Will students return to physical schools in the near future? Will they continue learning from home? Will they return to school and then be re-quarantined due to new cases of COVID-19 infections? Sadly, this uncertainty jeopardizes many of the hands-on and creative learning experiences that make schools vital. In Flip the Script, I suggested that school leaders work backwards from ensuring that “specials” be treated specially and that any education plan, face-to-face or remote, take every precaution to ensure that activities like learning-by-making continue unabated.
In schools where making, art, and music are not being sacrificed in favor of children completing worksheets in socially distant plexiglass cages, there are genuine concerns about sharing tools and other materials. One way to do that safely is for every kid to have their own set of stuff. However, that could get expensive. It does not have to. The BBC micro:bit (why it matters) is a low-cost miracle of a microntroller development board (brain board) that may be used for fun and exciting computer science, mathematics, electronics, and engineering projects. The affordability of the micro:bit makes it possible for kids to take them home whether school returns to normal or face future interruptions. The family workshops I’ve run in which kids go home with their own micro:bit Go Kit testify to the power of this potent portable makerspace.
In order to help educators plan for Take Home Makerspaces, I have created four options – all under $100 (US). These prices are approximate since micro:bit prices fluctuate based on availability. You may be able to buy some components in bulk or save a bit by buying a bit:booster with a micro:bit. Adafruit gives a 10% educator discount for purchases greater than $250 and they also discount all of their components when purchased in bulk. I suggest sources for these components and hope to convince a company to create an online storefront where kits may be purchased easily.
These “take home makerspaces” can be easily mailed to students or safely picked up at school.
Note: Super clever hackers may quibble with my component choices or have ingenious solutions of their own. That’s great. The purpose of creating this document is two-fold. 1) Demonstrate what’s possible and 2) Make deployment simple for educators.
The micro:bit Go kit is the place to begin building your Take Home Makerspace. The Go kit includes a BBC micro:bit micontroller development board, complete with sensors, a display, accelerometer, compass, input/outputs, Bluetooth, radio, a battery box, batteries, and USB cable for transferring programs you write from a computer to the micro:bit. Even if you connect via Bluetooth (in Scratch or from a tablet), the battery box allows you to run the micro:bit untethered to a computer.
Throw in two 10 mm (big) LEDs and four alligator clips, I like the short ones from Adafruit, and a ton of programming and electronics projects are possible.
Bargain Take Home Makerspace Kit
For another twenty-five bucks, you can really get the party started by programming musical tones and a bright colorful LED light strip. Both components connect to the micro:bit with alligator clips, making setup and reuse a breeze. The LED light strip is not only colorful, but offers all sorts of opportunities to deal with patterns, sequences, and computational thinking. The strip may be used to decorate projects (or your bedroom) or as a display for presenting numerical data.
Party Pack Take Home Makerspace Kit
- everything in the Bargain Kit
- 1 Monk Makes Speaker
- 1 Adafruit LED strip with alligator clips
Your micro:bit snaps into the bit:booster, an expansion board for connecting DC motors, servos, and LEGO allowing you to build micro:bit-powered machines that move. The bit:booster also has its own speaker, so you don’t need a separate one and a bunch more programmable neo-pixel lights right on the board. It also has a built-in battery pack for powering motors. Throw in some recycled junk, a couple small continuous servos or some DC toy motors harvested from previously loved toys and the micro:bit becomes a robotics kit suitable for all sorts of engineering projects.
Hard Fun Take Home Makerspace
- The contents of the Bargain Kit
- 1 LED light strip with alligator clips
- 1 bit:booster
- 1 pair of continuous servo motors with wheels
micro:bits can communicate with one another via radio frequencies. This lets you not only send secret messages between them, but allows you to use a second micro:bit as a remote control for others. Imagine steering the vehicle you built, controlling a micro:bit-based puppet, or programming a “Pong” game across two microcontrollers. In a classroom where each kid has a micro:bit, such collaboration is easier. If you’re home alone, you can never have too many micro:bits!
Ready to Roll Take Home Makerspace
- The contents of the Hard Fun Take Home Makerspace
- 1 additional micro:bit or micro:bit Go kit (a few dollars more)
One More Option
We are gigantic fans of the Hummingbird Robotics Kits. Read why here. For not much more money than the kits described above, you can have a fantastic easy-to-use, yet powerful, programmable construction kit for exploring math, science, robotics, engineering, and computer science in a playful creative context.
- Find micro:bit Go retailers near you (international list)
- The Invent To Learn micro:bit resource page
- Gary Stager’s micro:bit project prompts for getting started
- Invent To Learn Family Workshops
- Birdbrain Technologies (developer of the Hummingbird Robotics Kits)
- The micro:bit Matters
- Flip the Script
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is the author of Twenty Things to Do with a Computer – Forward 50, co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.