Student Ross Lowe, 16, on how he created his own 'Maker's Kit' for the micro:bit, inspired by BETT
Another year, another BETT show. This was my fifth. The familiar purple carpets and crowded stands reminded me of the first time I went, with my school, five years ago.
For me, BETT 2017 was the most exciting yet as it was the first BETT after the BBC micro:bit became publicly available, and I was looking forward to meeting with teachers that were using it and seeing all the brilliant advancements made in the months between launch and BETT. And, of course, the add-ons, including my very own, the Maker's Kit for the micro-bit.
I have been working with the micro:bit for more than a year; I was present at the first launch in July 2015, have contributed to the official documentation, and was even lucky enough to discuss the micro:bit in an interview on the BBC's The One Show in March 2016.
Surrounding myself with micro:bits for the past year and a half has enabled me to speak with teachers, students, and educators, allowing me to discover how it is being used and how they would like to see it in use. After a long day of discussions with excited teachers at one particular event, I came home, opened a notepad, and sketched a design for an add-on.
Many months of design, prototyping, and a lot of pocket money later I eventually created the Maker’s Kit for the micro:bit. It's a small, plug-and-play keyring accessory that connects directly on to the board, allowing aspiring inventors to control physical components with the micro:bit.
The kit features a rotary potentiometer (for analogue input), a bi-colour LED (popular with 'traffic light' projects), and a piezo sounder (allowing the micro:bit to make noise), as well as additional ports for connection to a 'breadboard' with jumper wires (see photograph below). The main aim of the kit is to allow users of the micro:bit to code physical components without worrying about losing individual components or struggling with wiring electronics. That's because the kit screws directly on to the micro:bit and allows inventors to take their awesome projects with them.
I have had a really positive reception from teachers so far; some at BETT almost pitched the kit to me! When they told me they were looking for a “kit to expand the micro:bit without needing individual components” I knew I had struck gold.
The kit was designed to allow students to interact with the physical world using their code and enhance their current projects; for example adding sounds and rotary controls to a space invaders game, a glowing colourful LED for traffic lights, interactive smartwatches for the micro:bit. It opens up infinite possibilities for creative minds to get making awesome things.
I have also written dozens of pages of project ideas and curriculum-centric resources, and they can be downloaded as pdf files. So the kit is ready for use in class — or by the average hobbyist — to start making cool projects.
The importance of learning to code
Overall, I’m hoping my Maker's Kit will inspire students to do a lot more with the micro:bit. Young people need to understand the power at their fingertips and the importance of learning to code in modern society. My personal goal is that this kit will allow the computing curriculum to be taught using the micro:bit in a way that is engaging and encouraging, and that the kit will kickstart a passion for code as students see their ideas and lines of code become a tangible, physical, and overall exciting reality.
It has been a great experience to develop this project over the months and complete a design that I think enhances the micro:bit experience. The Maker's Kit is now available to purchase (see details below) and I’ll be excited to see the great inventions that will emerge from the projects it can support — and the next generation of young inventors I hope it will inspire.
Ross Lowe is a 16-year-old student and entrepreneur — director of Bross Computing — and hopes to work in the computing industry when he leaves full time education