Thursday, 5 May 2016

Using the BBC Micro:bit as a data logger

I ordered a set of BBC Micro:bits for our year 7 students as part of BBC's offer to provide them across the UK. If you need to know more about this, please check their website here:
This guide is written assuming you know what a BBC Micro:bit is and you've got a basic understanding of uploading codes to it.

Like many schools data logging is part of our curriculum in science lessons. Data loggers can be very expensive, especially for a class set. 

When the micro:bit arrived and I saw that it was capable of measuring temperature and displaying it on the LED matrix. I wondered if it was possible to output this data somehow so it could be recorded - turning the micro:bit into a data logger.
It's proven to be not very straight forward, but I got it working to a degree (pun intended!) - so I thought I'd share it here and maybe someone with more programming knowledge can take the idea further and do something more with it.

Firstly, you'll need to download a programme that lets you view data transferred from the micro:bit over a USB link. I used teraterm:

Also, you'll need to download a device driver from here:

Once both the driver and the terminal emulator are installed, plug in the micro:bit and wait until the device is fully setup. Then, open TeraTerm.
  • Hit File > New Connection
  • Check "Serial"; in the dropdown menu, pick the COM port that says "mbed Serial Port". Hit Ok.
  • In the menus, hit Setup > Serial Port and set the baud rate to 115200.
You should be good. Feel free to hit Setup > Save Setup in the menus to erase the default configuration file with a new one so that you don't have to type in the settings again.
Keep the Teraterm window open.

Once this is done, write this short code using the BBC micro:bit Touch Develop code creator.

If the serial button is not available, you will need first to add the micro:bit serial library to your script:
  • tap on add new
  • tap on library
  • select micro:bit serial

Once the script has been loaded onto your micro:bit you should see numbers scrolling down the terminal window in Teraterm, separated by a comma. This particular script measures the temperature every 1000 milliseconds (1 second) and can be adjusted accordingly.
Now you have the raw data, copy and paste it into excel or spreadsheet of your choice and you can now analyse the data. 

What next? Well, this is just a very basic prototype, the script can be modified to write other outputs and it's got limitations in the classroom as a data logger (it's not waterproof) but this is just the beginning. I'm going to try and hack a few bits of electronics apart like pH meters and temperature probes to see if I can make this more classroom friendly and useable. If you've got any ideas on how to take this further, leave a comment or tweet me @kieronmiddleton 

More detail about the above can be found here: 

The information regarding Teraterm and using serial write was taken from these websites. 

Thursday, 11 February 2016

BBC Microbit temperature display guide

It's here! I received my BBC Microbit in the post yesterday, with the rest of the devices for our Year 7's arriving soon.

I've only been playing around with it for a few hours and have already found some great applications for use in the classroom, particularly data logging using the build in temperature and acceleration sensors.

My first experiment was to create a temperature display in our IT support office. The students often line up outside waiting to go into the ICT suite and all of them are asking me about it! See my tutorial here for how to display the ambient temperature in Microsoft Touch Develop using your BBC Microbit. I altered the scroll speed to make it a bit faster by changing the default scroll speed of 150ms to 70. It seems to work better this way.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Teachers - How to use Twitter for CPD

What is Twitter?
Twitter is an online social networking service that enables users to send and read short 140-character messages called "tweets".
A Tweet is an expression of a moment or idea. It can contain text, photos, and videos. Millions of Tweets are shared in real time, every day. Which means that Twitter is relevant and up to date, second by second.
When you follow people, their Tweets instantly show up in your timeline. Similarly, your Tweets show up in your followers' timelines. To see relevant Tweets to your interest, follow people who tweet about subjects you are interested in. Hashtags assign a topic to a Tweet. So, for example, Tweets that contain #Teaching are about just that. Click on a hashtag to see Tweets related to a topic.

Twitter for CPD.
As many schools across the globe are seeing their funding and training provisions being cut for their staff, it is becoming clear that individual teachers are personalising their own professional development needs.
What are the main benefits of using Twitter for Professional Development?
Up to date ideas! Teachers are always wanting to evolve and develop their practice, not wanting to teach the same way year on year. Being stuck within the confines of a classroom can be stifling, so gaining perspectives from those outside can be liberating.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Hacking into Minecraft on the Raspberry Pi. Using real fruit!

Many people buy a Raspberry Pi and it sits on a shelf for a while before they look into what to do with it. This is changing rapidly with the introduction of Computing on the National Curriculum and the Governments proposal to give a Raspberry Pi to every Year 7 in September 2015:

One of the most engaging experiments I've personally seen in action (and tried and tested on our recent open day at Scarborough College) is using a capacitive touch sensor to run programs on the Raspberry Pi. When coupled with Minecraft, this is the result:

The idea came from a post I saw by "Arghbox" on his blog which is well worth looking at:

He used an Adafruit capacitive touch sensor to control certain functions in Minecraft through the Raspberry Pi. I thought this was a really nice idea to engage students in some programming and electronics using a game they could all relate with, so I did my own. Adapting some of Martin O'Hanlon's ideas I made my own python programme to make it a bit more visual for our open day.

This is my version of the code: I used a real flower to place a flower in Minecraft and used the properties of graphite as a conductor to write a word which, when touched, triggered the sensor. I also used a piece of code which took a picture using the Raspberry Pi Camera when you touched the Orange. Another feature which I forgot to put on the video was that one sensor was placed in a bowl of water, so when you dipped a finger in it, an area on Minecraft was cleared out.

Here's the code, shared on Google drive:

You may get a warning saying it is not safe to download as it is an executable python script, but please be assured that it is OK.

Without repeating here what someone else has put a lot of work into, please follow the instructions here by Craig Richardson on how to wire up you Raspberry Pi and Capacitive touch sensor. I followed them to the letter and as you can see from the video above. It worked really well.

I did something else with the pictures I took on the open day using the touch capacitor...coming in my next post :)

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Using ICT to help with creative writing - Epic Citadel

I was talking to an English teacher the other week and she commented that some pupils find it difficult to imagine scenarios or recall memories which may inspire them to write creatively. One aspect of the GCSE English Language syllabus requires pupils to:
“Write to communicate clearly, effectively and imaginatively, using and adapting forms and selecting vocabulary appropriate to task and purpose in ways that engage the reader”
(AQA English Language GCSE 4b AO3)

I began to wonder if ICT could help us.

Epic Citadel

At a recent teachmeet I was shown the app Epic Citadel, available for free on Android and Apple devices.
Epic Citadel is a beautifully rendered Medieval style scene which the user is able to walk around freely. The app is a demo of the capabilities of the Unreal 3 engine, but an alternative use could be to use the rich colours, textures and features of this world to inspire students to think and write creatively.

As the pupils walk through the area, they can describe what they see, explain textures and items. The more able pupils might even imagine scenarios or events based around their exploration, and turn it into a short story. They can individually walk round the citadel using their own devices in the class or at home. It will be interesting to see how varied the descriptions are as they will all experience the same virtual landscape, but in their own individual ways. I’m going to suggest it to our English Department as an idea and see how we get on with it.

iPad and Android Links:

Get it on Google Play

Edit: After I posted this, I realised the Mr.P had done even more work previously on Epic Citadel. For even more ideas, check his blog out:

Friday, 6 February 2015

How to solder

I've always been really afraid of soldering because if you get it wrong, you can end up damaging bits of kit and I'm a bit kack handed at the best of times.

So imagine my dismay when I really wanted to play with an Adafruit capacitive touch sensor, but saw that they only sell them in kit form that you have to solder yourself:

Friday, 16 January 2015

KS1 and KS2 ICT Resources

These resources were recently published in a computing supplement from TES. You need a TES account to download them but registration is free. There are loads of great resources available on the TES website for all subjects. it's well worth looking at if you are involved in teaching in any way.

Top 10 primary ICT resources:

Scratch scheme of work. A six week scheme to provide KS2 pupils with an introduction to Scratch.

Click the Scratch Cat to see what Scratch is all about. It's free.

Computing planning for the 2104 national curriculum. A set of whole-school termly plans covering a broad range of themes from digital media to e-safety.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Raspberry Pi training course for KS3 Science

In my days as a Science Technician, I used to go on training courses at the National Science Learning Centre in York, and they were always worth attending.

I've just spotted today that they are having a training course on using the Raspberry Pi in KS3 science. Open to Technicians, Teachers and Classroom Assistants.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Heavens Above! It's Christmas!

I've been absent of late during the school holiday festive period, but I have a present for you all:

The winter skies give us all an ideal theatre for star gazing with long nights. Click the link above and find out when you can see the International Space Station during your holiday. 

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Google Earth Flight Sim

I just found quite a nice feature on Google Earth - Flight Sim mode.

Open up Google Earth and press Ctrl+Alt+A or access it via the menu. Tools > Enter Flight Simulator.

You then have a choice of two planes:

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Can't find the special character you need? Draw it and Google Docs guesses the rest...

We use Google Docs at our school and the more I use it, the more impressed I get. Someone came to me the other day and asked how to insert special characters into Google Docs.

You go to Insert > Special Characters.

But the one I want isn't listed. I can't find it? Here's where Google Docs really shows off, skip to the 1 minute mark to get to the point, but the whole video is good.

Quickly find and insert special characters into Google Docs, Slides, and Drawings: