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 …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    Deja vu

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

    1. Paul Kinsler

      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? :-)

    2. HBennett

      Re: Deja vu

      This thing just isn't flat enough.

      My tea is going to fall off one end.

  2. the-it-slayer

    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?

    1. Truth4u

      Re: Great idea and all that...

      teachers will be using these as coasters and ash trays

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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?

        1. werdsmith 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.

        2. Truth4u

          Re: Great idea and all that...

          "You know what? Screw you."

          Wow you totally changed my world view.

          But not really.

          1. James Hughes 1

            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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              1. This post has been deleted by its author

              2. Truth4u

                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.

      2. sysconfig

        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.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          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.

      3. Leeroy 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!

    2. The Crow From Below

      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***

      1. Dr_Barnowl

        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".

    3. Anonymous Coward
      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? :-)

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        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.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        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.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      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

  3. auburnman
    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.

    1. Oh Matron!

      Re: Pedantic point of order

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

      1. jzlondon

        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.

        1. Alan Gauton
          Happy

          Re: Pedantic point of order

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

        2. Lamont Cranston

          Re: maths is maths

          Maybe a joke was a joke?

          1. jzlondon

            Re: maths is maths

            What is this "joke" you speak of?

        3. petur

          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>

          1. ThomH Silver badge

            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.

            1. werdsmith 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?

  4. Rick Giles
    Childcatcher

    I welcome...

    Our (pre)pubescent coding overloards.

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

    1. Mongo

      well you know what they say...

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

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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.

        1. John Styles

          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'

          1. Kane Silver badge
            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".

        2. edge_e
          Happy

          Re: well you know what they say...

          Displaying smut on a 5x5 LED matrix?

          that's enough to scroll 5318008 on

        3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          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

  5. Peter Prof Fox

    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

      1. jzlondon

        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....

        1. Anonymous Coward
          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.

          1. jzlondon

            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/

    2. sed gawk

      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.

    3. Dominic Connor, Quant Headhunter

      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.

  6. DrXym Silver badge

    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.

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      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.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      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.

      1. Cynic_999 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.

  7. werdsmith Silver badge

    "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.

  8. Archaon
    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?

    1. Paul Kinsler

      Re: teach some fun little Vb projects

      Fun little Vb projects? What might they be? Most importantly, does your definition of fun, whether involving Vb or not, match up with the definitions of fun applicable to (currently) non IT-literate kids? I'm pretty sure "Vb projects" wont be on their list ... but perhaps a project - in Vb or not Vb - involving flashing lights might. Or, as the article stated, projects involving sensors.

      My guess is that although making things change/move on a screen can be seen as (kid) fun, making a real light really flash, or measuring the temperature of the parental cup of tea is more likely to be seen as (kid) fun. Or possibly making the bloody thing beep intermittently, or play a really annoying tune, in the middle of the night.

      Are there any educationalists, child psychologists, or even perhaps -horrors- specialist teachers, around who might give us an informed opinion? dConnor and aOlowsksi are all very well as columnists, but it'd be interesting to get some less idiosyncratic input from people who actually work with children, or study child behaviour. Perhaps there might even be some supporting evidence provided to back up the reasoning?

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: teach some fun little Vb projects

        As VB went out of Mainstream support with VB6 10 years ago, it wouldn't surprise me if some teachers still think it's current.

        VB is still number 10 in the Tiobe index though, right behind VB.NET which is at number 9 this month.

        Staggering.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. Dr_Barnowl

          Re: teach some fun little Vb projects

          > VB : it wouldn't surprise me if some teachers still think it's current.

          Some do. In a very real sense, it's still current, because the scripting environment built into Office is still VB ( or VBA - Visual Basic for Applications) which is the close sibling of VB6 rather than VB.NET (which is almost, but not entirely, unlike VB6).

          VBA is probably the most commonly installed programming IDE in the world because it's built into MS Office.

      2. Archaon

        Re: teach some fun little Vb projects

        "Fun little Vb projects? What might they be? Most importantly, does your definition of fun, whether involving Vb or not, match up with the definitions of fun applicable to (currently) non IT-literate kids? I'm pretty sure "Vb projects" wont be on their list ... but perhaps a project - in Vb or not Vb - involving flashing lights might. Or, as the article stated, projects involving sensors."

        I don't know, which is one of many, many reasons why I'm not a teacher or writing syllabuses. My point was that in my opinion if you want to teaching coding/programming/development you don't need trinkets to do it.

        I did see someone else mention that there is more coding in the syllabus now, which is genuinely great to hear. You'll have to forgive me if I'm a little cynical towards IT in schools, because the first time I did any coding courtesy of an educational institute was at University.

    2. Dominic Connor, Quant Headhunter

      Re: The hardware isn't a problem...

      Actually the syllabus has been changed big time, lots more coding.

      do keep up dear,

      Dominic

      (the poor fule wot wrote the article)

  9. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

    "with the hope of inspiring them to learn programming or (perhaps more politically correct) coding."

    You lot all know that they use the words "coding", "coder" etc. as a means of diminishing the significance of what programmers do, don't you?

    Think about it.

    Which sounds more important / more valuable / more skilled / more expensive to hire, a "coder", a "programmer", a "developer"? My vote *ISN'T* on a "coder".

    Which of those three sounds more trivial, more unskilled, more interchangeable, etc.? This time my vote is *DEFNINTELY* on a "coder".

    Which do you want to be?

  10. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    Sorry to be a killjoy, bit it's dumb.

    As is comparing it the the BBC Micro of old.

    What made the BBC micro attractive was that it was a fully functional computer (of it's time) in it's own right, which you could start in a simple language drawing lines around the screen, making laser zap sounds, and have it prompt for the child's name, and then move on using the same system all the way through to structured programming, assembler, industrial control, simple office applications and data gathering and display. A cheap laptop with a suitable application is going to be far better.

    This microbit is a toy that cannot exist without another computer being involved. It's going to be seen by the majority of kids as 'just another thing they plug into their PC with flashing lights' in the same vein as computer controlled toy missile launchers or bluetooth controlled RC cars. It will hold their attention for a few hours (if they get it working) and then be discarded.

    I'm not saying that it will not get any traction. There are bright teachers (and some self-taught kids) who will do some tremendous things with it, I'm sure. Just don't expect this to be a significant part of teaching advanced computer interaction to the generation of kids who will receive it.

    They'd do better going back to Logo controlled turtles, or a Kim-1 development kit.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Sorry to be a killjoy, bit it's dumb.

      The BBC Micro of old cost the equivalent of about £1500 in todays money.

      I recall that they were not readily available to most people.

      I saw one once, in a magazine.

      This little thing is like an Arduino Leonardo with a 5x5 LED grid and some lace holes to make it wearable (with a li-poly battery) If we are to believe the prototype photos are like the intended final product. It seems to be to be very much like an existing device, so it's just an adaptation. It seems to have IO pins too. I don't think that this will be about the device itself, but the bulk of the effort will be in the supporting resource and educational material.

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: Sorry to be a killjoy, bit it's dumb. @werdsmith

        I agree. I'm not making the comparison with the BBC micro, other people are. I just pointed out how stupid that comparison is.

        Before this will be useful even as a wearable gadget, it will need a case, and some power. That will make it much more bulky, and mean there will be an additional outlay immediately before it can be used like this.

        I can see a niche for it, but not as something given to 'every schoolchild' of a certain age, especially if all the majority do is connect it up to a PC running some cute development environment that allows it to display on the 5x5 LED grid a character moonwalking or dancing (Barclays are involved) at the click of a few on-screen buttons. Is that really going to be enough of an achievement to capture a child's long-term interest?

        At best, it's going to be a novelty hook that may hold the attention of a small part of their target audience for long enough for them to learn something useful, but I fear that the number who take advantage will be tiny.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Sorry to be a killjoy, bit it's dumb. @werdsmith @peter

          @Peter Gathercole.

          Yes, I was quite clumsily attempting to support your comment. It is stupid to compare it to a BBC micro in that it is being handed out for free so a million kids have the opportunity to make a tenner on Ebay.

          The BBC Micro (at least for me) was so elitist (no Braben pun intended) and hard to get near that it never really achieved its potential.

          I believe the other very similar looking existing device does have a li-poly battery and doesn['t use a case. There are some things that look like eyes that go where the buttons are.

          The big through plated holes are, in fact, lace holes to help make it wearable.

        2. Dominic Connor, Quant Headhunter

          Re: Sorry to be a killjoy, bit it's dumb. @werdsmith

          For 12 quid this "interweb" thing will sell you a USB connected battery that will recharge your phone of the microBit.

          Dominic

          The bloke wot rote the article

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Sorry to be a killjoy, bit it's dumb.

      "'just another thing they plug into their PC with flashing lights'

      The fact that Samsung is on board as a partner and the Bit thing has Bluetooth, I'm hoping that it can be controlled/programmed via an app on a smartphone. If that is the case, then many more kids will have access to it to"play" with outside of school.

      I used to teach computer skills, including basic level programming, to YTS kids many years ago, initially on BBC Micros. They always got more interested in the programming side when there was things to plug in and lights to flash instead of "just" things on the screen. It's amazing how much fun they had "learning" about basic loops and branches to make pretty patterns and beeps instead of how to calculate when their mortgage would be paid off. The boards were a project for the YTS kids learning electronics. They had fun learning what was needed and developing the board then seeing it put to use in ways they hadn't thought of ;-)

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: Sorry to be a killjoy, bit it's dumb.

        In the early '80s I built and ran a 'computer appreciation' lab at a UK Poly, back when computers were relatively rare things, and peripherals like robot arms, speech synthesisers, light pens, plotters etc. even more so. I do understand that physical things are more meaningful, but only for capturing initial interest.

        Once the novelty wore off, the young people who 'got' what it was all about, the physical nature was less important, and those that didn't, it was no longer interesting.

        In fact when given the opportunity to use any or all of this great kit in their end of year project, none of them were interested, and they all settled on pure software projects. Everybody involved in setting up and running the lab. were very disappointed.

  11. Dominic Connor, Quant Headhunter

    Some more facts from the poor sod who wrote the article

    The BBC isn't paying for manufacturing them, the partners are.

    UK IT teachers are a bit lukewarm about it since the BBC hasn't announced how the gear will reach kids, what course materials will be available or even the spec of the device. Lessons don't "just happen", apparently.

  12. Simon Harris Silver badge

    Host computer.

    As has been mentioned, one major difference between this initiative and the original BBC computer is the reliance on a host computer to do the programming.

    I'm not sure what desktop/laptop facilities the average 11 year old has available full time, but a lot seem to have Android or i-things these days - I wonder if the project developers could produce a version of the programming tools for tablets and phones, and have a bootstrap loader to pull in the code to Flash ROM, possibly over BlueTooth, to enable kids to tinker with their boards wherever they are.

    1. Pookietoo

      Re: tools for tablets

      It's browser based, so no need to port a toolset.

  13. Rosie Davies

    "Girls seem to like it, some seeing the Micro Bit as an opportunity to create a kind of smart jewellery through code. Given that every single attempt to get them to program has utterly failed, this is really worth trying."

    COUGH!

    Yes, that would certainly be one approach that could be tried. Or you _could_ give then free reign to something really basic like, say, a VIC-20, the getting started tutorials and the detailed reference guide then leave them to it. It worked for me.

    Rosie

    1. Dominic Connor, Quant Headhunter

      That won't work.

      Because the article wasn't about the way teenage girls can't be bothered to learn hard subjects, I didn't enumerate the literally hundreds of different things that have been tried to get them study things more difficult and useful than learning Justin Bieber lyrics by heart that have failed.

      You may think that an unreasonable, I counsel you to google around the theme of academic studies and "why girls don't study computing" or physics for that matter. "It's too hard" is one of the most common responses from teenage girls.

      In 2012 about 400,000 girls took A levels.

      Guess how many did Computing ?

      Wrong, no try again, lower.

      Wrong, no try again, lower.

      Wrong, no try again, lower.

      Wrong, no try again, lower.

      Wrong, no try again, lower.

      Wrong, no try again, lower.

      Wrong, no try again, lower.

      Wrong, no try again, lower.

      Wrong, no try again, lower.

      Wrong, no try again, lower.

      Wrong, no try again, lower.

      Wrong, no try again, lower.

      Wrong, no try again, lower.

      It was 243.

      Yes ,really.

      Dominic

      The bloke wot rote the artic

      1. Rosie Davies

        Hiya Dominic,

        thank you for taking the time to reply. I don't really want to get into a shouting match, mainly because I am not a naturally a very shouty person, but...

        I wonder why you think it won't work? As I said, it worked for me. I started on a VIC-20, progressed through a bare-bones Z80A based board that considered assembly a high-level language, can program in about a dozen different languages and now design large, complex systems for a living. Looking around me I see women who create performance test scripts and provide the analysis of where, and why systems aren't working as expected, manage (at various levels) other areas of test. A friend of mine (a woman) is studying for a Ph.D in particle physics and, until recently, worked at CERN.

        Certainly in my case a deciding factor was that I was brought up without any expectations of what I should or shouldn't be interested in. Dad was an Engineer and encouraged all of us to build 'stuff' and certainly wouldn't have accepted "because I'm a girl, lol <rolls eyes>" as an excuse for not doing well in Maths or sciences. That's the bit about the comment in the article that prodded my grump button. It appears to suggest than unless you make it pretty girls won't be interested in it, which is a bit condescending really.

        So far as girls saying "that's too hard"; those are the exact words that came out of my son's mouth when I asked why he was giving up Maths. Though I tend to put it down to a low-key form of teenage rebellion, especially as he started studying the classics and philosophy instead.

        Rosie

        1. Dr_Barnowl

          Hi, I'm not Dominic

          But I can can relate to this, having a daughter.

          When statistically boys outnumber girls 12:1 in computer studies, something is wrong. My daughter is 10, bright, top in maths in her class... and obsessed with hair and nail polish videos and now regards her dad's enthusiastic explanations of maths and science as something tedious, when she used to have an endless stream of questions.

          They're right - it's hard. The explanation I've seen is that girls seem to be praised for their innate qualities (like being pretty, and having pleasant personalities) and boys seem to be praised for trying harder. This rings true - in my daughter's school reports the most effusive praise is always for her social interactions with her classmates and the fact that teachers find her a pleasure to teach, not the fact that she's top in maths (I can attest to her ability - she was able to grasp using matrix maths for coordinate transforms years before it actually comes up on the curriculum - when she was still interested in letting dad help with her homework and teach her things outside the planned curriculum).

          And persistence is the key to success in complex subjects. The girls gain a self-motivation habit that immediately gives up when instant success is not available, and end up focussing on things that do offer quick results.

          It's almost like because we expect boys to be shiftless ill-behaved failures they get the breathing room to develop some expertise in something without crushing expectations of performance, whereas because by now we all know that girls do better academically they suffer when the praise slackens off for even a short while, so they chose subjects without depth that offer this.

          I don't dispute your experience and your circle of similar acquaintances - but I wouldn't imagine it was representative of the typical picture. You can't deny that you are the epitome of a self-selected sample. I'd really like to see this imbalance addressed. Viewing the future of my daughter, I'm scared that she's going to be frightfully bored (or possibly just impoverished) in later life if she abandons the possibility of a STEM career for one in art.

  14. x 7 Silver badge

    showed this to my son - coming up to 15 - and his reaction was "what a piece of shit. No kids will use that. Give them something they can actually use to make something - like a Raspberry Pi"

    In his case he's just turned one Pi into a handheld games console, and he's building a media centre for his bedroom with another. Yep, and he's put a fair amount of coding into these himself

    As for teachers ability to teach.......its a bad sign when he constantly has to correct / help his teacher teach Python to the class. If thats typical, then education is in a bad place

    1. Dominic Connor, Quant Headhunter

      Wrong

      Oh god dear, wake up.

      1: He's nearly15, trust me when I say that he's older than 11-12year olds.

      Has it occurred to you that he may have learned something in the last 3 years ?

      2: You're a Reg reader (now how did I guess that), you are on average better educated than the general population (but clearly not smartre) and odds are you've done computing.

      Do you think it possible that this has affected him a bit ?

      Dominic

      The bloke wot rote this article

      1. 404 Silver badge

        Re: Wrong

        Re: Dominic

        My 11 year old daughter has already rebuilt the Bifrost in Minecraft on the Pi 2 we put together on the kitchen table last Saturday night...

        I do understand what you're speaking of though, we had a little conversation last night concerning 'too hard'.

        <me> 'Did you get your audio sorted yet?'

        <mean girl> 'No, it was a bunch of hippy crap and I couldn't read it'

        <me> rolls eyes and laughs at her*

        <her> 'DaaaaAAAAAD!' stomps off..

        hour later...

        <her> 'I had to take it off auto and force it to HDMI with raspi-config'...

        <me> 'That's my girl!'

        ;)

        *That's one of her buttons, she doesn't like being laughed at or told what she can't do lol.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      "showed this to my son - coming up to 15 - and his reaction was "what a piece of shit. No kids will use that. Give them something they can actually use to make something - like a Raspberry Pi"

      This device is not aimed at him. This will be aimed at 13 year olds and the idea will be to spark an interest and demonstrate that these things are doable, then they might go looking for a Raspberry Pi as their interest expands. If your son has already done some making with a Raspberry Pi then he is well past the target students for this device.

      Remember the Recorder music lessons in primary school? No kid wants to grow up to be a recorder player, they want an electric guitar. But the recorder was the simple cheap instrument that was used to find the kids with the aptitude and inclination.

      1. x 7 Silver badge

        I hear what you say, but it seems to me more likely that a near-15 year old is more likely to be in tune with 11-13 year olds than you are.

        The point is that with a Pi, things ARE "doable". with this BBC device they appear not to be - or if they are, they're not significant enough to maintain the kids attention

        1. Simon Harris Silver badge

          It could well be that with a PI, giving away a million of them a year is not doable, but giving away a million of these might be.

          Sure, the PI is a more capable computer in that it has enough connectivity to do video, ethernet, USB and sound straight out of the box - it's this connectivity that probably pushes it outside of the budget for the programme. This machine seems to focus more on direct hardware control (viz, the two buttons and grid of LEDs built in - although as we've only seen a prototype, who knows what we'll end up with!), which would require daughter-boards on the PI pushing the budget further out of reach, assuming you're not going to build them yourself.

          When I was 11 (this was in 1976), I had an electronics set for Christmas - this just had 2 transistors, a handful of resistors and capacitors, lightbulb, LDR and piezoelectric earpiece, and came with instructions for about 15 or so projects - of course I outgrew this and extended it and by 13 I was soldering together digital logic and at 15 had my first computer. The point is, something simple can spark an interest in a subject - it's a starting point, not the whole journey.

        2. werdsmith Silver badge

          x7

          " I hear what you say, but it seems to me more likely that a near-15 year old is more likely to be in tune with 11-13 year olds than you are.

          The point is that with a Pi, things ARE "doable". with this BBC device they appear not to be - or if they are, they're not significant enough to maintain the kids attention"

          I have both a 14 year old (15 in June) and a 13 year old.

          And got a completely different response from them both compared yours.

          So being "in tune" as absolutely irrelevant. Unless you believe all children are absolutely identical.

          With a Pi, things are doable at school Except.

          They have to have wires coming out of all four sides, they have to find a HDMI monitor (most schools still rely on VGA stock) or a HDMI to VGA adaptor.

          Then when they are up and running what can they do? Hello World?

          With this thing, the 13 year old plugs it into a USB port and goes to a web page and the LEDs flash.

          Will it hold their attention? No, we hope not. It's just the spark, then they move on to the Raspberry Pi. Or more likely they run Python Idle on the computer they were using with the Micro Bit because they still can't plug the Pi into a VGA monitor.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Coding? Fine... But FFS teach them Linux first

    I've encountered too many adults who think first to solve a problem using whatever language (hammer?) they've just learned, when a shell script, and the tools that come with Linux/UNIX (awk, grep, sed and many, many more) can get from a to b far more quickly. Give em a good grounding in the OS. It's the IT equivalent of teaching a man to fish.

    1. Dominic Connor, Quant Headhunter

      Re: Coding? Fine... But FFS teach them Linux first

      I hereby announce a prize for the most clueless response to my article, you'd have won it if you'd not posted anonymously.

      Have you any idea *at all* what happens if you show a *nix command line to an average 12 yo ?

      Dominic

      The bloke wot rote this article

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Coding? Fine... But FFS teach them Linux first

        Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realise the system had become that dumbed down since the 80s. In that case, just give them Windows, Word and Excel and have done with it.

    2. Simon Harris Silver badge

      Re: Coding? Fine... But FFS teach them Linux first

      How does teaching them Linux help if the system they're using (and it looks a pretty basic system) may well not have nearly enough memory to hold the kernel? Remember, we're talking about a cheap microcontroller here to sense buttons, light LEDs, and possibly interface to other hardware experiments.

      As far as teaching them to fish goes, Linux here might be like trying to cast trawling nets off the side of a pedalo.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Coding? Fine... But FFS teach them Linux first

        Yep, might as well supply real, actual Raspberry Pi (i.e. something with some room for growth). And I really don't see what's hard about basic Linux. Compared to what we had to go through in the 80s, to get some kind of grounding in computing (and I mean computing, not just coding; a term loved by blinkered politicians and media types), it's a cake walk.

  16. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    "...so we’re talking about ... buying a new bunch each year."

    Why, do they self-destruct after 50 weeks?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Facepalm

      No. Those kids grow up. And next years new batch of 11 year old kids wants theirs. They get to keep them.

    2. ThomH Silver badge

      Based on my experience of school children, 20% will have "self" destructed within a couple of months.

      1. Dominic Connor, Quant Headhunter

        Yep, it's a war of attrition

        The BBC is making 1,000,000 but only giving away 800K, so I guess the others are for casualties.

      2. werdsmith Silver badge

        "Based on my experience of school children, 20% will have "self" destructed within a couple of months."

        Based on my experience of school children, 2050% will have "self" destructed been sold on Ebay within a couple of months.

        Fixed.

        But hopefully the spark will catch the right kids.

  17. Mike 137

    Still too abstracted and complex to be really useful

    This device (although less abstracted and obscure than the Raspberry Pi) is still too complex to really impart the fundamental concepts of computer technology. Kids would be vastly better served by a simple board carrying an 8-pin or 14 pin PIC, plus the device data sheet. The skills we are primarily short of (even among developers) are much nearer the metal than current programming practice encourages or imparts. A PIC solution would offer two key advantages: it would probably be cheaper, and the device architecture and instruction set are so simple that a child could grasp them in a few days, leading to basic understanding of machine architecture, Boolean logic and the electronics of interfacing, little or none of which is acquired by high level coding practice, particularly at school level.

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      Re: Still too abstracted and complex to be really useful

      Possibly the ARM microcontroller wouldn't be that much cheaper than a PIC.

      I'm not sure the starting kids out by learning the PIC architecture and instruction set is such a good idea (I've done it, but only because I've needed it for particular projects) - there are so many different microcontrollers that abstracting such things as programmable timers, IO ports, etc. is a better idea so they will get a general idea of how software can be used to control hardware than exactly how it is implemented on one type of processor. Of course, it doesn't stop the keen ones from delving into the hardware if they want.

      If a high level language is available, it seems to make sense to use it rather than assembly code - how many kids will have the patience, for example, to write their own long division or multiplication subroutines instead of having it already there in the compiler?

      Can someone tell me which widely used high level languages cannot do boolean logic - just about every one I have ever used does.

  18. Geoff_Boyd

    30 years on - Same stench as the Acorn BBC Computer

    Clive Sinclair's criticism in the early eighties was well founded.

    The BBC, with its disproportionate PR & Marketing clout funded by the UK public, has no business promoting one platform over another. I speak with a real axe to grind on this. Memotech Computers, the company I founded with Robert Branton in the late 70s, arguably, had a far better Z80 based micro platform with the Memotech MTX 512 for educational computing than the BBC Computer. A couple of notes on this - GEC (the UK's number one electronics engineering company at the time) used the Memotech MTX 512 in its microcomputer training laboratories. In Germany, Finland, Denmark and many other European countries the MTX 512 was the microcomputer platform of choice for many 'coders' as they are called today. The Register did a piece on this a few months ago ( http://lnkd.in/fneVsJ ). In retrospect I see that Memotech just couldn't compete in our home territory with all the 'free marketing and advertising' of the Acorn BBC Computer.

    And in case history forgets, all of this preceded the arrival of Alan Sugar and the Amstrad products who entered, in effect buying up bankrupt stock, after the great home computer bust of 1984 which eventually wiped out just about everybody (other than Acorn) including Sinclair and yours truly.

    To my biased nose this new 'MicroBit' project 30 years on has the same stench as the original BBC Computer project and could probably be executed with far greater reach and efficacy as a browser app simulator coupled to a BBC educational series of programmes. Can't figure out who the beneficiary could be this time instead of Acorn, but selling one million+ single-board microcontrollers can't be that bad a gig for whoever gets the contract.

    1. Dr_Barnowl

      Re: 30 years on - Same stench as the Acorn BBC Computer

      The thing the BBC really produced was a common platform effect - nearly everyone had access to one, which magnified the effect of any software or other educational material produced for one immeasurably.

      Sir Clive was really just lamenting that without the big fat government educational subsidy what was left over was the gaming niche - which the ZX Spectrum had to share with the Beeb, the Electron, and the C64.

      The Archimedes didn't do nearly as well in terms of available educational software packages, because it wasn't nearly so available, and a more fragmented platform, and was competing with the PC at the time.

      What we already have, as you identify, these days, is a common platform - the browser. And kids today are far more likely to have access to a laptop than a Pi and a spare monitor / keyboard / mouse.

      Throwing hardware at the problem isn't the solution. Back then, hardware was scarce. We have a surfeit of it these days. What we need is better software, that can actually compete with the endless stream of video and "free" games for the spare time of our youth.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: 30 years on - Same stench as the Acorn BBC Computer

      could probably be executed with far greater reach and efficacy as a browser app simulator coupled to a BBC educational series of programmes.

      I believe that this is exactly what is planned, and the browser part already exists as a beta project. The BBC will be making programmes and also including it in existing series like Dr Who.

      And the kids will get to carry the hardware with their creations around with them.

  19. macjules Silver badge
    Megaphone

    Already out on the market ...

    If you have kids then Kano is absolutely awesome http://www.kano.me Not only easy for children to build but has a github repo of code constantly being updated.

    My 7 YO had the computer built and running in 1 hour and is now up to learning via Codecademy.

    Oh, and a £99.99 computer comes with more ports than the new Macbook Air :)

    1. Pookietoo

      Re: Kano is absolutely awesome

      But it's just a Raspberry Pi with the bits you need to hook it up, for people who don't already have those bits lying around.

  20. Steve 114

    We got our fathers to smoke cigars so that we could have the hinged cedar boxes to host a battery, key, and light, plus a morse buzzer if you were rich. When 'transistors' came along we stuck one of those in our Crystal Set and grew up.

    This seems to be the same sort of thing, but may be too complicated for the target age group. PS - did you know that an e-bayed cigar box makes a nice traditional home for a Raspberry Pi?

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