Ok so it was over a month ago I meant to write this, but I have actually touched a BBC microbit! The elusive device was made available for teachers to play with courtesy of the BBC, CAS and Plymouth Uni. So what did I make of it? Well I've broken my review down into two sections, 1) what I make of the actual device and the surrounding software ecosystem, and 2) how useful is it going to be in the classroom.
1) Device and software
It is genuinely small! This piece of hardware is tiny! You can see the picture below with all the parts labelled. In terms of robustness, it beats the raspberry pi, mainly due to all the components being flush with the board. Can this survive life in a classroom? Yes.
Software wise, there several different options for programming it, listed here https://www.microbit.co.uk/create-code . I tried out block and touch develop. One language is graphical the other is code, but the programming environment online is really useful. Both output a compiled file which you drag and drop onto the microbit (it appears like a memory stick when attached).
The programming environments work ok, but I wouldn't go too much past ok. I found there to be odd issues getting the right thing selected or moving to particular point in the code, causing a bit of frustration. The graphical editor was better than the text based editor. That said, they have been a whole host of updates that the BBC team have implemented since I had a play, so this maybe out of date.
I only played with the prototype, so I think it would be unfair to make any judgement about hardware function as yet!
Firstly is this going to be useful in the classroom... Yes. How useful though is a different matter. I can see a year 7 group enjoying using it for the a term of so, but after that I would suspect that those that pick it up the fastest will have reached the two native language's maximum and will want to try something more advanced. The answer I would go for is to use the python option, and get it acting as a interface for a raspberry pi, now that would be cool!
In summary, I would use for it a term, and then hand it away with a nice big competition for however goes away and makes the coolest thingy, supported by an after school club.
The BBC microbit is yet another tool in the arsenal of hardware and software available for teaching computing in schools. Its been well thought out and constant development should iron out any niggles. The fact it's free for all year 7s should help! All in all I look forward to teaching with it!