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Creative Computation in 5th Grade

Yumi Nakanishi

In 5th grade, students take a weekly one-hour elective class called Fab Five. The Fab Five classes consist of the following: ABC, Drama, Avenues Global Exploration and Trotamundos, Wellness and Creative Computing. Students have the opportunity to take all five classes every six weeks throughout the year. 

This year in the Creative Computation elective, students learned about physical computing with microbits. In the first class, they learned the four components that make a computer: input, output, processor (CPU), and memory. Students discover that even a tiny device like a microbit is considered a computer. Technically, the microbit is a microcontroller, so it is not a typical computer. In addition to two buttons, and 25 LED lights as inputs and outputs, the microbit also has a built-in temperature sensor, accelerometer and radio and Bluetooth antenna. For a device that is 2” x 1.5”, it can be programmed to do a lot.

Students used Makecode, a block-based programming language similar to Scratch, to program the microbit. For students who are comfortable with a text-based programming language, Makecode can switch between block-based and Javascript very easily.

For their first project, students learned to program the input and outputs for the microbit and they were asked to make their microbit into a fidget cube. They programmed in Makecode, then downloaded the program onto the microbit so that their microbit can run independently of the laptop, powered by a battery pack. Finally, students created a holder for their microbit so it became a fidget cube.

For the second project, students learned about variables and created a scorekeeper for a game. Variables are a key concept in computer programming. By introducing them as a way to keep score, time, and/or health in a game, students are better able to understand the concept of variables and how to use them in a program. Some scorekeepers that students created with the microbit: a pedometer, 30-second timer, and a scorekeeper for basketball and tennis games. For the pedometer, one student used the shake input to keep track of his steps. Another student made a mini version of Geometry Dash-like game on his microbit.

The microbit is an open-ended device that encourages students to use their creativity to program. Students express joy when they are able to get their microbit working successfully and frustration when their code does not quite work. They are encouraged to persevere by debugging their program and consequently, experience greater joy when their program finally works. These are important computational thinking skills that students are learning when programming the microbit in the Creative Computation class.

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