Follow these simple steps to code your own version of flappy bird on the BBC micro:bit. This tutorial is designed for someone with little or no programming experience who wants to get started writing python code. You don’t need a micro:bit to follow this tutorial, but it’s more fun if you’ve got one.
The BBC micro:bit only has a 5×5 LED screen so the graphics on our version of flappy bird are going to be predictably poor. But that means that it’s not too difficult to write (my version has 82 lines of code including comments and blank lines)
The original Flappy Bird is a really simple idea for a game that’s fun to play. By going through this tutorial you’ll learn how to understand / use the following in python:
How to display text on the micro:bit screen
How to use variables to keep track of score
How to display images on the micro:bit screen
How to scroll images on the micro:bit screen
How to detect if the user presses a button
How to keep part of your code looping
Python is a text-based programming language that’s designed to let you write as little code as possible that gets as much done as possible. There are other languages you can code a micro:bit with which are perhaps easier for beginners but once you’ve mastered the basics in python it’s much easier to create whatever you like – there’s no faffing around dragging hundreds of blocks together and using your keyboard to write code ends up being much faster than using your mouse / tapping your screen. The skills you learn in this tutorial will also help you with other python programming projects – not just those for the micro:bit.
Why the micro:bit simulator?
Testing your code on an actual BBC micro:bit is much more fun than running in in a simulator. You can use the BBC micro:bit site or the offline python editor mu to write code and send it to your micro:bit. Sometimes though, a simulator can be really useful:
It lets you test the code without having to download the .hex file and wait for it to copy to the device
This post is the last of six in a series with ideas and resources on how to make computing lessons engaging and demanding for as many students as possible. Click here for the original post.
I know. If I read this, I’d be questioning the sanity of the author too. How can computing possibly be described as compassionate? More importantly, why should Computing ever be compassionate? If we define compassion as a warm fuzzy feeling that we experience when we see cute-looking-cats or an uncomfortable guilt we try to ignore when we see bad news on TV then we’ve missed the point. Some of my students have volunteered with a fabulous charity whose founder – who established the charity on seeing a room full of children with learning difficulties left to rot in the dark, in their own filth – defines compassion not just as sympathy or empathy, but as empathy with action. When we see the broken world around us, the big question is not “How do we feel about that” but also “What are we going to do about that”.
Whatever you may think about Microsoft, it’s hard not to be moved by the aims (and achievements) of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, set up by Microsoft’s founder to ‘invest’ his wealth helping to alleviate some of the world’s biggest problems. Whether you think Mark Zuckerburg and other billionare tech philanthropists give away money for tax reasons, for their own benefit or because they’re genuinely ‘good’ people is irrelevant. The fact is that they are able to give. Their skills have enabled them to be successful. Their success has enabled them to accumulate fabulous wealth. Their wealth has enabled them to setup, support or save charities around the world to make a difference on their behalf.
Students are often idealists. They want to change the world around them but feel powerless to make a difference. It can be both liberating and hugely empowering for them to realise that the skills they learn in computing can be put to good use now and in the future, not just to make money but also to support the causes they are passionate about.
Invite a representative from a local charity to come and speak to your students about how they use technology and social media to raise funds and raise awareness. Contrast this with the dangers of using social media as part of a lesson on eSafety.
e.g. “Go to the BBC news web page and see if you can work out how to change one of the headlines to “Cure for cancer found”. Our visitor today works for a charity that is working hard to make that headline a reality. They’re going to explain today how your computing skills can help
Discuss and research current events with your students. Take time to get them thinking about how technology can help or hinder any big news item (e.g. refugee crisis / terrorism / poverty / conflict)
e.g. As part of our web design unit we’re learning how to use HTML tags to make our own web pages. Today I want you to use <h1>, <img> and <p> tags to make a newspaper headline
Create a display full of ideas of how students can use the skills from each project / topic / unit of work to make a positive difference to the world around them. Students can help with ideas.
e.g. “Today is our last lesson on game design. As homework I want you to choose between: A) find a game that promotes or advertises a charity or B) Think of an idea for a game that could promote a charity. e.g. The UNHCR is the United Nations charity in charge of refugees. They could have a game where you have to rescue refugees and catch people traffickers.
Example Activity: Obesity crisis
This activity teaches students how to use 2D lists / arrays in python. Use the above code to plot a map of obesity in different countries. Use the link in the code to find out and add the obesity stats for more countries. Discuss with the class how technology might be to blame for obesity in some countries and how technology can be part of the solution.
Then, get students to write the code for turning a BBC micro:bit into a pedometer that can encourage people to take more exercise:
Research and further reading
This paper is an excellent literature review which highlights the role of compassion in the context of making computing lessons more inclusive and particularly focuses on real life problem solving activities for example discussing the media representation of computing issues or engaging in projects related to culturally relevant problems or issues.
Shelton, C., 2017, July. How can we make computing lessons more inclusive?.
This blog summarises the impact of Apps for Good in improving teacher and student understanding, confidence & engagement by focusing on compassionate computing projects.
One of the key missions for Apps for Good is to encourage more girls to take an interest in technology and consider a tech career in the future. The annual survey also reported an increase in the percentage of girls more interested in working in a technical job. Girls reported that one of the reasons the course interests them is because it helps them hone a variety of skills important to working in the tech industry.
This post is the fifth of six in a series with ideas and resources on how to make computing lessons engaging and demanding for as many students as possible. Click here for the original post.
I’ve sat through some programming lessons as part of my degree which were probably some of the dullest hours of my life. There was a well-informed, well-meaning lecturer and the subject content was interesting, but listening to someone else explain coding concepts without any opportunity to try things out was just painful. It’s also tempting as a teacher to guide our students towards avoiding common mistakes. However well-intentioned this may be, it’s not nearly as memorable or useful as allowing students to make the mistakes then discussing together why problems arose and exploring different ways of avoiding them.
Curious students enjoy learning because they take ownership of their discoveries. Students who are encouraged and equipped to follow their curiosity are more independent and resilient: far less dependent on the teacher – which has significant benefits in the long term (and for summative assessment!). Learners encouraged to be curious during a lesson are much more likely to follow their curiosity outside of a lesson to read around the subject and develop a wider and deeper interest and understanding.
There’s a danger though. If every new skill is ‘discovered’ by students, they can feel abandoned and unchallenged. You need a certain level of confidence – if not a starting point of core knowledge – to be able to follow your curiosity to discover new skills or solve a problem for yourself. The students who either lack the initiative, desire or confidence to explore or research for themselves are the ones who have the most to gain from a ‘curious’ lesson activity but they’re also the ones who will need the most support to engage with it.
Combine ‘curious’ research with incentives to help and support others. Avoid always pairing up a student who’s able to discover for themselves with someone who always needs support 1:1 because this can actually feed the dependency and ultimately frustrate or hinder both students. Instead, split the class into teams and create an incentive for the whole class to demonstrate a new skill. Allow them to help each other but don’t allow them to do someone else’s work for them.
e.g. “The first whole team who can show me a web page that includes a paragraph tag, a heading 1 tag and an image will be the first team to leave. Start with the example on the board, search on w3schools and help each other – but remember: you mustn’t touch anyone else’s mouse or keyboard”
Equip students who have less independence / initiative by setting regular research challenges at the start of the lesson that involve searching for data online. Start simple with definitions that they can copy / paste, then get them to dig deeper for opinions, analysis, comparisons or ordered data
.e.g. “While I take the register: search for and try out three different ways of drawing a square using python. There’s a merit for the person who can do it using the fewest characters”Encourage “What happens if” activities by planning them into your projects and by praising anyone who asks that sort of question and creating a chance to follow a tangent to explore the answer every now and then.e.g. “Beth’s just asked what happens if we play the sound at 8KHz rather than at 44KHz. Great question! Thumbs up if you think it’ll sound higher, thumbs down if you think it’ll sound lower or thumbs to the side if you think it’ll sound the same. [play sound] What other difference did you notice between the two sounds?
Provide step by step instructions or demonstrations to get people started with a project but then create opportunities for open ended challenges where you mention some places to start looking for hints but don’t tell them exactly what to do.
e.g. “Follow these instructions to get your code to play “Happy Birthday” then see if you can write code for a TV theme tune and a song in the charts. You can search on … for song ideas”
How do I react when my students show me something I didn’t know how to do? What opportunities and incentives are there in my lessons for students to share their discoveries?
Example Activity: ASCII text data representation challenge
The above code lets you type in some text. It takes each character that you type in and converts it into binary based on the ASCII value for that character. It then draws the ASCII data as a black and white image. Ask your students to try the program for different messages and discuss what ASCII is. Then, show them the following images and see if they can work out the messages that they contain. Finally, get them to create and share their own messages for others to decode in the class. You could even use it to encode a web address with a hidden message…
Research and further reading
This paper debates the relative differences, advantages, risks and limitations of constructivism and discovery learning models in computer science. It strongly recommends that students with little or no background knowledge in a computing topic need to be explicitly taught key concepts but to create space for students to reflect on, discuss and choose next steps to investigate and accumulate their own knowledge and understanding. There are significant challenges here, particularly when in a programming context, so an effective teacher should model how to investigate and extend understanding by gradually removing the level of scaffolding and support when students are ready to cope with that level of independence.
Ben-Ari, M. (1998). Constructivism in computer science education. Proceedings of the twenty-ninth SIGCSE technical symposium on computer science education. Atlanta, Georgia, United States: ACM