BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

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BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by richardtoohey » Thu Mar 12, 2015 6:49 pm

Not quite a BBC microcomputer ...

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-31834927

The BBC will be giving away mini-computers to 11-year-olds across the country as part of its push to make the UK more digital.

One million Micro Bits - a stripped-down computer similar to a Raspberry Pi - will be given to all pupils starting secondary school in the autumn term.


And more here ... http://www.bbc.co.uk/schoolreport/31854427

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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by aerworuld » Thu Mar 12, 2015 7:45 pm

ooh our youngest starts Secondary in September...

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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by flaxcottage » Thu Mar 12, 2015 7:58 pm

Is this a good use of my licence fee? :evil:
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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by richardtoohey » Thu Mar 12, 2015 8:20 pm

Someone asked on Slashdot (where I saw the story originally)

http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/15/0 ... or-schools

... and there is a comment there that says:

According to its [the BBC's] charter, it has 6 public purposes:

1. Sustaining citizenship and civil society
2. Promoting education and learning
3. Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence
4. Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities
5. Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK
6. Delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services

This initiative falls squarely under #2 (and arguably under #6), similar to how the BBC helped popularise home computers in the 1980s


Not sure if any of that is true, etc.

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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by mjforbes » Thu Mar 12, 2015 8:30 pm

flaxcottage wrote:Is this a good use of my licence fee? :evil:
I tend to agree with that sentiment, but if they *do* sack Clarkson, then they should be able to afford it :wink:. Possibly the worst mistake they'll make, as TG is a major revenue stream worldwide - the licence fee may well have to go in place of adverts anyway

Still - not sure about this statement on the site :

"The BBC is also launching a season of coding-based programmes and activities.
It will include a new drama based on Grand Theft Auto and a documentary on Bletchley Park."


So - presumably the latter on code-breaking techniques ( =D> ), and the 'drama' on killing people, stealing cars, running drugs and beating prostitutes to death? (*) Really want to see how they make *that* educational!

M.

(*) - Doesn't Eastenders cover that lot annually anyway? Apart, maybe, from the prostitute-killing bit? (I don't watch it - but three minutes in the lounge when it's on is enough to know what's happened)
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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by flaxcottage » Thu Mar 12, 2015 8:44 pm

The problem I have with this initiative is that at least 80% of these devices will never be used because;

a) they will be delivered faulty and not be replaced,
b) the recipient will not have the attitude to try to use it,
c) the recipient will break/lose it,
d) it does not play the latest game, play music or videos.

Even if a recipient would like to use it their parents/carers and teachers will not know how to help them. There will not be readily available user material.

Back in 1981 there was already a huge interest in and hunger for personal computers. When the BBC micro was introduced it was supported by massive publicity, government initiatives to train teachers and stimulating TV programming. Today in the iPad generation this will be a dead duck. For today's teenager it is poorly packaged and is extremely limited in entertainment value and so will not be used.

And yes I am an old curmudgeon. :(
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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by richardtoohey » Thu Mar 12, 2015 9:03 pm

flaxcottage wrote:And yes I am an old curmudgeon. :(
Well, do it properly, and throw some BAHs and PAHs in your posts, then! :lol:

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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by mjforbes » Thu Mar 12, 2015 9:14 pm

flaxcottage wrote:The problem I have with this initiative is that at least 80% of these devices will never be used because;

a) they will be delivered faulty and not be replaced
Surely an issue between the manufacturer and the recipient? Unfortunately, the BBC can't really be held to blame for sloppy manufacture, useless delivery people and admin staff not complaining.
flaxcottage wrote: b) the recipient will not have the attitude to try to use it
Bit of an all-encomapssing generalism? Depends on the curriculum of the school in question really, and to a certain extent - the geographic/demographic profile of the area in question. The motivation of the individual youngsters in general must be considered as well
flaxcottage wrote: c) the recipient will break/lose it,
Of course they will. They're kids. At least a replacement one of these won't cost as much as a bloody iPhone (knew it was a mistake, but Mummy knows what daughter wants (sigh).
flaxcottage wrote: d) it does not play the latest game, play music or videos.
Fair play - I'll agree 99% on that one.
flaxcottage wrote: Even if a recipient would like to use it their parents/carers and teachers will not know how to help them. There will not be readily available user material.
A little presumptious? Perhaps this will become the 21st century version of the 80's home computer revival? Rather than "Me and My Micro", there'll be shows on BBC4 "Me and My Microbit" (ok - that was tongue-in-cheek :) ), but if the BBC are backing it, then surely they'd ensure that there'd be some form of support from schools or wherever they are deployed? ... or is that an assumption too far?
flaxcottage wrote: When the BBC micro was introduced it was supported by massive publicity, government initiatives to train teachers and stimulating TV programming. Today in the iPad generation this will be a dead duck. For today's teenager it is poorly packaged and is extremely limited in entertainment value and so will not be used.
My teenage sulkbag is exactly as you describe, but she's also interested in how things work (sometimes) - and I'm sure she's not the only girl child born in 2002 that is that way inclined.
flaxcottage wrote:And yes I am an old curmudgeon. :(
I'm rapidly becoming one myself ;)

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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by BigEd » Thu Mar 12, 2015 9:53 pm

"The platform will be programmable with three programming languages: Touch Develop (https://www.touchdevelop.com/), C++, and Python."
- https://web.archive.org/web/20190329203 ... yp2yP4x57R

The present version uses an atmega32u4, but:
"What we're going to move to in the next version is we'll have ARM chips on there, Cortex-M0s," says Baker. "One chip will have the Bluetooth on it, the other will have the accelerometer and magnetometer on it. We want to expose the instruction set on those devices to the end user."
- http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/201 ... t-hands-on
Last edited by BigEd on Fri Mar 29, 2019 8:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by richardtoohey » Thu Mar 12, 2015 10:17 pm

I don't quite understand the logic of releasing yet another device ... wouldn't it have been better to work with an existing one - RPi, Beagleboard, <insert name here>?

Or is that what they meant about annoying Sir Clive - they (BBC) don't want to get it trouble by choosing/naming a provider? (But still, presumably, somebody will be producing this hardware?)

And will the device be generally available? The BBC B worked well for me because I could get it for the home and learn all about it (and computers generally) away from school.

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Post by galax » Thu Mar 12, 2015 11:53 pm

.
Last edited by galax on Thu Jun 04, 2015 5:04 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by sweh » Fri Mar 13, 2015 12:20 am

In the 80s the home computer revolution was gonna take off, regardless of the guvmint and BBC's campaign. If it hadn't happened we'd probably have all been Spectrum users, but home computing would have continued.

Now the Beeb (as with other home computers of the time) had a big win; plug it into a TV and it works. Type on a keyboard and see the results immediately. Plug a tape recorder in and load games.

Simples!

This new device, though... it's gonna require a tonne of additional components added to it in order to get the immediate feedback. Flashing LEDs and wearable devices? For 11 year olds? Nah.

I really think that a "coding engine" for iOS and Android would better stimulate kids than low level hardware hacking. It would work on devices they already have; they can play with it in their own time; there wouldn't be resource constraints (how many kids can access this hardware programmer at the same time?).

I really think this is misguided.
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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by richardtoohey » Fri Mar 13, 2015 1:47 am

sweh wrote:I really think that a "coding engine" for iOS
iOS only, and not exactly BBC BASIC, but I've been playing with this ... http://www.byteworks.us/Byte_Works/techBASIC.html

Oops, now going off-topic on my own thread! [-X

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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by jgharston » Fri Mar 13, 2015 3:49 am

It's been described as a striped-down Pi with none of the functionality. So, why don't they just give them Pis?

Code: Select all

$ bbcbasic
PDP11 BBC BASIC IV Version 0.25
(C) Copyright J.G.Harston 1989,2005-2015
>_

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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by flaxcottage » Fri Mar 13, 2015 9:18 am

jgharston wrote:It's been described as a striped-down Pi with none of the functionality. So, why don't they just give them Pis?
This is a reasonable question. Millions of Pis have been sold worldwide. How many are being used by children? Very few.

I have been in the education business around 40 years and have seen a massive change in technology available to schools and students. I have also seen a massive change in the philosophy of education and the attitudes of children.

When the first BBC micro came out schools were places of education. Today they are exam factories in a target-oriented culture. Very few and exceptional teachers are able to devote their energies to providing inspiration in non-essential areas. The Raspberry Pi has made some inroad into schools due to backing by BCS, CAS and exam boards such as OCR.

From personal experience of working with teachers at all levels who are trying to get to grips with the government's computer science curriculum I can see that massive, prolonged training is needed. Even if the teacher has the inclination to learn, teaching load and bureaucratic hurdles are there to prevent them.

Schools have some of the tightest network security in the country. Many do not have their own technical staff but subscribe to a managed service. The managers of this service have a primary concern of making profit not serving education. Trying to add non-standard computers, such as the Pi, into schools meets this security barrier head-on.

Children today have very different expectations from their parents and grandparents. Today's child wants instant gratification. They generally cannot 'be bothered'. They ask to be told the answer. If asked to work something out for themselves or solve a problem for themselves they turn petulant and sit waiting for the answer. Are these children going to program computers?

Children expect high quality, aesthetically sexy, fashionable equipment. They are the iPad generation who value style and fashion over functionality. Students today do not regard a bare-bones PCB with a few flashing lights as anything worthwhile. That is something they have to make in Year 7 in Technology following a recipe of exact instructions. It is 'boring'.

Back to the Pi. Why does every student not have one? Why are they not more widely used? Why is everyone not programming in Python and making lights flash via the GPIO? Put simply it is not seen as 'sexy', Python is seen as too hard to learn and what is the point anyway? Can it play the latest computer game? - No! It can use the internet but it is slow and cannot access the on-line games, so why use it?

Everyone on this forum is pro-computers and learning how they work and applaud attempts to get more children interested in computers, myself included. I was blown away by the Raspberry Pi as were others on the forum. I have seen the enjoyment shown by primary school children when exposed to programming on the Pi. The snag is that rarely transfers to home and hobbies. In school it is better than maths.

A few weeks ago I demonstrated the new Pi-2 to a class of Year 7 students. They were amazed by its size and that it could use the projector to work on our interactive whiteboard. They were even more amazed that it could use Scratch and that it was only £30. "Can it play Minecraft?" one asked. A plus-point for the Pi-2 because Minecraft is pre-installed. Then interest waned instantly as someone discovered the internet was 'down'.

I have had no further questions about the Pi from that class. Only one student has downloaded Scratch.
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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by BigEd » Sat Mar 14, 2015 10:24 am

I like the look of this new initiative. The problem with a computer, now, is that a computer equates to games and internet use. But the idea is to learn how things are made, how software works, and for that you need a very limited platform so you have appropriate expectations. This little thing has two buttons and lots of LEDs - ideal for a blinker, or even a tetris-like thing. Also it has a magnetometer and gyro, so it can act as a compass or a tiltboard.

Yes, it needs a host machine to program it (which, who knows, could be a Pi) but once programmed it's portable and wearable.

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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by jms2 » Sat Mar 14, 2015 12:18 pm

I found John's post thought provoking, and I've come to the conclusion that I agree with him entirely. My experience is not as a teacher, but as an ex-pupil and now parent.

I think it's worth pointing out that the 1980s were not necessarily the utopia of computing education that various people think they would like us to return to. My experience is that within each school there was typically only one teacher who kind of understood computers and was interested in them. The rest couldn't give a monkeys. At primary school there was one BBC B, one PET and no computing tuition at all. At lunchtimes the pupils were allowed to use the machines and there was always a massive scrum around them. After a while I just decided to read the Usborne book of how to write computer games, and so I taught myself.

My parents then bought me an Electron, against my advice actually because I thought computers seemed like a bit of a pointless fad. However I soon fell in love with the Electron and, again, taught myself by reading the User Guide.

At secondary school I was looking forward to being taught about computers using their massive suite of BBC Bs. But again, the teachers didn't really know how to use them. The only computing lesson that I can recall consisted of the teacher trying to explain how to logon on to the econet and boot a piece of (not very good) educational software. He spent the whole lesson either getting frustrated with the kids who knew nothing about computers and couldn't do it, or on the other hand yelling at kids like me who had broken into the BASIC code for the program and were messing about with it.

The beebs were only useful during lunch hours where like-minded people like me could get together and generally fiddle around aimlessly with the machines. This was a lot of fun and certainly better than playing football in the rain with a tennis ball. However in the end the school got frustrated with the way that the kids knew more about the computers than the staff, so they scrapped them all and got 386 PCs with Windows 3.0. These were understood by nobody except the newly-recruited IT teacher, and consequently lunchtime messing-about club ended immediately, to be replaced by tedious "serious IT" stuff like desktop publishing.

Not surprisingly, I remember many teachers (and parents) at the time questioning whether investment in computers for schools was really a good idea. Just like now.

Fast forward to today, and my kids are very keen on maths etc. My eldest son is in year 7 and has been introduced to Scratch at school, and has spent hours experimenting with it at home. This is great, but I still think the best that can be expected of these new machines is that they will give a very small number of interested kids something to do at lunchtimes. Personally, I was grateful for that opportunity back in the 80s and I think my kids would be too, but dreams of some kind of sea-change in how computing is taught are not at all realistic!

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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by 1024MAK » Sat Mar 14, 2015 1:08 pm

Ahh! The above posts do demonstrate that the problems are many :(
It's not just the hardware and the software, it's not the children. It's also the teacher and the way that the lesson is "taught".

These problems are not restricted to schools or to computer lessons. But are common to a lot of technical subjects (including higher education and training by private companies).

To properly make use of technology from a technical training angle (that is learning how it works, learning how to make it / program it etc...) the teacher needs to be well trained. Alas, often there are a lack of well trained teachers in the technology / technical / science subjects.

If the teacher does not understand, how can you expect the students to stay interested?

Then, even when you do have a good teacher, the object of the lesson / project needs to be relevant to the students, or they will loose interest. And then there is the peer pressure from other students and wider society against becoming a geek...

</rant>

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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by BigEd » Sat Mar 14, 2015 2:42 pm

Yep, train the teachers, make sample lesson plans, set a syllabus. Figure out what you're trying to achieve...

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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by Phipli » Thu Mar 26, 2015 5:51 pm

Tune into the competitive nature of people and set competitions! Challenge the kids to make something faster, or better at balancing, more accurate etc.

Regarding learning things - I've always learnt programming through pulling examples or other people's work apart. School... didn't teach me about computers, but they did give me one of their old BBC Masters...

Even if 99% of kids break their new not-quite-arduino, certainly-not-a-pi, as the type of child that would have made up the 1% - I think the chance of inspiring 1 in 100 is well worth it!

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Re: BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

Post by paulb » Thu Mar 26, 2015 6:41 pm

jms2 wrote:I found John's post thought provoking, and I've come to the conclusion that I agree with him entirely. My experience is not as a teacher, but as an ex-pupil and now parent.
If only more attention were paid to such viewpoints, we might not be getting the usual impression of politicians and their associates riding a bandwagon or polishing a silver bullet. That said, the politicians really should be investing more in education, so if they develop a habit for it, so much the better. However, a few quid paid by the television licence fee is a completely different matter to a proper investment in teaching.
jms2 wrote:I think it's worth pointing out that the 1980s were not necessarily the utopia of computing education that various people think they would like us to return to. My experience is that within each school there was typically only one teacher who kind of understood computers and was interested in them. The rest couldn't give a monkeys.
And maybe not even one teacher in some schools.
jms2 wrote:At secondary school I was looking forward to being taught about computers using their massive suite of BBC Bs.
Secondary school computing was a massive let-down as far as I was concerned. My school had a bunch of Beebs and supposedly staff members who encouraged interested pupils, but by the time I got there, the Beebs were being shunted to the back of the IT classroom and emphasis was being placed on word-processing using a bunch of PCs with Hercules video capabilities that I rather suspect got "donated" by Ferranti because they wanted rid of them. (At least there was a copy of Infocom's "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" doing the rounds, though.) Eventually, they equipped the school with RM Nimbus machines that became rapidly obsolete as technology improved over the mid- to late 1980s.

This all did me some good, though, because it meant that I more or less gave up on the weak school computing curriculum and, at least at school, focused on what I would call "proper" subjects. Given that my university education is in computer science, I'm not belittling computing as a discipline, but it was (and probably still is) widely believed that university lecturers had to help people with prior computing experience unlearn the bad habits picked up at home and at school, and having seen people drop out of my university course who didn't think they had anything new to learn (one of them kept going on about Turbo Pascal and his HND qualification, but was otherwise a decent bloke; others, one got the impression, thought they were "too cool for school"), there are pitfalls in letting people think they're great at programming in an environment where they may not be sufficiently challenged, only to hit the wall later in their education or career.

A school environment back in the day would have been a great place to allow people to use hardware they either couldn't afford or wouldn't necessarily have at home, but I think the enthusiasm for computing, with computer clubs attracting a broad selection of people, waned quickly and eventually suffered from precisely the kind of skills shortage that may very well undermine these recent initiatives, too.

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