The Official BBC micro:bit User Guide

Author: Gareth Halfacree
Publisher: Wiley
Date: Oct 2017
Pages: 312
ISBN: 978-1119386735
Print: 111938673X
Kindle: B07681TK4B
Audience: Teachers and enthusiasts
Rating: 4
Reviewer: Harry Fairhead

An official guide! Who could resist?

After that lead in, presumably you are expecting a bad review. On the contrary, this is quite a good book, but only if you are looking for what it is telling you. That is, this is a good book for the right reader.

First I need to comment on the "official" part of the title. It seems that the Micro:bit Educational Foundation gave its blessing to the book, but there is no sign that there is any special input from them so "official" seems to be more a sales gimmick than any special status. If you find another book that doesn't have the term "official", it is worth considering on its merits.


The first part of the book is a general guide to the micro:bit. After a tour of the board in Chapter 1 we are guided though getting it connected with USB or battery power in Chapter 2. Chapter 3 gets us to work with the web site  to run your first program. All good if you don't have a clue or don't have a mentor to show you how.

Part II is about the programming languages you might use - JavaScript via Blocks, JavaScript or MicroPython.with a comparison table to helo of which one you should pick. This isn't very helpful bit in fact the choice is fairly easy - complete beginner use Blocks and then graduate to Python or, if you find that hard, move on to full JavaScript. The language descriptions are very simple and miss out important details like JavaScript Blocks is limited to global variables, but if the reader could understand this they wouldn't need the book.

From here we get a chapter on each language going over the same ground - a Hello World program, using buttons, the touch input, temperature sensor, compass, accelerometer and a game. Of course, it is interesting to see all of this repeated in each of the languages and environments - if you want an example see our micro:bit Commando Jump game - but remember not to complain about repetition. There is also the issue of confronting  a complete beginner with three different ways of doing something. A beginner is going to struggle to learn JavaScript Blocks language, only to be expected to repeat the whole thing with JavaScript and then Python. Much better to get some extended experience with one of them before looking at another.



Part III is a collection of chapters that are focus on fairly arbitrary topics and take a project approach. Chapter 8 looks at the built-in radio. Not using it as Bluetooth or WiFi, but as an ad-hoc custom point-to-point network. There is a tiny section on Bluetooth, but basically it directs you to a website. Chapter 9 is about using the micro:bit with the Raspberry Pi, which is really an exercise in communicating over a serial port. While this is a moderately useful technique in practice, I'm not sure its relevant in a beginner's book. After all, you are struggling to come to terms with the micro:bit and it seems a bit hard to throw in another computer to the mix.

Chapter 10 is titled "Building Circuits" and is a basic guide to the pins that you can use on the micro:bit. Nothing complicated - buttons, an LED output and reading analog input. Just about enough to get you started, but far from enough to get you to the end of the road or to stop you blowing up some devices despite the warnings.

Chapter 11 is a catalog of things you can buy to extend the micro:bit. This is likely to go out of date quite quickly and it would be better to visit one of the main resellers on the web and have a look.

Chapter 12 is a detour into wearable computing, including the use of conductive thread. The project is a rain sensing hat - neat but hardly useful as most of us have a rain sensing head. Apart from a certain level of disbelief, it is a good starter project, but most wearables seem to involve flashing LEDs and light strips rather than conductive thread.

Finally, in Chapter 13 we have a look at teaching and other resources.

This raises the question of who this book is aimed at?

I can see that teachers struggling to get to grips with the micro:bit might find this a good starting point. I can also see parents finding it useful. I'm not so sure about children as the book doesn't major on excitement and stimulating projects - but this isn't what it promises. The best description of this book is "mostly helpful" if you are a complete beginner, but even in this case you might well need the help of a mentor to get through.

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Pages: 272
ISBN: 978-0136484226
Print: 0136484220
Kindle: B084T4JK3S
Audience: Capable JavaScript programmers
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Last Updated ( Saturday, 21 April 2018 )