We've seen a lot of traction over the past year around the micro:bit in K-12 education. It is easy to program, Chromebook compatible and has a number of bells and whistles on it that make it really fun right out of the box. One drawback we have found is that the micro:bit alone is somewhat limiting once you get the old brain juices flowing. Today, I wanted to explore a couple of ways you can extend the capabilities of your tiny computer!
We released a number of carrier boards for the micro:bit at ISTE last year. A carrier board is a circuit board that extends the functionality of the micro:bit into specific topics. For example, the three original carrier boards were the moto:bit, the weather:bit and the gamer:bit.
The moto:bit enabled micro:bit users to explore the world of robotics and control power-hungry motors that you can't run with the micro:bit alone. The weather:bit helps students and hobbyists to do some legitimate weather science with the micro:bit, and even save data to a microSD card to analyze later. The gamer:bit turns your micro:bit into a handheld gaming system or a game controller for a game programmed in another language like Processing or Scratch. In the end, carrier boards are there to extend the learning of your students and enable them to explore different topics while cutting out a lot of the frustration around building and prototyping complicated circuits. We pride ourselves on shortening the time to awesome!
Breadboarding with the SIK
If the carrier boards seem pretty cool to you, but you feel like they hem you in too much, or, maybe you want your students to gain experience and knowledge around building raw circuits on a breadboard, the SparkFun Inventor's Kit (SIK) for the micro:bit might be up your alley.
This SIK is everything you need in one box to explore the micro:bit and start to learn about the fundamentals of programmable electronics on a breadboard. The kit includes a breadboard adapter to break every pin on the micro:bit out to breadboard-compatible pin spacing, and a slew of other components to get you started. The kit also includes two digital guides: one for Microsoft MakeCode and one for Python. The choice is yours in terms of what language you want to use, but we have you covered when it comes to the hardware.
In fact, we have been doing a number of make-a-thon workshops with this kit around the state of Oregon, with third-grade students all the way up to 90-year-old users. Everyone found some fun in the kit and was enabled to learn about the world of programmable electronics and how to integrate them into a project.
Recently we have released our newest carrier board for the micro:bit: the gator:bit. The gator:bit is designed for tinkering and playing with electronics, sans breadboard.
Whether you are an experienced student or teacher who just wants to hook something up quickly, or a younger student who just doesn’t have the dexterity to use a breadboard yet, the gator:bit allows quick and easy expansion just by using alligator clips and basic components.
We have a few ways you can extend the components available to you with the use of alligator clips and the micro:bit. The first is exploring cardboard circuits with components and copper tape. Without going into detail here I will just share this tutorial on how to build a few examples.
Using alligator clips is a pretty standard way to prototype circuits using our LilyPad line of products. You want to be sure that your project works before you spend all that time sewing your circuits!
The same concept can be used with LilyPad components and the micro:bit! You could wire them up to a micro:bit easily, as their sewable pads are big enough to hold a ‘gator clip pretty well. Personally, I have been playing with the addressable RGBs and the micro:bit, but more to come on that later!
Last, I wrote a blog post a while back (and hosted a webinar) around the amazing tool called BlockyTalkyBLE from our friends at CU Boulder.
This tool is absolutely amazing when you are trying to squeeze the last drop out of your micro:bit. BlockyTalkBLE is a package for Microsoft MakeCode that makes having your micro:bit talk BLE with an Android device simple! Using MIT App Inventor to build the Android app, it's as simple as two blocks in MakeCode and two blocks in App Inventor to get started. Take my word for it, this has simplified hours of work and research into less than five minutes of awesomeness. If you are interested in getting started with BlockyTalkyBLE, I highly recommend checking out the website and their tutorial videos here.
Well, I hope this post has inspired you to look at these different ways of extending the usefulness and learning opportunities around the micro:bit. I will continue to share out new and interesting ways to incorporate other hardware with the micro:bit that are meaningful to your classroom! Thank you and happy hacking.