By Mick Chesterman – @mickfuzz
I went to the European Scratch conference. Scratch being a block based programming language. It was a good crowd of educators who are committed to making technology learning engaging and accessible. Here’s a photo of a starting meeting.
Now I was in the room but I was too busy talking to someone about my pet project at the moment which is what are the best ways to do Junk Robot Making with recycled motor and electronics parts.
Is the scratch based approach the best way to do it? I do like scratch and the way you can drag block to make coding happen. And I knew that you could control motors using the Microbit. AND I know that you can control the Microbit in Scratch. So I had high hopes. (The person that I was talking to suggested the Adafruit Crickit but more on that later.)
So the next day I went along to a Microbit and Scratch workshop. And here’s the good and the bad news.
- Scratch is still easy to use and the process of getting it to talk to the Microbit by installing an extension and getting it to talk via bluetooth is quite doable
- Once you have it set up your changes are uploaded right away to the Microbit – you don’t have to connect a cable
- High level input functions on the microbit like motion, jumping and button pressing used to control the Scratch screen and audio are really impressive and engaging for young people
- You can’t get microbits talking to each other in Scratch projects as the radio link is used to communicate with scratch.
- You need Windows 10 or OSX to make the link to Scratch work via specialised bluetooth software
- Currently you can’t control outputs to turn things on and off on your microbit – so no controlling motors in this way.
Why use Scratch anyway?
So the other news is that for robotics kind of projects that I had in mind, it makes lots more sense to use the Make Code editor for the following reasons. Scratch is great and very familar for many young people but it’s not yet the right tool for the job for Junk Making.
- The are none of the restrictions above about using radio for communication between microbits (although you have to use the cable to programme it)
- There is good support for add on boards like the ones Pimoroni have or this one from Kitronik or this one from Adafruit which is pretty mega. I’ll do a post looking at the differences soon.
Why use Microbits anyway?
Looking at the Crickit which can also be used with a more flash microcontroller called a Circuit Express Playground opens up the questions, why be limited to Microbits for the Junk Robot making?
We’ll we’re based in the UK where many of these were given away by the BBC to schoolkids, thus making it the micro-controller most likely to be available to schools. And they are pretty cheap too at £13.00 for just the board. Certainly compared to the near £30 of the Circuit Playground Express.
However, ever helpful person Alan (@teknoteacher) suggested that I talk to Matt (@alwayscomputing) and when I did he reminded my about Crumbles which don’t need extra boards to control the kinds of simple DC motors that you often find when Unmaking (taking apart ) printers and DVD drivers.
A fuller post on the different possibilities of the above coming soon.