Microbit Makecode

What's new in Makecode for Microbit 2020?

Earlier this month, the MakeCode released its 2020 version for the BBC micro:bit. While the beta version has been available for some time, we finally have a full version which is live at https://makecode.microbit.org

There are a series of new features which are useful to general users as well as educator. We’re going to go highlight some of the new features and explain why we rate them so highly! We’ll split it into two separate sections for general and educator's feature.

What are your favourite new features?

General features

1. Web USB

Boom! MakeCode have really dropped the proverbial mic here. One of the biggest annoyances with programming the micro:bit was having to copy that .hex file from your downloads folder to the device itself. Was it just me or did everyone become all too painfully familiar with this:

If even the sight of that is giving you anxiety, you’ll be pleased to know that Web USB enables you to download directly from MakeCode to your micro:bit. All you’ve got to do is update your micro:bit’s firmware and you’re ready to go … hold your collective groans, it’s a one-time, simple process

2. GitHub Integration

Bear with me! For those of us who enjoy dabbling in coding and don’t see the world in Matrix script, GitHub can induce the same feeling as a dentist’s waiting room (without the promise of a lollypop when we leave).

However, it’s not as scary as it seems. You can use it to save your MakeCode projects online and keep track of the different versions you create. It also opens up opportunities for sharing and collaboration. Keep reading for more information

3.  More Music

There’s something satisfying about recreating that monophonic ringtone of your old Nokia phone. Remember video below? We’ve finally got the ability to set the volume (teachers rejoice) to a value between 0 and 255 or set it to a variable. There’s also a nice graphical block to compile your own ringtones melodies.

4. Dot-to-dot connectors

It was always a bit fiddly when trying to snap an embedded block into place. Dot-to-dot connectors help by creating a suggest path which is easy to see and change if needed.

5. Function and return

If you’re a big user of ‘My blocks’ in Scratch, you’ll want to familiarise yourself with the Functions blocks. You can simplify your code by assigning a particular set of code to a function and call it whenever you want. 2020 MakeCode for micro:bit functions can now return values.

Educator's features

1. Web USB

I know … I’ve already mentioned it above but it deserves a second praise. With the Web USB capability you can download directly to your micro:bit when connected by USB but this new feature comes with steak knives!

When you’ve connected and paired your micro:bit to your browser, you can feed live data from your sensors straight into MakeCode. We’ve got a live data collection tool where you can download and store your data as a spreadsheet. 

There are so many cross curricular opportunities here I can’t think straight. You’re contributing towards meeting outcomes from the Collecting, Managing and Analysing Data, Digital Systems, Representation of Data strands and that’s only from the Digital Technologies Curriculum. 

If anyone wants to really geek out about this, leave a comment below (I’m on a word limit)!

2. Debugger

Sadly, that cute snail has disappeared from the simulation and been replaced some type of bug. The new bug icon is for the debugging feature. This is a great tool to have students keep track of their program as it is running to identify where possible errors may be occurring or where improvements could be made.

If you click on the bug icon, you’ll notice that our snail friend has moved into this new area (yay!). 

You can use the snail or step feature to run your program slowly or block-by-block/line-by-line. Students will be able to develop a deep understanding of every element of their project using this tool. 

You can also create a break point where the code will stop running to help you analyse it. But wait! There’s more! The Debugger also lets you visualise variable and system sensor values as your programming is running which I can’t be happier about (I hate waiting for the number to scroll across that screen!)

3. Build custom tutorials

Sometimes it feels like you could write, direct and produce a whole theatrical performance just to get your students to remember three steps and invariably there will be a small handful who will need further reminders. 

Showing or guiding students through a process to create a project is often labour intensive and ineffective. ENTER: Tutorial builder. You can build your own custom tutorials and share it with your students where they have access to limited blocks and guided instructions helping them create their own project. Students can work through the tutorial at their own pace and you can reuse it over and over again! Work smarter, not harder.

4. Micro:bit Classroom

With every student on their own computer independently (and hopefully) working away, it’s hard to keep track of everyone progress to inform your planning and assessment. No more! micro:bit Classroom is a tool which you can use to run live lessons where you can differentiate your provision of code and track, in live time (!), your students’ code. 

There’s no need for accounts for you or your students, you can set projects and assignments and have your students submit their work where you can download all projects in a neat classroom file.

5. GitHub

No, I’m not getting lazy … I that I mentioned this before but there’s so much more to GitHub than cloud storage. In the Technologies curriculum and in the General Capabilities, there is a huge emphasis on creative collaboration and being active in a safe and responsible way in online environments. 

Hellooooo GitHub! Students can create websites for their projects which allow people to collaborate, embellish, test and evaluate others’ projects. We’re ticking boxes left, right and centre!

6. Translation

2020 MakeCode for micro:bit uses in-context translation so your students aren’t held back by language comprehension. Let’s break down those barriers, we’re assessing Digital Technologies here, not language comprehension.

7. QR Code Sharing

Has it been scientifically proven that it’s impossible to correctly enter a URL into your browser the first time? If not, we must be close! Ok, it’s not impossible but sharing with QR codes can simplify the process if your students have a device with this functionality.

8. Python

There will be a lot of eager beavers who will be happy to know that the option to program with blocks, Java Script and (que dramatic entry music) PYTHON are all embedded into 2020 MakeCode for micro:bit. You can even toggle between them!

9. Write Functions and Returns

Functions with parameters have been introduced for a while but now you can return a particular value from the function. You can also navigate to a function from wherever it is called within your code. Time’s money … you know?!

Thanks for sticking with us through all of these new features in 2020 MakeCode for micro:bit features. Is there any that we’ve missed? Let us know.

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