June 2nd, 2017 by Matneee

Over the past week I’ve been helping Kirklees Libraries host some Micro:Bit sessions in the local area. They’ve been loaning out Micro:Bits in their libraries for a fair few months now and the idea is starting to spread further, with the Micro:Bit Foundation having recently provided a few Libraries authorities around the country with Micro:Bits in order to run a pilot lending scheme. I’ve had a lot of fun helping lead the sessions and it’s been a fantastic, rewarding experience. If you get the chance I can heartily recommend volunteering to help out at one. We’ve had a great response rate to an offer of further support by email, and I’ve included a further worksheet to compliment the Code Club project we based the session on. (There’s a link toward the end of this post, and please feel free to use it as you see fit.)

More than anything else, the sheer enthusiasm of the young people attending has blown me away. Most of the children attending had never seen a Micro:bit before so there’s been some understandable hesitance to begin with. But without fail they’ve all grown in confidence and understanding at tremendous speed. For me though, the magical moment has been that in almost every case there’s been a point where you can practically see a lightbulb go on over their heads where it all starts to click, and they start anticipating what comes next in the code before the worksheets tell them. It’s clearly a cause of excitement for the learner, and it’s genuinely wonderful for me to see as a tour guide on their coding adventure!

Digital Librarian Amy Hearn and myself assisting our budding coders

I believe smaller, local libraries can be fantastic venues from which to run these introductory sessions. Having fewer young people in the groups enables a more direct rapport with the children than you might get in a school classroom, and the immediate answers and explanations they can get pays off in spades in terms of keeping the momentum of their enthusiasm going. Every single child has been so eager to borrow a Micro:bit at the end of the session to continue at home. Honesty – one of the attendees even set me homework and has asked me for email help in taking his project further

Running The Sessions

For running the sessions, this seemed to work out really well for us:

  • Sessions were scheduled to run for 1.5 hours, with a target audience aged 7-11.
  • Numbers were limited to 6 per session.
  • Each child was provided with their own Micro:Bit, a laptop with a mouse (to give them the choice of touchpad or mouse), and a printed worksheet from the Code Club website.
  • Parents were asked before the start for permission to use any photos that may be taken during the session.
  • After introducing ourselves and meeting the children we spent a few minutes getting them to unbox the Micro:Bits, plug in battery boxes and so forth into them, then run through the initial program installed on all Micro:Bits in order to get an idea of what they can do.
  • At this point we invited our coders to start following the worksheet, encouraging them to ask questions and to find their way around the PXT code editor.

The project chosen for the session was a 2 player reaction game that’s available on Code Club’s fantastic Projects pages – Number 6 on THIS PAGE. All in all I think this is a wonderful project to use at an introductory session. The children have universally loved making a physical electronic game they can hold in their hands and play together, and it’s got a great challenge at the end of the exercise. It should take your group nicely up to the 1.5 hour mark if you encourage them to try it, and it really is worth encouraging the children to try the “Keeping Score” challenge, although I do recommend being prepared with a solution beforehand so you’re better equipped to help puzzle it out.

There’s actually a solution available under the “Project Materials” section of the project webpage, although I came up with an alternative way of doing it during the first session which I rustled up into a worksheet extension the evening after the first session.

Actually, that worksheet extension has rather grown in size and scope since then. I gave out my email details to all the parents at the end of the sessions and asked them to get in touch if their children wanted any help or a few pointers. What’s been really fantastic is that they have been in touch in the days following. So I added a bit more structure to the worksheet and sent it out – a solution for the challenge, some alternative methods for parts of the code, and also included a way of doing a great idea one of our attendees had about making the project into a complete game by declaring a winner after 10 points. We’ve also had some wonderful feedback from parents saying how much their children enjoyed the session, in one case telling us their daughter hadn’t stopped talking about it since the day!

I’ve included the extra worksheet covering the score challenge plus a few other things. I’ve been emailing it out to parents on request, and please feel free to distribute it yourself to anyone you feel might be interested.

 

Additional Worksheet download

Reaction Game – Score challenge worksheet with notes to compliment the project

 

 

All in all I’d say the sessions were a great success. I really do believe they illustrate how lending Micro:Bits out through libraries can be a tremendous way to help young people learn about coding and digital making. I’ll certainly be running further sessions in our local libraries in the near future and I’d love to hear any comments you have from similar sessions yourselves.

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