Micro:bit Anxiety Aids
Previous to attending a Code to Learn workshop with Fair Chance Learning, I had the opportunity to play with a borrowed micro:bit on my own and try some of the projects on MakeCode. I definitely was eager to use the tool with my students, which is why I jumped at the opportunity to attend the workshop and receive a micro:bit Club kit for my classes. I was particularly impressed with the activity used to have teachers in attendance try with the micro:bit to create a pair of interactive glasses to assist Barnaby from the story, Barnaby Never Forgets. This activity demonstrated the versatility of the micro:bit and really showed how one could incorporate both design and computational thinking across the curriculum. When I got the kit back to my students, I decided to give them some free play with the projects on MakeCode in small heterogeneous groups and discovered really how powerful the micro:bit is for students. Many students reported that they loved the almost instant feedback the MakeCode site and micro:bit gave them, allowing them to debug their code quickly after determining problems. Students conferred, created and worked through the projects and honestly, groaned at the end of the period when we had to pack up, no small feat for Grade 8 students after the March Break!
During this time, students were preparing for an upcoming Math test and even though we have spent a great deal of time talking about Jo Boaler’s work as well as, with YouCubed activities, there are many students who become anxious when test day arrives. Rather than ignore that very real problem, I brought an article I had read to the students in order to call it out. It was my hope that by naming it, it would help students having those feelings realize that they would be supported. It was then, I had the idea to use the micro:bit to create aids to support anxiety. I sent out the idea to the “Twitter-verse” and got some feedback. Armed with this, I gave a number of resources to the students to create their own anxiety aids, ordered alligator clips, collected some donated headphones and the project began. The only criteria that I set for students was that they were to work in randomly selected groups of three, test and debug their code on MakeCode before downloading it to a micro:bit, and finally, test it out on an actual micro:bit.
Students surpassed all my expectations. Many groups chose to “hack headphones” and either created calming music or used music found on the web to assist another student. Other groups coded games to help calm students in addition to, providing some review questions related to the test materials. Two groups did a combination of the above as well as including a counter to help control breathing. Two groups began networking micro:bits to send calming and helpful messages from teacher to student. When they thought they had their aid perfected, I asked them to write out the steps their group took to create it. Students clearly explained the steps in their design including, the steps they took to debug their code. I also asked them to discuss what their groups had difficulty with and most reported that their greatest difficulties were with trouble-shooting code which they were all able to work through with minimal assistance. I believe this is the most powerful advantage of the micro:bit. Students are engaged to persist through the challenge of debugging to create real objects. All groups reported enjoying working together to help others in their classes. I am thrilled that my students were afforded this opportunity as I saw growth in their confidence to solve real-world problems. 21st century skills in action!
Christine is a Grade 8 STEAM teacher with 18 years of experience at the Toronto District School Board and an M.A. in Child Study and Education. She loves to examine new tools to engage her students in constructing their knowledge and develop strong computational thinking. Her current interest is working with her students to discover the many applications of coding micro:bits to further their understanding in Mathematics and Science.