MICRO:BIT: Learning Developments director Troy Smith demonstrates a micro:bit to Connor Geffrey at a David Street School, Morrinsville, holiday programme.

The combined power of one million credit card sized computers saved the Doctor, TARDIS and the world.

The special live and interactive episode of Doctor Who, starring Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, saw British Year 7 pupils use one million British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) micro:bit computers to help the 12th Doctor thwart the Daleks. The Doctor’s arch-enemies engineered a supernova of epic proportions on March 28, 2017, that damaged the TARDIS.

The interactive episode was the BBC’s way of supporting technology teachers in bringing curriculum content to life with the micro:bit. The project gave UK pupils a taste of coding and encouraged more pupils to study Information Technology or Computer Science as a subject.

The micro:bit, specially designed for use in education, has an ARM processor, accelerometer and magnetometer sensors, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, a display consisting of 25 light emitting diodes, two programmable buttons, and can be powered by either USB or an external battery pack.

Learning Developments director Troy Smith’s vision for New Zealand is to teach 75,000 Kiwi kids how to design and develop their own applications on a micro:bit by 2020. Along with the computer, pupils will receive a battery holder, AAA batteries and USB cable. It can be programmed using the JavaScript Blocks Editor or a Python Editor.

“We would like to replicate what happened in the UK,” Smith, a former technology teacher, said. “The plan is every Waikato Year 7 student gets a micro:bit at the start of next year in a pilot project, with every Year 7 pupil in New Zealand benefiting from a micro:bit in 2020.”

Hamilton software specialist Company-X is supporting the BBC micro:bit project, and other IT education projects like it. Company-X is designing and developing software enabling technology teachers across the country to collaborate on the technology curriculum through the CS4S (Computer Science for Schools) network.

Company-X project manager Mehrdad Behroozi said the CS4S software solution would become a free, fun, online network designed by teachers for teachers.

Behroozi said the software will support Kiwi school teachers in the digital technology curriculum grow their expertise and create a collaborative community where lesson plans can be uploaded and ideas shared.

“Whether it’s robotics, coding or a new tech toy, CS4S Teachers’ Network will be the place where teachers go to find creative and engaging resources for use in classes and to share learnings,” Behroozi sid.

Smith's Waikato Innovation Park-based company has already sold 1,100 of the micro:bit computers for around $20 each.

“It’s not the first time the BBC has been involved in such a project,” said Company-X director David Hallett.

“Some of our team cut their teeth on the BBC Micro, designed and manufactured in 1981 by the Acorn Computer company for the BBC Computer Literacy Project, operated by the British Broadcasting Corporation. It was designed with an emphasis on education, it was notable for its ruggedness, expandability, and the quality of its operating system. The system was adopted by most schools in the United Kingdom, and it also won significant market share in New Zealand’s education market.

“Some used BBC Micros to input data for the BBC Domesday Project that ran between 1984 and 1986. Like William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book a millennia before it, the project included information on every location in England.”

Hallett, also chair of the IT Professionals Hamilton branch, said any initiative that engaged the next generation of IT professionals was to be applauded.

“This will, no doubt, help with the global skills shortage in the IT industry,” Hallett said.

CS4S is looking for personal and corporate sponsors to help get the project, and others like it, off the ground. CS4S has different sponsorship options available depending on the budget of sponsors. They will also have the opportunity to leverage off the sponsorship.