BBC Micro to micro:bit - Educational technology in the classroom

Discover the history of classroom computers with the Exa Foundation

While some might imagine that high-tech classrooms are just a recent development, the truth is that schools around the country have been right at the front when it comes to technological development. With the free BBC micro:bit mini computer having arrived in classrooms across the UK a month ago, we at Exa Networks think now’s the perfect time to take a look back at the history of educational technology in the classroom.

Based on the mini-computing trend introduced by the Raspberry Pi, the BBC micro:bit is the most recent development in classroom technology, offered free to Year 7 students around the UK. Using the micro:bit, students can start out in coding, with a simple interface letting them start creating everything from basic LED displays to Bluetooth remote controls and far more.

The roots of the micro:bit can be traced all the way back to the 80s, when the BBC designed the original BBC Micro computer. Much like the micro:bit, the Micro was designed to bring children across the country into the world of technology using educational software and programming facilities along with a wide range of games and tools.

Launched in 1981, the Micro quickly became incredibly popular, with a unit found in most UK classrooms at the peak of its popularity. With a completely free rollout of around a million units having taken place in March 2016, the micro:bit looks set to quickly reach as large an audience as the original Micro.

Microcomputing in the classroom

Teaching coding in classrooms became less of a priority as the Micro aged, with most schools moving towards office-aimed IT teaching as computers became more widespread. In recent years, however, home-brew computer projects have become incredibly popular, with the previously mentioned Raspberry Pi and Arduino boards bringing low-cost computing to people around the world.

You’ve almost definitely seen or heard of some of the more inventive uses of these boards - automatic speech to Braille translators, retro video game systems, new musical instruments and far more. Children love being able to actually create something, especially when it involves computers, and the micro:bit has been designed to make that possible for a whole new generation.

It’s definitely early days for the BBC micro:bit at the moment, but we’ve already seen some impressive projects starting out. The BBC’s reported that students in Yorkshire have launched a micro:bit into the stratosphere to monitor temperatures, while checking the #BBCMicroBit hashtag on Twitter shows off some other great projects!

Exa Foundation was set up to Inspire, Support and Promote digital makers across the UK, so we’re very excited about the possibilities that the micro:bit offers for a new generation. We’ve supported a couple of events aimed at showing off the micro:bit, and there’s definitely more to come! Check out our Exa Foundation Events page to see what’s coming up.