Flappy bird Micro:bit python tutorial for beginners

Flappy bird Micro:bit python tutorial for beginners

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)

Before we start:

We’re going to write our program in python using the micro:bit simulator on create.withcode.uk.

Flappy Bird on the BBC micro:bit in python
Flappy bird micro:bit python

Why Flappy Bird?

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

 

Why Python?

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
  • It’s easier to find and fix errors
  • It lets you run the code one line at a time
Making computing accessible for all (5/6): Curious computing lessons

Making computing accessible for all (5/6): Curious computing lessons

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.

Curious computing
Ideas and resources for curious computing lessons

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.

Ideas:

  • 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”

Key questions:

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…

 

Code your own bedroom door sign: python on a BBC micro:bit for beginners

Code your own bedroom door sign: python on a BBC micro:bit for beginners

This is a BBC micro:bit for beginners tutorial that shows you how to write some python code to turn a micro:bit into a sign you can stick to your bedroom door.

Python is a programming language that’s designed to let you write as little code as possible to make as much work as possible. Writing code on in python on a micro:bit is a great way to get your head around the essentials in python and hopefully have a lot of fun along the way too.

The micro:bit has an LED screen with just 5×5 pixels (dots). This isn’t much compared to the 2880×1800 pixels you might be used to if you’ve got a Macbook Pro but it’s big enough to display simple pictures and text one letter at a time.

Try it with code
Display code on a BBC micro:bit

We’re going to be using the create.withcode.uk microbit simulator to write and test our code. To run the code you can press Ctrl + Enter or click on the run button in the bottom right of the code window.

 

If you want to test your code on an actual micro:bit, run the code in the simulator first then click on the Download Hex button. This’ll download a my_code.hex file that will run on your micro:bit when you drag it and drop it as though you were copying a file to USB memory stick.

 

 

There are two ways of displaying text to the micro:bit screen: display.scroll() and display.show(). What’s the difference? Which do you prefer?

Let’s go through each of the lines in turn:

import microbit
microbit.display.scroll("Hello")
microbit.display.show("World")

Line 1 tells python to import the microbit module. That means that python loads some extra code which tells it how to control a microbit. Lines like this, where you’re importing a module, usually go at the top of your code.

import microbit
microbit.display.scroll("Hello")
microbit.display.show("World")

Inside the microbit module there’s another module called display. Inside display is a procedure called scroll. The round brackets after scroll tell python to call (run) that procedure.

 

string
A “string” of characters

Notice the text in the brackets is surrounded by quotation marks: we call this a string because it joins the characters together as though they were threaded on a string like a washing line.

The scroll procedure scrolls the text from right to left, moving it one pixel at a time.

 

 

import microbit
microbit.display.scroll("Hello")
microbit.display.show("World")

Line 3 is similar to line 2 but instead of scrolling the text pixel by pixel, we show one character at at time.

You might notice in some tutorials that instead of  import microbit you see  from microbit import *

Both of these tell python to load code from the microbit module, but the second means that you don’t have to write  microbit. every time you use the microbit module:

from microbit import *
display.scroll("Hello")
display.show("World")
import microbit
microbit.display.scroll("Hello")
microbit.display.show("World")

Both of the two programs above will do the same thing when they run. The top one is easier to write but some people prefer the bottom one to save confusion later in the development process.