Lowering the Barriers: 2

I previously posted about PyScripter and how I have found that it lowers the barriers to learning Python programming, in Computer Science lessons. I want to discuss other ways of lowering the barriers here…

The barriers

‘Simple’ syntax errors whilst programming are a massive barrier to some pupils. Whilst the python IDLE is easy to use, a space in the wrong place usually stops a good attempt from working. PyScripter helps to address this as discussed here.

Timetable issues need addressing so that an appropriate depth of understanding can be reached at KS3. Without this, pupils may pick a subject which they may not enjoy or engage with and those who would enjoy it, may not understand the basics, leading to frustration and rushing through the content.

My experience is that humanities and languages have two periods a week and rightly so – ICT only ever received one period a week which was perhaps enough. Computer Science however cannot be taught, in my opinion, to the necessary depth with one period a week at KS3.

Unfortunately this required change is unlikely to happen anytime soon without Senior Leadership support and funding. Should the recent recommendations by the Royal Society to ‘increase funding to Computer Science‘ be implemented however, then it is possible that more time at KS3 could be allocated. I feel that this would address the barriers to understanding some pupils have when studying at GCSE level. I also think pupil numbers at GCSE, quality of results and students at advanced & higher levels would all see an increase.


Lowering the Barriers: 1

During a recent CAS hub meeting, I was demonstrating the SQLite3 features in Python. I automatically loaded my preferred IDE – PyScripter. I was asked “what is it?” and “why was I using it?”…

What is PyScripter?

PyScripter is an IDE (integrated development environment) that includes many features which are not included in the standard Python IDLE. These include:

  • Code completion
  • Identify syntax errors before compiling (wrong indentation or accidentally added a space = red squiggly line)
  • Listing all variables and functions in a side window
  • Debugging features – same as professional IDE such as Visual Studio
  • Viewing of the contents of all variables during debugging
  • Many more features

Why do I use PyScripter?

Common errors that pupils become stuck on, such as wrong indentation / spacing, wrong variable names etc. can be demoralising for pupils and prevent progress with understanding what they are actually trying to create. I see this as a barrier to their learning and understanding.

Therefore I use PyScripter to lower the barrier to learning and understanding.

PyScripter issues

The program is very good however it is not perfect. It can crash when using the Turtle module or the excellent GUIzero module (another tool that lowers barriers); your technicians may struggle to deploy it in a school environment; it may not be fully compatible with the very latest Python version (although it looks like support for 3.7 has just been added)


I highly recommend trying out PyScripter, show the pupils, test the features then ask your technicians to see if they can deploy it (or manually install it). You can get it here


Today I attended our schools Teaching & Learning meeting, which is cross departmental forum for sharing ideas and best practice. I had previously asked the organiser if I could speak about the micro:bit at the meeting, to introduce it to anyone who I hadn’t yet already told.

I have had many conversations with other teachers over the past 2 weeks. Geography & Science teachers have been considering the use of data logging for experiments or environmental readings at various locations around school; PE could use the device as a pedometer or repetitions counter for circuit training; maths could use it to create a real data set of scores in a game (like Chase the egg!) to produce graphs. These conversations all followed on from an inset that I attended at the start of this half-term. The inset was about the progress pupils made when there was some sort of ‘hook’ to get them interested and invested in their learning. During the inset, I remember thinking the micro:bit can provide multiple hooks in any subject.

I showed everyone the video on the website, I talked about the features and demonstrated Chase the egg! I then opened up a discussion about how it could be used in other subjects. Our music teacher asked if it could be used as an instrument and how they had been learning ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’. I enthusiastically responded with yes it could with the addition of a speaker. I then described how, as a computer science teacher we (sometimes) see music as a algorithm – Twinkle, twinkle has a melody that repeats in the sequence, line 1, line 2, line 3, line 3, line 1, line 2 (I think). Pressing the correct sequence of A, B, A+B, could produce this melody.

After I had finished talking at the meeting, I asked attendees to discuss in their departments, any ideas they have had – I will share the ideas on this blog over the coming months. When I sat down next to my colleague (and friend), she said to me…

“You are such a geek! Look how giddy you are!”

I completely agree with her – I am still excited by the prospect of what the micro:bit can do and what it means for the learners and the learning of not only computer science, but all subjects.

2 weeks in!

Quite a lot has happened over the past couple of weeks or so. I have had more time to get to grips with using the micro:bit; I have explored the different methods of writing programs for the device; I have paired a micro:bit with the Samsung APP (with varying degrees of success); I have introduced the concept of a ‘cross-curricular hook’ to my colleagues.

First of all the micro:bit website – I really did miss a trick when I first explored the website. I had completely ignored the ‘Code Kingdoms: JavaScript’ section. During an after school coding club, one of my GCSE students explored this section and started following a tutorial for ‘Worst game of snake ever!’ (I didn’t know it was called this and called it ‘Chase the egg!’ instead!). He showed me that, even though it was JavaScript, it was still quite easy to write a program in this section. There is the ability to write with just blocks, or pre-populated text or raw text input.


This seems like a fantastic feature that I would definitely like to explore with older year groups. I have a lot of interest in JavaScript and feel that it is such a versatile language, learning it would be very useful at GCSE / A-Level.

Do you want to play Chase the egg?!

Anyway, back to the ‘Chase the egg!’ game – Once the pupil had created the game, I plugged in the cable and ‘flashed’ the game on to the micro:bit. I had a go and then the other pupils had a go and it was an instant hit. This simple game, in which you needed to get one dot touch another dot by rotating the device, was highly addictive and highly competitive. I have spent the past 2 weeks showing this game to everyone, asking pupil to compete against staff, year 7, year 11, year 12, staff…everyone loved it. I even disrupted my HOD’s year 7 lesson to see who could try to beat the top score.

First lesson

I can sum up this lesson with one word – Excitement! The excitement was mine (to begin with) but then it spread to the year 7 pupils, once I told them they would each get their own Micro:bit.

I’m sure I must have shown this class the ‘micro:bit introduction’ video before, but now it has taken on a new significance…now they had a physical micro:bit in front of them, flashing away.
My own experience has been similar – I have looked at the micro:bit website before but not really engaged with it in the way that I have done since having the physical device.

I am conscious that our departments method of delivering lessons has been altered from my initial plans. I originally wanted to introduce the concepts of sequence, selection, iteration before ‘coding’ – With the device in front of the class, they just wanted to see it do something. Our delivery method, for now, is to introduce the website, write simple programs using the block editor and then look at where sequence, selection & iteration fit in. I will evaluate the success of this approach in the coming weeks.

Following on from the lesson my HOD commented on how many different ways a pupil can confirm that the device will belong to them…

  • “Is it ours?”
  • “Can I take it home?”
  • “So it’s mine?”
  • “We get to keep it?”
  • “Can I use it at home?”

I was asked a question that is one of the key issues relating to this device…

“What if I lose it?”

From my experience with holding the actual device and using it, I feel the pupils will definitely get much more out of the micro:bit by having the physical device, than using the on-screen simulator. I worry that the pupils who ‘lose’ the device are the ones who will lose interest…hopefully this won’t become an issue.

Safe Cracker

Original number game – https://www.microbit.co.uk/nrjdzu
Improved game – https://www.microbit.co.uk/joryiq
One of the first games I created with the micro:bit was a number guessing game. I wanted to use the built-in compass so that pupils didn’t need to purchase or utilise any additional equipment other than what would be given to them.

Game idea

Randomly generate a number using button A. Guess the number by pointing in a direction and pressing button B. The number will be between 0 and 359.

I originally started using the block editor to make the game but I wanted to see the code. I realise that my pupils will not all want to see the code…they may be scared of the code. Continue reading Safe Cracker

Microbit first use

Wednesday 10th February.

I plugged in the supplied (rather short) USB cable. It was alive and after telling me to press the A and B buttons (It pointed at these to help me), my Micro:bit wanted me to chase the dot! Like a toddler chasing a feather dancing in the air, I waved my device about, chasing the dot and my micro:bit smiled at me! Now what?! I decided to use a longer cable!

Thursday 11th February

I spent time looking at the micro:bit website and familiarising myself with it. All the time thinking, how are my pupils going to explore this site? Which is best, Block Editor or Touch Develop? I wanted to get started straight away with a simple program so I thought of a simple number guessing game that required the built-in compass to guess the number. I refined this in to a different game so it was easier to play.

After school was my weekly code club – I demonstrated some of the features of my game to a pupil whilst, unbeknownst to me, another teacher was stood behind me (A Geography teacher!)

Geography teacher: “I like this…oh I like this!”

I showed the teacher how easy it was to write a new program to just give compass bearings. He liked that too. He pointed north and I showed him that he was correct (Micro:bit said 0) I them pointed south and Micro:bit said 180…perfect.

This coincidental demonstration reinforced the belief I have that this can be a truly cross-curricular device, that can be used across the school in any subject. My journey in to how will be detailed in this blog.