game, which range from easy to difficult. These activities can be found on my scratch website. Each activity has a different problem that will require logical reasoning. For example, the first activity asks you to edit the code so that the lemons can be purchased. This means the student will need to edit the randomiser so lemons can be selected and then change the code of the lemon sprites so when they are selected they can move into the basket and increase the score. Debugging can be scaffolded by providing the blocks needed but in the incorrect order or a sprite with a similar code. This is how I have created the easier activities, whereas the harder activities have less support and therefore require more logical reasoning.


Unplugged version

Scratch enables children to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively which are life skills which are essential in today’s society. However, these skills are not only accessed online, they can be transferred onto paper. Unplugged activities are usually completed on paper or mini whiteboards, which consolidate knowledge through the application of logical reasoning. Therefore to accompany my game I have created an unplugged activity that showcases how the micro:bit controls the movement of a sprite and meets the aims of the KS2 National curriculum.

  • Use sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; work with variables and various forms of input and output. 
  • Use logical reasoning to explain how some simple algorithms work and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs. 

This activity supports children in their logical reasoning whilst scaffolding the task by providing a small set of blocks that could create a working code. Children can then have the opportunity to apply this code into scratch to see if it works or if they need to debug it.


Output device

In addition to the scratch game, I have designed a game on blocks. For this game the output device was the fruit, which were attached to the BBC micro:bit through crocodile clips. Children could easily reconstruct this game or it can easily be used as a debugging activity or transferred into an unplugged activity. Here is a video showing how it could be used

 

This has educational benefits as students are given the opportunity to explore another programming website which links to National curriculum. This develops students logical reasoning, computing language, develops creative freedom which will positively impact self confidence.


Further teaching resources

I have showcased a range of resources that you can use in your own classroom however there are many more potential educational resources for the BBC micro:bit. For step by step guides for both teachers and students there are a variety of coding books, I would recommend Coding for beginners using scratch, as the illustrations and instructions are accessible to many and the use of bright colours and cartoons make it fun.

For girls who need more encouragement to code, ‘Sasha Savvy loves to code’ is a great short chapter book. It breaks gender stereotypes influencing computing and follows Sasha on her journey to coding summer camp where she has to learn to persist as she debugs her code. This book could easily be read in class and may encourage students to engage in computing in and out of school.

For more ideas for creative lessons look on the micro:bit ideas page which is great for inspiration and also includes lesson plans. For more information you can find my contact information on my about page.

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