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BBC micro:bit is a great way to get kids started with code

BBC Microbit

The BBC micro:bit is not unlike the Raspberry Pi (opens in new tab), at least in concept. It is a tiny little computer that has been distributed to schools and is now sold to the public, with the mission of helping kids learn to code.

It's not as advanced as the Raspberry Pi, and it takes a very different approach to how you use it, but the ideals are the same. If your kid wants to start coding, this is definitely something he or she should have.

BBC Microbit

The micro:bit comes in two packages, but the micro:bit Go is the one to go for. Inside you get the micro:bit itself, a microUSB cable and a battery adapter. Unlike the Raspberry Pi, the micro:bit runs from a pair of AA batteries that you'll find included in the box. Already the maker credentials are well-founded because you'll be able to power it attached to virtually any kind of device without having to worry about where the juice comes from.

It fits comfortably in the palm of your hand, giving you a feel for just how small it really is. It's not about raw specs, and you'll find no HDMI-out or Ethernet jack. Instead, you get a panel of LEDs on one side and the chips on the other. There are also three hardware buttons for interacting directly with the micro:bit. That's about it. You load up your creations by hooking it up to a PC with a microUSB cable, or by Bluetooth, because it has that as well.

BBC Microbit

The micro:bit is all about writing code to make things with a physical action. Some simple examples are shown the first time you turn it on. The LEDs spell out instructions for you to complete. There's nothing difficult, just pressing the button and shaking it, as well as manipulating the board to chase an LED around the panel. It's simple stuff, but clever nonetheless.

When it comes to programming the micro:bit there's no OS to worry about loading up, you do it all on a PC inside a web browser. There are different methods to use, including Python, but Microsoft developed some more child-friendly, fun ways to get coding, including the Microsoft Block Editor.

Microsoft Block Editor

Microsoft Block Editor is a visual programming tool that allows programs to be built visually, without the need to worry about writing line after line of code. Each block is labeled based on what it does, and you make things happen by connecting it with other blocks that fit. Just like a jigsaw, there are little notches on each piece that have to line up with another in order to get the right result. It's incredibly easy, but most of all, it's fun.

All you have to do is move the blocks around and create your program, and before deploying it to the micro:bit, you can run it inside the browser and check that everything works as it should. From there it's a matter of compiling the code, downloading the file and then transferring it from your PC to the micro:bit. There's also a touch-friendly editor for use on tablets.

There are also mobile apps to interact with and program the micro:bit using Bluetooth, though predictably you'll have to be on Android or iOS to use them. Despite its lack of overall power compared to the Raspberry Pi, there is still a healthy community, plenty of accessories and some incredible projects being made. The only real downside right now is that it's only officially available in the UK.

This little board is coding for kids done right, though. Having initially been distributed to 800,000 British school children, anyone can pick one up now and have a go. Even adults will enjoy tinkering with it. It's accessible, incredibly cheap, and only needs a web browser to get started. My son is a little young to be learning code right now, but I know that he's going to love playing with this when the time is right.

See at Amazon UK (opens in new tab)

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

9 Comments
  • My dad used to make drivable rectangles in VS 2003. That motivated me to learn coding :)
  • okey, its a nice toy for kids ... but it has nothing to do with "real coding"
  • Yeah, they should be doing a computer science degree
  • It's not coding by writing code, but it teaches the basics of variables, loops, I/O, logic, ... the fundamentals to learn how to write code. Once they understand that, they can switch to a written coding language like Python as the article states once they understand the fundamentals of coding.
  • It had everything to do with "real coding". Only a non programmer would say it doesn't. Being a programmer isn't at all about knowing C#, C++ or Java - it's about logical thinking. The language you wish to use to implement your ideas is secondary, once you understand the underlying fundamentals it's really easy to do it in any language of your choosing.
  • You obviously have no idea of true coding or the microbit. What a pity you are so negative. We have trained hundreds of teachers coding with the microbit and they do fine.
  • Man, never did computer science but really interested in this. Wish to start coding one day! Would love to have this! However, not available in India. :/
  • Not available in US?
  • £18 on Amazon, incredibly tempting. Great idea to get people into this area