By attaching the micro:bit to your body with tape or pipe cleaners, you become the interface for interacting with Scratch. Dance movements can now be translated into musical beats. Dance faster (more shakes) and the beats will be played faster. Stop moving and the song also stops, waiting for that next dance move to be detected.
This is just one example of how I would like to support the merger of tinkering in the physical and digital worlds.
Rather than prescribing specific projects designed to teach the tool, I would like to provide more students with opportunities to use these devices as a medium to explore their own interests. A learner who has an interest in music might naturally discover the Spotify extension. However, it might not be immediately obvious how a physical device like the micro:bit could enhance the interaction. This is why it’s necessary for facilitators, educators, and developers to provide a rich set of examples over many different interest areas. It’s important to show a wide range of possibilities that someone who uses the tools might want to explore.
Below is an example of a scope and sequence for an actual curriculum that was designed to introduce the micro:bit. I have intentionally not linked to the source of this curriculum as my purpose is not to call out or criticize anyone's efforts. In fact, these types of activities can often be found in many traditional computer science programs.
Activities by Week:
- Coordinate Grid System
- Music and Arrays
- Bits, Bytes, and Binary
- Independent Final Project
The curriculum starts out in a playful way with “Making.” However, by the second week it moves right into “Algorithms.” To me, this could very well scare off many kids who might not have (or haven’t yet discovered) an interest in computer programming. Each week a new technical concept is introduced, along with an accompanying, predefined hands-on project. These “projects” are often structured more like recipes, where students are expected to follow step-by-step instructions. All of this eventually builds into a culminating event during the final week: the “Independent Final Project.” Rather than using this independent project as a way of allowing students to build their knowledge by working on a project they care about, it is used as a figural “finish line” that students are invited to take part in once they have learned all of the necessary skills that they may (or may not) end up even using in the final project.
Instead, I would like to see projects as the main component of the curriculum. Through these projects, students can be invited to learn about a particular skill or strategy when it’s needed to complete the task at hand. After all, is it appropriate that during week 2 all students should be learning about the meaning of “algorithms”? If students have control over their own learning, they are likely to make deeper connections to ideas and develop a greater sense of agency.
One interesting topic that I have not addressed in this post is evaluation. I believe that learning is done best when it is done in a playful way. However, how do educators evaluate play to see if their students are actually learning? This is a big question. Fortunately a fellow Media Lab Learning Fellow, Anneli Hershman, has published another ML Learning blog post about this very topic, titled “They’re having fun… but are they learning?”. Assessing learning through play is no easy task. Just as open-ended activities have no one, correct, answer, there is no one way to evaluate the effectiveness of learning through play.
I want to challenge us to think about these new electronic platforms as another medium for expression rather than just a gateway to computer science. We should think about them more broadly, not unlike the way we view pencils and paper, markers and crayons, and LEGO bricks and Scratch blocks.