Waikato alumni doing their bit

10 September 2018

The micro:bit is a handheld, fully programmable computer.

Three University of Waikato graduates are the driving force behind an innovative project to provide every Waikato Year 7 student with a micro:bit computer.

Company-X directors and University of Waikato alumni Jeremy Hughes and David Hallett are supporting the vision of teaching solutions provider Learning Developments to teach 75,000 Kiwi kids how to design and develop their own applications on a credit card-sized micro:bit computer by 2020. Hamilton software firm Company-X designs and develops software enabling technology teachers across the country to collaborate on the technology curriculum through the Computer Science for Schools (CS4S) network.

The micro:bit is a handheld, fully programmable computer designed by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for use in computer education in the UK. The combined power of one million micro:bits saved TV's Doctor Who, his TARDIS and the world in a live episode starring Peter Capaldi, screened in March 2017. The interactive episode was the BBC’s way of supporting technology teachers in bringing curriculum content to life with the micro:bit. The project gave UK schools a taste of coding and encouraged more pupils to study Information Technology or Computer Science as a subject.

Learning Developments director Troy Smith demonstrates a micro:bit to Connor Geffrey at David Street School, Morrinsville, holiday programme.

Specially designed for use in education, the micro:bit has an ARM processor, accelerometer and magnetometer sensors, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, a display consisting of 25 light-emitting diodes, two programmable buttons, and can be powered by either USB or an external battery pack.

Learning Developments director and University of Waikato graduate Troy Smith wants to replicate what happened in the UK. “The plan is every Waikato Year 7 student gets a micro:bit at the start of next year in a pilot project, with every Year 7 pupil in New Zealand benefiting from a micro:bit in 2020.” Along with the computer, pupils will receive a battery holder, AAA batteries and USB cable. It can be programmed using the JavaScript Blocks Editor or a Python Editor.

Company-X project manager Mehrdad Behroozi says the software will support Kiwi school teachers in the digital technology curriculum grow their expertise and create a collaborative community where lesson plans can be uploaded and ideas shared. Chair of the IT Professionals Hamilton branch and Bachelor of Science graduate David Hallett says any initiative that engages the next generation of IT professionals should be applauded. “This project will no doubt help with the global skills shortage in the IT industry,” he says.

The Computer Science for Schools network is currently looking for personal and corporate sponsors to help get the project, and others like it, off the ground.

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