BBC unveils new computer to be given free to schoolchildren

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Hundreds of 11 and 12-year-olds in Northumberland and North Tyneside will be among those to be given a free, pocket-sized, codable computer through a ground-breaking collaboration between the BBC and partners unveiled today.

In the BBC’s most ambitious education initiative for 30 years, thousands of micro:bit devices will be given to every Year 7 pupil across the North East for free.

In the 1980s, the BBC Micro introduced many children to computing for the first time. Part of the BBC’s 2015 Make it Digital initiative, the BBC micro:bit builds on the legacy of the Micro for the digital age and aims to inspire young people to get creative with digital, develop core skills in science, technology and engineering and unleash a new generation of digital makers, inventors and pioneers.

The UK currently faces a critical skills shortage in the technology sector and the BBC and its partners aim to help change that.

Tony Hall, Director General of the BBC, said: “Channelling the spirit of the Micro for the digital age, the BBC micro:bit will inspire a new generation in a defining moment for digital creativity here in the UK. All you need is your curiosity, creativity and imagination – we’ll provide the tools.

“This has the power to be transformative for the UK. The BBC is one of the few organisations in the world that could convene something on this scale, with such an unprecedented partnership at its core.”

The BBC micro:bit is a pocket-sized computer that users can code, customise and control to bring digital ideas, games and apps to life. It measures 4cm by 5cm, will be available in a range of colours, and is designed to be fun and easy to operate. Something simple can be coded in seconds – like lighting up its LEDs or displaying a pattern – with no prior knowledge of computing. All that’s needed is imagination and creativity.

The BBC micro:bit also connects to other devices, sensors, kits and objects, and is a great companion to Arduino, Galileo, Kano, LittleBits and Raspberry Pi, acting as a springboard to more complex learning.

Key features for the micro:bit include: 25 red LEDs which light up, flash messages, create games and invent digital stories; two programmable buttons are activated when they are pressed so the micro:bit can be used as a games controller or pause and skip songs on a playlist; an On-board motion detector, otherwise known as an accelerometer, can detect movement and tell other devices when it is on the go. Its featured actions include shake, tilt and freefall and it can be utilised for motion-activated games or as a spirit level; a built-in compass or “magnetometer” can sense direction and movement; Bluetooth Smart Technology allows users to connect to the internet and interact with the world. It also enables users to share creations, take selfies, and much more; five input and output (I/O) rings which connects the micro:bit to devices and sensors using crocodile clips or banana plugs.

The micro:bit will start to arrive in schools across the North East in late October, giving children a chance to settle into new schools and teachers the opportunity to build the innovative device into lesson plans for the rest of the academic year.