BBC Micro 2.0 #ictcurric

I attended Alan O’Donohoe’s excellent Hack To The Future event at Our Lady’s High School in Preston on Saturday with 13 of our students, many of whom are on our GCSE Computing course.

There were many highlights, in particular I should mention Freaky Clown and his tales of a hacker turned good. I won’t repeat his story of hacking a whole country in 7 seconds as that would be bad form, but safe to say it was engrossing stuff and our pupils were intrigued by his story.

I spent a good portion of the day talking with the team from the BBC who were there with their pre-alpha software that was the much rumoured and discussed BBC Micro 2.0. I’ve written about this previously when Keri Facer put out her call for a response on the topic.

BBC Micro 1.0

I felt a tad smug as my guess that a 2012 BBC Micro project should take the form of a software only programming environment, hopefully outputing HTML5 results, turned out to be pretty close to the mark. Parmy Brar has been the lead developer on the project and kindly talked me through some of his work so far. They have taken Eclipse (something I’d not come across before) and forked it to begin creating a simplified programming environment for children. Programming could be done in HTML or Javascript and the package was being developed to be as forgiving as possible for the amateur coder. In it’s basic mode there are 3 panels, one for coding, a browser to output the code and the final one a project file explorer. As well as outputting complete HTML5 websites, the team have an Android App output that was in semi-working form, and eventually will be looking at iOS output.

Integral to the project are built in lessons that talk you through the basics of programming different projects (akin to taking a course on CodeCademy). Parmy talked me through the back end to this area where he is creating a tool that will allow anybody to create their own help file / course for others to use. If this project is really going to take off this will be crucial as they look to build a large community around the environment. Michael Sparks had put together some exercises for the young learners to have a go at for the day and I saw kids ranging from about 8 to 16 all enjoying their first stabs at programming. Response from teachers seemed a little mixed, I saw many who were as excited as me but I also heard some discussing what was one show as scary looking (these were Heads of ICT!). I think this shows what a long way we’ve got to go on the rebirth of computing in schools and in particular the huge skills gap that we have to overcome. Projects such as this are going to be crucial in skilling up the teachers as much as the learners.

My coding experience starts with BASIC on ZX Spectrums & BBC Micros, takes in a tiny bit of Visual Basic and then stops. My experience of the past month or two with CodeYear do suggest to me that Javascript seems like a great choice of language for us to teach in schools. I discussed this with a few of the BBC team and they were all big proponents of the language, pointing out that it is now ubiquitous across the world and that almost everyone has a device that can and does read it on a daily basis.

More details about the extended BBC Hello World Project should be up at http://www.bbchelloworld.co.uk/ soon (it was online this morning but has disappeared again at the time of writing). I’m excited to see how this one develops.

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