Micro:bit – Helping to Discover New and Innovative Ways of Learning
Over the past six months, the micro:bit has been instrumental in helping students and teachers throughout the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO) take their first step with STEM education in their classrooms. While our current generation of students has grown up immersed in technology, most CDSBEO students live in rural communities. They usually lack the same opportunities to participate in technology camps, workshops, and makerspaces that are readily available to those living in urban areas.
Within CDSBEO, there is a diverse group of passionate educators with varying comfort levels integrating technology in the classroom for teaching and learning. While many innovative teachers continue to push the limits, it’s essential to recognize and support those who lack the confidence to get started with STEM education.
Acknowledging students and staffs needs led to one junior division classroom (students aged 8-13) in each of the 28 elementary schools participating in an introductory hands-on micro:bit workshop. For two hours, teachers and students began their learning journey as co-learners, working together in their classroom.
When professional development occurs outside of the classroom, it can be challenging to retain all the information, especially when it’s a brand-new concept. In part, that is why it was important to provide the workshops in the classroom. Both students and teachers could learn together in a familiar setting. The co-learning partnership between students and teachers during the micro:bit workshop was incredible. Teachers felt more comfortable trying something new by participating as an observer and learner. One teacher remarked, “All too often we are required to have all the answers, but this forum allows me to say, I don’t know, let’s find out together.”
During the beginning of the micro:bit workshop, students understood the importance of having a growth mindset - embracing mistakes and persevering helps everyone learn. Students accepted mistakes will happen early and often, and I think this helped to set them up for success when coding. It was okay to be frustrated if something didn’t work out as planned, but it wasn’t okay to give up and quit. Before students got their hands on a micro:bit, it was vital for them to be ready for any challenge that might come their way.
One of my favourite things about the micro:bit is its ability to provide instant feedback to its programmer, in this case, students and teachers. I was amazed to see the natural reaction of students when they programmed their micro:bit for the first time. These are students who expressed how often they spent online, gaming, or watching videos but were unaware of how to write code or explain how their devices they use daily, work. It was incredible to see the student excitement when they programmed their micro:bit for the first time.
Providing students with opportunities to further develop social-emotional skills in today’s classroom is critical. Finding authentic, real-world activities that allow for all students to explore their interests can be a challenge. The micro:bit provides personalization as students represent their learning, their way. When working with a partner, it can be a challenge to find common ground as ideas don’t always mesh. During the micro:bit workshop, students were able to build on each other’s ideas, often pushing each other to further expand on their initial ideas. This partnership also helped to inspire creativity where unique and intricate animations were created with the micro:bit. As one group became stuck, another group was willing to lend a hand. In the end, students wanted to share their learning with their peers. Through spontaneous gatherings, students explained what they had created with the micro:bit.
Throughout the micro:bit workshop, students reflected on their micro:bit experiences. They shared how much fun they had, how easy it was to get started, and how proud they were of their creations. There was a positive change in student mindsets and the words they used to describe their learning. Several students from each class wanted to continue coding at home, which they could, because of Microsoft’s free online editor at makecode.microbit.org.
While the students were showing new levels of excitement about coding the micro:bit, their teachers were still trying to understand how to harness this energy into something they could integrate on a more regular basis. Fortunately, their students were willing to share their ideas. Everything from creating math questions, to making storybook animations, games and adding music was shared. This opened the teacher’s eyes to the possibilities going forward.
As technology continues to play a more significant role in the lives of our students, there is a greater need to support our students in a way that taps into their interests but also develops essential skills that can be transferable into any aspect of their lives. Students are rarely able to push the boundaries of learning if they haven’t been given the opportunity. By approaching teaching and learning as a partnership, both students and teachers can take their learning to new heights.
Very few digital tools are versatile enough to support student learning across all grades, subjects, and skill levels, but the micro:bit is not like most technology tools. For schools beginning to embark on their own STEM education journey, the micro:bit is a must have tool.
About the Author:
Jameson Lee is a lifelong learner who supports students and staff integrating the purposeful use of technology in the classroom. As a technology consultant for the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario, Jameson is passionate about empowering ALL learners to reach their full potential through the use of technology to enhance and foster a love of learning. He is currently a part of the Microsoft Innovator Educator Expert Community. This helps him grow alongside a passionate group of global educators.