Physical computing

Physical computing 

fruit shop

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 general National curriculum aims will 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 computational thinking and apply logical reasoning which could be gained through debugging or remixing 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 algorithm for a game such as a race track with a lap counter. If students create their own game they have further opportunities to meet 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 a input device or within blocks. 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.
  • Can analyse problems in computational terms, and have repeated practical experience of writing computer programs in order to solve such problems.

which helps build fluency and confidence of coding through abstraction of algorithms, decomposition, debugging and remixing.


Scratch using the BBC micro:bit as a controller

An Input device provides Information or instructions which you put into a computer. 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.

As you can see the BLED 112 smart dongle allows the micro:bit controller to manipulate the sprite within scratch wirelessly. The code within this scratch game is sophisticated however KS2 children will be able to access the code. Teachers could use games as an educational tool as children can then adapt the game which is called remixing, create their own game or debug a game, where you fix the errors in the code.


Debugging 

Debugging is when you edit an algorithm that isn’t currently working to make it function correctly. 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. 

To support children in their computational thinking, a simple unplugged activity that illustrates how to write algorithms can be useful. In this example child 1 has drawn a house and written some instructions which they then read to child 2 without showing them the image. If the two images are not the same, the children will need to debug their instructions, which is a good introduction to debugging.

whiteboard 1

Furthermore 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 remix 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 and computational thinking.

 


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. Unplugged activities focus on the abstraction of important algorithms which 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. 

unplugged

Scratch gives children opportunities to explore code and then write algorithms through iteration, sequences, variables and data structures. Such unplugged activities highlight these processes cementing the children’s computational knowledge. This activity supports children in their logical reasoning whilst scaffolding the abstraction task by providing a small set of blocks that could create a working code. Children can then have the opportunity peer assess to see if their peers fixed the code in the same way before applying this code into scratch to see if it works or if they need to further 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, which develops students logical reasoning, computing language, develops creative freedom which will positively impact self confidence. It also provides opportunities for cross curricular learning as children could create their own output devices in DT. For example I created a simple traffic light through different coloured LEDs which I programmed to replicate the sequence found on real traffic lights, through blocks.


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 and it has a website linked to the book which has a range of resources to support learning.

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 plan. For more information you can find my contact information on my about page.

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