Coding with Microbits

Twice I have attended the Ontario Teachers’ Federation “Pedagogy before Technology” conference in the summer.  This year I attended a design workshop that the InkSmith company provided and would never have been able to predict the chain of events that would follow.  In the workshop we were grouped with people at our table to come up with a design concept and present it in the manner of a “Dragon’s Den” pitch.  As we discussed the concept and made diagrams on chart paper, I put the visuals together in a small Google Slide presentation and added an entertaining video.  I have my drama specialist and I’m not afraid to ham it up in front of a crowd.  When it came time for the presentation we wowed the InkSmith team and ended up presenting to the entire group.  We then went to lunch and I didn’t really think too much more about it.  However, because I had so loudly and visibly put myself out there in an entertaining way, I was contacted by the team at InkSmith and then connected with kidscodejeunesse team.  Kids Code is a federally funded program that helps students learn to code.  They provide free workshops to classrooms across the country using handheld, programmable micro-computers called micro:bits. The coding program is web based and is in the blockly format but can also be switched to html for more advanced coders.  When a workshop is provided to a classroom, the teacher is provided with ten microbits for the class to use and keep.  You can visit the website kidscodejeunesse to sign up for a workshop for your classroom.


                                                                                                                                 This is the microbit connected to a battery pack.

Kids Code Jeunesse provided me with training and as part of my job as an innovations consultant, I now go into classrooms within my school board to deliver workshops to students.  The only coding that I had done up to this point was with Spheros and Ozobots which was quite rudimentary.  I am now immersed into the coding culture. Which means that sometimes my kitchen counter looks like this:

IMG_6320 It was a little out of my comfort zone to be sure.  As I have gone into classrooms I have admitted to students that I’m not an expert on microbit   technology and I have learned from some of the students that have been engaged in complex coding on their own time.  With a quick conversation with   the classroom teacher I can usually make some decisions around differentiating the program to keep students engaged.

 You might be wondering what it is these little computers can do.  The LED lights on the front can be programmed to light up in patterns which create   animations.  Students can create dice or rock, paper, scissors games and with a few alligator clips and a small speaker or headphones, microbits can be   programmed to create music. With a little innovation and some adaptation it can be programmed to water plants automatically or become a pedometer.   It can also be paired with a robot called K8 which can be purchased from Inksmith and assembled.  The microbit website itself is where the coding takes   place and it has easy to follow tutorials and ideas for projects to code.

The initial workshop is only the beginning.  The only limit to these little computers is the limits of your student’s imagination.  Microbits would be incredibly useful in a maker space or genius hour environment.  The students develop design and critical thinking skills and problem solving techniques as they create and de-bug programs.  It is an amazing way to introduce coding to students-especially if you are a teacher who is brand new to coding.  Be warned: coding is extremely engaging and you and your students may have an inordinate amount of fun while learning.


The Almighty Meme

My teenage son is obsessed with memes. I remember my friends and I at his age, randomly quoting lines from John Hughes or Monty Python movies which confounded the adults around us but my friends and I would collapse into hysterics.  I am now the confounded adult but instead of movies, the quotes are from internet memes and vines.

As a teacher I always seek to leverage whatever is important to my students in order to make language engaging and authentic.  Last year I used their interest in Snapchat and connected it to “book snaps” in order to synthesize information about what they were reading.  Over the holidays I played a game called, “What do you Meme?” which is an adult version of “Apples to Apples” but with pictures.  Although the content was rather explicit (obviously not to be used in a classroom) and more than a little embarrassing to play with my 86 year old mother, I got to thinking afterwards about the language processing that it took in order to play this game and how could I turn it into an engaging teaching opportunity.  The idea around the game itself is rather simple, choose what you consider to be the best “caption” for the meme (photo) and then another person chooses their favourite of those put forth by the  players.  The idea is to make it “relateable”.

I realized that there was a great deal of inferring going on while we were matching the statements to the pictures.    We had to read the facial cues, look for other clues in the picture and then also relate what was happening in the picture to some kind of an emotion or shared human experience.  I’ll give you an example.


“When you have beaten your big brother to the last piece of chocolate cake.”

In order to come up with that statement, I had to make some decisions.  I really had to think about the photo and determine what was happening. For me, it looked as though the cat was laughing and feeling rather satisfied with himself.  Then I had to think of something that would cause that reaction in someone to which other people might relate.  It is rather complex thinking.

In the classroom before any writing would take place I would provide many examples of popular (and appropriate) meme photos that are being used in different ways and discuss these with my students over a period of time.  What makes it funny or something with which people can relate?  What about the human experience is being shared in this meme?

Then I would provide a photo something like the one above on the Smartboard for students at the beginning of the language period. Just one at a time at the beginning so that we can take the opportunity to break down the thinking.  Students could then invent their own statement for the photo and justify their idea when they share it with others. In order to scaffold for some students, I might provide a variety of statements like the game itself and have them choose and justify their choice.  Students could also take or choose their own photo and create their own memes using apps such as Canva or Pic Collage.  This could also lead to an authentic digital citizenship opportunity with how to search and use photos that are public domain. In addition, these memes could then be shared on a class blog or social media to receive comments from others which provides feedback to students on their creations.

To take the idea of the memes further, the students could then use them as story prompts and create a narrative around the meme.  I might also ask the students to create some memes like book snaps which relate to the books that they are reading. See the example below:


“When Fudge ate Dribble.” 

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing-Judy Blume

A meme that needs an explanation isn’t a good meme, just like you shouldn’t need to explain a good joke.  There is a kind of sophistication in the thinking process involved in the creation of memes and they connect us as human beings.  Memes are this generation’s political cartoon, headline in the newspaper or funny birthday card from “The Far Side” creators; a visual paired with words that connects a shared human experience.  Know what I Meme?