Computer Science News

From the BBC Micro to micro:bit and beyond

An article in ACM Interactions has celebrated the UCL & BBC collaboration that has brought the Micro:bit and now Magic Cubes to the fore in the coding challenge for the 21st Century. 

Yvonne Rogers, Director of UCLIC (UCL Interaction Centre), Venus Shum (Research Fellow), Nicolai Marquardt (Associate Professor), Susan Lechelt (Ph.D. student) and Rose Johnson (visiting researcher) have been instrumental in first joining forces with the BBC to create the MakeMe cube; a simple flatpack construction kit, comprising six pieces, intended for assembly into a cube. When shaken, it would change colour depending on the speed and the direction of the shaking motion. The ultimate challenge was to shake the cube into a multicolored light show. 

The UCL team then continued its own research agenda, investigating more extensively how to teach the IoT to young children. They began working on a second cube, SenseMe, that was designed to have more sensing and actuating functionality with scope for on-board coding. These innovations would enable the exploration and measurement of many aspects of the world. Following the same design philosophy of MakeMe, the sides of the cube provide different components of a computing device, but with a much more powerful microcontroller, more sensors, and Bluetooth radio.

The team switched their efforts to conceptualize the coding, making, and creating activities in terms of an overarching framework called digital fluency. This represents the core set of skills necessary to empower people to see themselves as creators and shapers of modern technology, rather than just its consumers. Whereas the initial research with Engduino and MakeMe demonstrated how children learn to code, make, and create together, UCL’s current research is pushing the envelope further by exploring how extending these activities and more can enable children to develop what we call the Four Cs of digital fluency: computational, critical, connected, and creative thinking.

The kit got a new name: MagicCubes. The environmental and personal sensors, in addition to being colorful and engaging actuators, are intended to enable children to explore the world of data in everyday contexts. By connecting several cubes together, children can design their own Internet of Things applications, discover mechanisms for ensuring privacy and security, and explore abstract systems-thinking concepts, such as interdependence and emergent system behaviors.

Further testing in classroom settings has shown that the tangible and personally meaningful nature of these activities can facilitate thinking about the abstract world of complex computational concepts, motivating children to think independently about the real-world implications of modern technology and inspiring higher levels of engagement and creativity. The Magic Cubes are also proving a hit in special school settings, for children with autism and learning difficulties.

The full article is available here.

More about the MakeMe project is here.

More about UCL Computer Science's school's outreach activities is here.

Posted 09 Mar 17 11:00
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