back to article BBC gives naked computers to kids (hmm, code for something?)

The Beeb is trying to recapture the past glories of the BBC Micro with the “Micro Bit”, a single board computer it’s giving to every single 12-year-old in the UK, with the hope of inspiring them to learn programming or (perhaps more politically correct) coding. This still-in-development device, part of the wider Make it …

WTF?

Deja vu

I know the Doctor is involved, but haven't we already read about this?

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Re: haven't we already read about this?

... we have, but from a rather more negative point of view.

Can we stage a Dom=C vs Andy_O deathmatch please? :-)

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Re: Deja vu

This thing just isn't flat enough.

My tea is going to fall off one end.

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Great idea and all that...

But who the hell is going to teach this stuff? UK teachers + IT has been a bad mix for years. Most are way behind the curve. And shoving this in their face won't help matters unless there's investment to teach the teachers how to teach IT. Too many teachings?

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Re: Great idea and all that...

teachers will be using these as coasters and ash trays

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Re: Great idea and all that...

"who the hell is going to teach this stuff?"

Exactly the same person that taught me how to program on the original BBC Micro...Me and my dad...well, more accurately, the child and their parents...

Have we really reached an age where parental responsibility for educating your child is the sole responsibility of a government run establishment. Hell in my day (and we are only talking the 80s here) my parents chucked the BBC at me, I hooked it up to the TV then started copying lines out of my programming book, it kept me quiet for hours and my younger brother owes his life to this piece and quiet mum and dad were getting....*wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge* ***realisation of previous statements*** ***little bit of sick in mouth***

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Great idea and all that...

"teachers will be using these as coasters and ash trays"

You know what? Screw you.

There are crap people in all areas of life. Doctors, teachers, programmers, journalists, drivers, cyclists, and bloody commentards.

But there are also good ones too. To turn around and consistantly churn out the useless drivel that X are crap without looking at the general reason why they can't produce what is necessary is downright insulting. How often have good coders been screwed over by useless managers (and, let us be blunt, vice versa)? When politicians consistantly use the education system as a bargaining chip and point scoring system, make benchmarks that have no real world meaning, make the educators not *just* educators but sodding social workers, parent replacements etc...even to the point that they are going to be criminalised for not saying something about potential abuse when rumours abound in schools and always have done.

Teachers should be allowed to teach. A lot of them are good at it. They are not replacements for your lack of parenting skills and they shouldn't be made that. They shouldn't be given short shrift for all of a sudden not being equipped to teach how to code, when even people who have had the supposed training are still crap and work in business. I was schooled in the 80s. There were no real computing lessons at my school. But they had BBC micros and I had the kind of mind that was just interested. So you can't force this on kids who don't want to learn. And you can't entice kids to want to learn if they don't have a good environment to foster that and in order to do that you have to let the teachers have the skills in the firstplace to actually provide that basis and foster encouragement.

IT teachers have taught what the curriculum mandated, which has been what we consider to be mostly office type skills. Now that has changed and people love to sneer and hold up their superiority as how things should be done and how much better they are in tthe technological world. Tell you what, why don't you go down to your local school and offer to volunteer to run a (supervised, because we all know there is a PDO lurking around every corner) workshop so they know how to use these Micro Bits?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: who the hell is going to teach this stuff?

It may be sufficient to give the teachers a few canned lesson scripts to run through with the class, and pre-designed handouts with examples. Any kid who is likely to be interested and/or get the hang of it should be able to manage something (or at least a reasonable fraction will). Then, even if the teacher isn't really up to much, the (interested/competent) kids can do stuff off their own bat.

It doesn't have to work for everyone. Just work for those kids who are/might be interested, and whose parents aren't capable/interested/succeeding in motivating their kids in that direction.

But I'm not sure if this is BBC money well spent or not. How does it compare to the budget for Strictly? Or is Bake-Off a better comparitor? :-)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Great idea and all that...

Who going to teach this?

Wild stab in the dark, but the extensive list of partners as well as the BBC?

Just a snippet from my previous posting:

Formal product champions involved in outreach and educational resources include:

Bright Future

CISCO

Code Club

CoderDojo

Code Kingdoms

Creative Digital Solutions

CultureTECH

Decoded

Institution of Engineering and Technology

Kitronik

Lancaster University

London Connected Learning Centre

Open University

Python Software Foundation

STEMNET

Teen Tech

Tinder Foundation

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Re: who the hell is going to teach this stuff?

But I'm not sure if this is BBC money well spent or not.

Not.

Because it's not BBC money (at least the hardware isn't). I guess the BBC will spending some money making the educational TV programmes, but that is their public service remit.

There are 9 partners:

ARM

Barclays

element14

Freescale Semiconductor

Lancaster University

Microsoft

Nordic Semiconductor

Samsung

ScienceScope

Technology Will Save Us

So don't worry, your license fee money is still available for East Enders.

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Silver badge

Re: Great idea and all that...

Thank m0rt, that needed saying. I would have clicked on your upvote thingy, but I am older than 12 so written gratitude will have to suffice.

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Re: Great idea and all that...

"You know what? Screw you."

Wow you totally changed my world view.

But not really.

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Re: Great idea and all that...

@truth4u, it's a world view that needs changing - shame m0rt hasn't managed to do it with his pretty accurate post above. I guess you will have to come out of the basement and take a look at the real world.

I'm a school governor who took the post specifically to see how this stuff is working out and to help it on it's way. I'm also involved in all the other areas of curriculum as well, and have great interaction with the teachers. They do a great job given the constant changing of curriculum by the government.

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Re: Great idea and all that...

"teachers will be using these as coasters and ash trays"

I think that's way out of line. Sure, as with every profession, there'll be teachers who can pick these things up easier, and some that will find it harder (or can't be bothered).

You mustn't forget though, that a teacher is not supposed to compete with Linus Torvalds and the like. (If you disagree with this example, substitute with any brilliant mind of your choice)

If they know enough basics to spark the kids' interest, that's all that is required. That's the whole intention anyway. Nobody would reasonably expect *every single* child to become a programmer or coder. You want to give them options, so that you can figure out what your child is good at. It's your job as a parent -not the teachers'- to foster that interest and talent far beyond what school could possibly offer.

The interested kids will figure stuff out on their own, once they are shown the basics. And I'm sure teachers will be able to learn just a bit more than the basics to make that happen.

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This post has been deleted by its author

Re: Great idea and all that...

It's funny how school officials always come out with personal attacks (gee no one has ever used the basement dweller line on here before). Having set themselves up as the supposedly mature adults above everybody else.

You make me sick to be honest. Take your saccharin piety to the governors meeting where it belongs.

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Bronze badge

Re: Great idea and all that...

My daughter gets on well with her IT teacher but is 13 so will probably miss out. I have asked her to have a word and get any extra devices that may end up as coasters etc. Fingers crossed we can get one or more to actually use constructively!

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Re: who the hell is going to teach this stuff?

"How does it compare to the budget for Strictly?"

IIRC, Strictly generates revenue from overseas sales and licensing. Just like Top Gear used to do.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Great idea and all that...

"a teacher is not supposed to compete with Linus Torvalds"

That depends on the nature of the competition. If it's about who's the best teacher, Linus Torvalds is going to lose if he's up against any teacher who's kept their job for more than a fortnight.

There are a lot of brilliant minds dedicated to teaching; and a lot of brilliant minds which are hopelessly unsuited to that demanding profession yet terrific when let loose on what they're good at.

Horses for courses and all that.

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Re: Great idea and all that...

The difference is chiefly the availability of easy passive entertainment

Back then :

* 1 hour of kids TV on a weekday

* Typically only 1 TV in a house (so it was often monopolized by the adults)

* Computers were expensive (the BBC was £1,400 in inflation adjusted money, and that's before you sprang for an extra TV or heaven forbid, an actual monitor).

* There was a 5 minute wait for a game to load, if it worked (who remembers developing the gamers equivalent of a piano tuner's ear for tape azimuth?)

It was inevitable that given all this, you'd eventually reach the point where you were bored enough to try programming.

Today :

* There is no time at which you cannot get "free" passive video entertainment because of YouTube

* It takes less than 5 minutes to find, install, and start a new "free" game on your mobile

* You can buy a powerful graphical computer, complete with screen, for the price of < 50 beers, rather than 555 beers (price of Worthington Best Bitter, in a pub, in 1986, £0.72, price today ~ £3.00)

The computers of the day were

* Set up to be programmable, most booting into a BASIC interpreter out of the box

* Selling the computer to you was the point

Computers today are

* Mostly designed to sell you something

(phone service, freemium app purchases, showing ads, games, commercial software packages)

The difficulty of gaining traction with the kids is less about the platform, and more about the space it competes in.

In order to fight this, the software is going to have to get a lot better. You need to "gamify" the whole learning experience, make something akin to the "Young Ladie's Illustrated Primer" from Neal Stephenson's "The Diamond Age".

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Headmaster

Pedantic point of order

"However, the Beeb simply can’t afford to give away £5-10m every year in hardware"

"According to the BBC's 2013/14 Annual Report, its total income was £5 billion" (Wikipedia)*

Pretty sure they could afford it, but that dosh would probably be better spent on youtube-style video series explaining coding in detail with the core principles & practical examples.

*Yes, terribly lazy of me and probably wrong, but what can you do.

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Re: Pedantic point of order

Not having to pay Clarkson's salary should fund this easily.

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Re: Pedantic point of order

No, because Clarkson brought in more than he cost, via licensing fees to other countries. I dislike the man, and am glad he's been sacked, but maths is maths.

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Happy

Re: Pedantic point of order

Except, being pedantic, at time of writing he's been suspended - not sacked.

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Re: maths is maths

Maybe a joke was a joke?

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Re: maths is maths

What is this "joke" you speak of?

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Re: Pedantic point of order

I dislike the people who can't see the humour of Clarkson/TopGear. I hope he gets hired by another broadcaster and makes loads of money for them (and a new program for us)

</offtopic>

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Re: Pedantic point of order @petur

The only humour I can find in Top Gear is in the manner that their material seems simultaneously both over- and under-rehearsed.

However I dislike the people who think Clarkson should be fired just because they don't find him funny. Dear BBC, even if it were just me watching TV, please don't make only programmes that I already know that I currently enjoy.

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Silver badge

Re: Pedantic point of order @petur

The strange thing about Clarkson and Top Gear, is that some people don't like it - but more than that they seem to be want to be outspoken about not liking it. As if they are trying to impose their supposed intellectual superiority by letting everybody know they don't like Top Gear and Clarkson.

There are many programmes and people on TV that I would switch off immediately they appear, but somehow I don't feel the need to crow all over the web about it.

You don't like Clarkson? Well thanks for letting us know. What else are you over-compensating for?

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Childcatcher

I welcome...

Our (pre)pubescent coding overloards.

Now I think about it, that sounds creepy...

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well you know what they say...

a million adolescents here, a million there, pretty soon you're talking serious smut-filter subversion

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Anonymous Coward

Re: well you know what they say...

Displaying smut on a 5x5 LED matrix?

Hats off to anyone who can do that convincingly at the start of their coding career; or indeed later.

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Re: well you know what they say...

In the words of Xander in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 'I'm a teenage boy, I can be turned on by linoleum'

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Happy

Re: well you know what they say...

Displaying smut on a 5x5 LED matrix?

that's enough to scroll 5318008 on

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Headmaster

Re: well you know what they say...

"Displaying smut on a 5x5 LED matrix?"

I'm sure some kid will innocently program an animated pattern "Sir! Sir!, I made it look like a mouth opening and closing". Closely followed by a less innocent kid rotating the board 90o

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Joke

Re: well you know what they say...@John Styles

In the words of Xander in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Sometimes I shouldn't say words".

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Tell me again what problem this solves?

The burning issue of one poor kid without a button to press which lights up a LED?

No. It's so the BBC can point to it doing something that a private broadcaster couldn't. Good for another persuading the politicians to allow it 5 years of the TV licence.

Since BBC IT is utter crap anyway I think we all know how super-fantastic this is going to turn out.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Tell me again what problem this solves?

"Since BBC IT is utter crap anyway I think we all know how super-fantastic this is going to turn out."

Yes because the iPlayer was such a flop.

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Re: Tell me again what problem this solves?

Yeah, and that BBC Micro back in the 80's? Total failure. Didn't launch a generation of programmers and technologists and punt the UK up to the top end of the IT league for decades, at all....

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Re: Tell me again what problem this solves?

From personal experience, the production facing IT is pretty damn good, ATOS run large parts of the user facing machine estate and well ATOS are ATOS.

It's terribly fashionable to have a pop at auntie, but frankly it's a shining light of good practice across multiple examples from how to document an API for external usage http://www.bbc.co.uk/frameworks/bbcuser/docs/usage/bbc-user-currentuser through to how to get people from the ground floor into highly skilled jobs http://www.bbc.co.uk/academy

It's a remarkably good use of public money, we all get many times back what it costs the population.

For four pence a day, we get to train people and turn them into tax payers, some of them go on to pay very large volumes of tax. That the BBC make the odd thing worth watching is a nice side bonus.

Why not see this as firmly following that tradition, in an attempt to equip at least a few of the next generation with proper skills, rather than the watered down rubbish being foisted on the average youngster as "coding".

Not everything the BBC do makes sense, or is worth pursuing but it's a very important part of our cultural heritage and we'd be poorer both financially and culturally as a nation without it.

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Re: Tell me again what problem this solves?

In researching this article (yes, I do research) I found that the BBC seems to be sticking to its core competence making lightweight stuff for people who aren't that interested in the subject.

That's why *every* BBC programme about the Solar system tells you that Jupiter is big and why it uses celebrities with no clue about the subject like Richard Hammond to explain geology.

That's for most people, ie not the kids of Reg readers.The average white Brit kid can name more England players than elements and last year (according to the numbers from the Catholic church) more Brit girls chose to become nuns than to take A level computing.

Britain has fewer girls over 16 studying Computing than countries like Pakistan where the locals shoot girls on the way to school and Nigeria where people think it OK to kidnap them whilst studying and sell them as sex slaves. We look bad compared to the dismal American system for fuck's sake.

The fact is that we have descended from the most IT literate population on the planet to mediocrity.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Tell me again what problem this solves?

"Yeah, and that BBC Micro back in the 80's?" wasn't actually a BBC product, was it? Acorn designed the thing, but the BBC did apply conditions to the engineering. Daft ones, of course.

My dad acquired the original BBC spec for the BBC Micro, written to define what the BBC was looking for - naturally I read it (he's had a clear out since and threw the thing away before I snaffled it. Grr; but then again my loft is full of quite enough junk). The Beeb insisted on a linear PSU, fully socketed construction, and some other oddities none of which I clearly recall after all these years. A Z80 CPU was mandatory, one gathers to favour Uncle Clive (Sinclair, for those of tender years).

What we got was a 6502 powered beastie. Acorn did deliver the specified linear CPU and fully socketed construction for the early machines, but they were soon superseded because soldered-to-the-board chips and a switched mode PSU were better from an engineering point of view.

Yes yes the ROMs remained socketed along with RAM and a few other bits. Point is, the original spec was crap and it was provided by BBC engineers who just didn't understand how to do the job properly. Which is a bit odd, because back then, BBC engineers were exceptionally good at what they did.

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Re: Tell me again what problem this solves?

Saying that the BBC Micro wasn't a BBC product is both technically correct and utterly irrelevant.

It was a BBC product in all the important ways. It was promoted by the BBC, it was commissioned by the BBC, it was the BBC's idea to launch a branded computer and accompanying TV series in the first place. The BBC was the reason that so many schools standardised on that model. And the BBC was the driving force behind the decision to make the machine so orientated towards programming and hobby use rather than games focussed like most other machines at the time.

Your comment brings this to mind: http://xkcd.com/1475/

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I don't see the purpose of this

Okay, getting kids to program is a good thing. But kids will need a computer to program this board, so why not let them program on the computer and forget about the board altogether? There are some pretty good sites for doing this already - scratch, codeproject etc. Even the BBC has some decent browser based programming apps.

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Re: I don't see the purpose of this

I think the point is not so much pure programming (which could, as you say, be done solely on the host computer), as it is programming devices and teaching how they can interact with the physical world.

If students can see that the same programming languages and methods can be used to program the desktop (or laptop) computer as can be used to program something that responds to button presses and other sensors, switches lights on and off, etc. then it gets them used to the idea that computers may be at the centre of many everyday objects that they may not have thought of as being computerised before, and are not necessarily boxes with screens, keyboards, etc.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I don't see the purpose of this

I agree. In an age where we enjoy full colour hi def screens of "retina" quality, dumbing down to 5 x 5 x LED seems unlikely to interest any kids I know. I have a son of the target age, and he just laughed at this.

Some kind of sprite based game designer for simple 2D games might work, but kids today are spoiled for choice with computers in a way that us 80's kids couldn't have dreamed of back then. I wrote games and tried other things (on borrowed ZX80/ZX81s and then my own Speccy) because it was such a novelty; today that doesn't apply. I really don't know if I would have managed to get into programming if I had been inundated with the distractions of all of today's online goodies.

That's what we're up against, if we really want to interest the kids.

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Silver badge

Re: I don't see the purpose of this

"I agree. In an age where we enjoy full colour hi def screens of "retina" quality, dumbing down to 5 x 5 x LED seems unlikely to interest any kids I know. I have a son of the target age, and he just laughed at this."

In which case you did not explain it to him adequately. You may as well argue that Lego and Meccano would never be of interest to kids because you can buy ready-made toys and models that are superior to anything that they could make with those things. You do not try to tell kids that this thing is a "computer" because they will indeed laugh at it. You tell them - or better yet *show* them that the device is something that they can use to make their own things. Not all kids will be interested, just like many kids are uninterested in Meccano. But for those who have the right mindset, writing a simple program that flashes an LED or makes a tone come from a speaker is far more exciting than clicking on an icon and having a full-colour display or the latest pop song magically being produced from a complex box. Because it becomes a personal achievement.

The description of a product leads to a particular mind-set or expectation, and a bad description can break a product. Had Sinclair marketed an advanced electric *bicycle* instead of trying to sell it as a car, it may well not have flopped as badly as it did.

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"This still-in-development device, part of the wider Make it Digital initiative, is not unlike a Raspberry Pi ."

This still-in-development device, part of the wider Make it Digital initiative, is not unlike a Raspberry Pi.

Fixed.

so we may be heading for a rematch of the notorious Sinclair Vs BBC Micro fight in the 1980s.

Except a quick check would have shown that Raspberry Pi have not only endorsed this move, but are one of the education partners in the project.

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Flame

The hardware isn't a problem...

...nor are the teachers, really. A lot of the time IT teachers are also the network manager, so although they may not be god's gift to either IT or teaching the chances are they know enough about both to teach children about IT.

The problem is the fecking useless syllabus that's been taught in this country for the past 10 (?) years that - as far as I could work out at the time - only teaches people how to be secretaries and admin monkeys. The closest we got to programming with using Frontpage to design a website. My school didn't even offer ICT at GCSE level because it was seen as pointless, and at A-Level they offered the ECDL courses and exams for those who wanted to take them as an additional subject.

Anyone who thinks the decline in ICT skills over the last X number of years can be resolved by a little circuit board with some LEDs is off their bleeding rocker. Rather than cock about with hugely expensive initiatives like this when you could, you know, put it on the syllabus that use one of those dusty old fashioned PC thingymagunks* sat in the corner to teach some fun little Vb projects?

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