Physical computing for everyone — Thomas Ball

This year for the first time the education track also has a keynote, Thomas Ball of Microsoft, talking about the micro:bit. How cool is that?

This talk is of to a great start! Tom hands out 3 micro:bits too people in the audience on their laptop (not me sadly) He know explains some things about the micro:bit, it is a small and cheap computer that was given out to 1 million 12 year olds in the UK, together with lessons plans. The project was originally started by Microsoft, but is now ran by the micro:bit foundation.

The board itself has a usb plug, two buttons, an accelerometer, thermometer, 5×5 led lights that also work as a light sensor and then like an Arduino, ports to which you can connect various sensors and actuators and it also allows Bluetooth connection.


Tom’s talk is called Physical computing for everyone. So who exactly is everyone? Well, everyone! micro:bit is currently used for primary, middle, and high schools, colleges and universities and even second careers.

Let’s do some demos!! This will be cool, Tom is now making people in the audience follow along. Cool, some people actually are able to quickly create a program (not the ones on macos :))

Now Microsoft’s ambition is a lot bigger than just the micro:bit, there is a while ecosystem around it. The IDE can also work with sparkfun and adafruit boards, and they plan to add more.


There is some pretty cool engineering around that!

Blocks to JavaScript

One of the cool things about the IDE is that (for all boards) you can also program with JavaScript. Often when you move to a textual language, you lose the discoverability. Tom has a solution for that. They keep the middle bar and you can drag pieces of JavaScript like a loop in. That is interesting! Tom says that when observing kids work with this (middle schoolers) is that when they manipulate code they use blocks, but they like inspecting the text too. In JavaScript there is the whole of JavaScript, so you can use classes and methods, but those cannot be manipulated with blocks. I would love to analyze the usage data of that so much!