New Year – New apps, New robot, New curriculum!

BBC survey of girls interested in CS

Wow, hard to believe it’s 2018 already.

The Microsoft MakeCode team is just over a year old, but in that short time we’ve made some great strides in development – learning new things every day and having a lot of fun playing with toys!

For readers new to us, Microsoft MakeCode is a computing education platform created with the goal to bring computer science to life for all students with fun, tangible projects; having immediate results, with both block and text editors for learners at different levels.

We’re seeing some great results and momentum around physical computing as a more inclusive approach to Computer Science education. Last year, for instance, the BBC published a national survey of students in the UK and found a 70% increase in girls interested in studying computer science after having used the micro:bit.

In 2017 we also spent a lot of time with teachers and students – to learn from them, and better understand how they’re using MakeCode in their classrooms. One great example of some of the leadership and innovation we’re seeing in technology education is at Lufkin Independent School District, located in a rural part of east Texas. Rafranz Davis is the Executive Director of Professional and Digital Learning for the district and is passionate about using technology to support transformative learning experiences for all students. Here is their story.

Kids learning at Lufikin ISD

We’re also announcing some very cool new stuff:

1 - MakeCode for Wonder Workshop’s Cue Robot

Wonder Workshop Cue robot

Many of you may be familiar with Dash and Dot: the cute little blue and orange robots that live in many elementary school classrooms today that are helping introduce students to robotics and coding. Wonder Workshop has now introduced a new, more advanced robot for middle school students, called Cue. Educators can begin using Cue with an Applied Robotics project-based curriculum to teach core computer science concepts in a super fun way, that is immersive and engaging for every student.

Some time ago, we began working with Wonder Workshop on a coding experience for Cue. Today, we’re incredibly happy to announce the new Cue Education app based on Microsoft MakeCode and now available in the Windows Store. Some of the great new features of the app include:

Blocks / JavaScript

As with all MakeCode editors, students can toggle back and forth between editing their code in Blocks, or in JavaScript. We know that the progression path from block-based visual drag-and-drop coding to more ‘real-world’ text-based programming takes time, and we want to support students as they make this transition. With the Cue Education app, students are able to build programs both in Blocks and JavaScript simultaneously, switching back and forth as they become more experienced and gain more confidence.

Dual Editors

Simplified Toolbox

For readers familiar with other MakeCode editors, you may also notice some changes to the usual MakeCode Toolbox – we tried to simplify categories as much as possible to support smaller screen mobile device scenarios. Aside from the language constructs, most blocks are categorized into Actions, Events and Control.

  • Actions are any action you want Cue to do – like moving, making sounds, or changing light colors
  • Events are inputs that will trigger an action – like sensing an obstacle, pressing a button, or hearing a clap or voice command
  • Control contains both Logic and Loops blocks – like Repeat, If…Then…Else, and boolean expressions

And in each of these Toolbox drawers, there are subcategories like Move, Color, or Sound that make finding blocks a lot easier too.


2 - Introduction to Computer Science with MakeCode for Minecraft

Intro to CS course page

One of the biggest requests we’ve heard from Educators since we published MakeCode for Minecraft, was for an entry-level computer science curriculum written so that a non-CS teacher could present it. So, we are very happy to publish an Introduction to Computer Science curriculum based on MakeCode for Minecraft today! The amazing teaching duo of Douglas and Mary Kiang have authored this new semester-long course targeted at middle school students. The course is freely available online and as a OneNote Notebook with each lesson containing unplugged exercises, guided coding activities, and an independent project that maps to CSTA standards. Students learn Computer Science concepts such as variables, iteration, and conditionals while creating programs that spawn parrots, automate the Agent to chop down trees, and mine for gold and diamonds!

We are also launching a streaming video channel on Mixer. We’ll be recording tutorial walk-throughs and do live coding in Minecraft every Friday – so bookmark us and tune in to learn how to build a bouncy house with slime in Minecraft!

Mixer session in Minecraft

3 - MakeCode for micro:bit Windows 10 app

New MakeCode for micro:bit app

Our very first MakeCode editor was for the micro:bit - who really pioneered the all-in-one educational microcontroller board. Today, we are excited to announce a MakeCode for micro:bit Windows 10 app available today which adds some new features and capabilities:

  • One-click Download – no more dragging and dropping files to deploy your programs. With the app, you can just click the Download button and watch the magic happen!
  • Serial data – want to measure the acceleration, light level, or temperature from your micro:bit? Now you can, with our new serial data visualizer which plots values in a chart, and allows you to export the data to Excel. This feature is great for STEM projects and classroom experiments like measuring light and temperature levels for optimal plant growth.

micro:bit serial output display

Thanks to the wonderful partners, passionate teachers, and enthusiastic students for inspiring us every day. We love waking up every morning to come to work because of you!

If you’re planning to be at BETT in London this week, you can find us with our partners – Wonder Workshop, Minecraft, and The Micro:bit Foundation.

Follow us on Twitter @MSMakeCode.

To learn more about the other Microsoft Education news this week, check out the Microsoft Education Blog.

– The MakeCode Team