Fostering a Love of Mental Maths with #microbit – A STEM Project

Why, hello.

Exploring Hang-En Cave, Vietnam with @OxalisAdventures

To cut a long and eventful story short, this post was originally drafted last year, prior to my leaving my school to pursue my long-held dream of traveling around the world in 2020. It was time to move on to something new, and explore the road less traveled.

Unfortunately, due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, what was planned to be my ‘year on the road’ ended far earlier than planned. I was one of the lucky ones… I had an incredible photographic adventure through Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan before world events spiraled out of control. I’m now back home in Australia.

So … I’m going to take some time to finish documenting some of the STEM projects I co-created and taught with my amazing colleagues over the past few years. In 2019, we finally succeeded in making hands-on, cross-curricular projects a normal, vital part of our Junior School’s teaching and learning practice. I’ve had a few blog posts floating around in my head for some time, and it’s time to get them published!

Making Maths Fun with Micro:bits!

For years, I have wondered how to meaningfully integrate the maths curriculum with Digital Technologies, given that advanced visual programming skills in Scratch and robotics require a sound understanding of number. algebra, and mathematical operations. Looking for advice, I turned to my good friend @brookssensei, who suggested a mIcro:bit maths game project. So, my Year 6 colleagues and I took a risk and ultimately created what is probably the best STEM project I’ve ever facilitated.

Some Background

The Year 6 students had previously undertaken a series of lessons where they were responsible for learning about the hardware of the micro:bit (e.g. LEDs, accelerometer) and how to make it work using the MS MakeCode editor. We used a jigsaw grouping strategy, and students were then asked to teach their peers what they had learned. We differentiated these groups based on Sem 1 assessment data, as we had students with a very wide range of comfort and ability in visual programming – ranging from complete beginner to Year 8 high school level.

I created a Class OneNote template page providing a scaffold for the project and our expectations regarding the project timeline. We spent most of the year emphasizing the importance of design documentation as a record of learning (and accountability). Most of the students worked in pairs, but each was held accountable for the design documentation and input into the process. This was monitored through Microsoft Teams; as well as by adding a short informal interview and product testing as formal steps in the design process. This allowed us to give students both oral and written feedback, and (time permitting) a chance to improve their designs in response to user testing.

We tried to offer some flexibility in how to use the OneNote design template. Many students found it easier to plan on paper and import photos into OneNote, while others drew within the app itself. Similarly, some students were more comfortable using Flipgrid to record their project reflections, while others preferred to write their answers.

We were blown away by the students’ response to this project. The Year 6s loved the opportunity to interview their younger buddies, and they particularly enjoyed overcoming some of the design challenges along the way – “How big do you make a headband/wristband that fits a Year 1 student?”. “What maths do Year 3 students learn?”. The younger students loved testing and giving feedback on the game designs. The wearable games and the modified “Mental Maths Twister” project were particularly well received.


The Task

Design a Micro:bit controller for a mental maths or dice board game.

Your game should be suitable for your chosen audience – either your Yr 1/2 buddies OR your Yr 6 classmates. You are welcome to experiment with wearable tech, and/or to create your own gameboard/legend – but please keep these simple due to the time constraints.

Success Criteria

Beginner

  • Uses the Micro:bit buttons to input numbers or display results
  • Randomly selects and represents numbers using the LEDs – e.g. dice , numbers
  • Completes this engineering design journal by
    • Defining the problem
    • Choosing an appropriate game and focus maths concept for their target audience
    • Designing and constructing a simple physical game controller (this may be wearable).
    • Building and testing a program for the Micro:bit, seeking feedback from users

Intermediate

  • Uses the Radio Broadcast and Receive feature
  • Allows the user to input the numbers and select the operation on the Microbit using the buttons and/or accelerometer
  • Uses variables to store numbers (e.g. keep score), or for maths operations in the program (e.g. input 2 x 2, display answer = 4).
  • Displays the results of the mathematical operation on the screen

 

Defining the Problem

Explore

Connecting to Prior Knowledge, Researching Existing Solutions

Design

 

Sample Code

A big focus for us was teaching students to add text comments in their code to help others understand it. Not only is this standard practice in real-world programming, but it also demonstrates students’ understanding of how the code actually works. While the micro:bit coding and the comments weren’t perfect and mostly at entry-level, we did have some students experimenting with more advanced functions, drawing upon their learning in previous Scratch units.

Random Number generator

Choose an operation, answer the mental maths question

Using the accelerometer to select the operation & countdown to show a random sum.

Experimentation with the use of Broadcast and Recieve (Heads Up / Guess my Number)

Game Design Products

Student Reflections

 

My thanks to my former colleagues for helping bring this project to life. It was a wonderful way to wrap up my time working at IJS.

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