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23 May 2024

Let's get physical - how to use Crumbles, Spheros & Microbits - Physical Computing TC meeting

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Becci Peters

Unleashing the Power of Physical Computing in the Classroom

Key Summary Points:

  • Physical computing fosters engagement, particularly among students who may not typically gravitate towards computing.
  • It aligns with the national curriculum, emphasising the control and simulation of physical systems.
  • Tools like Crumble and micro:bits are accessible and versatile, enhancing cross-curricular learning.
  • Projects that blend creativity and technical skills, such as building Roman chariots or Morse code devices, captivate students.
  • Practical, hands-on activities promote resilience, problem-solving, and fine motor skills.

Jo's enthusiasm for physical computing was infectious, and her insights provided a fresh perspective on how we can bring computing to life for our students.

Jo began by highlighting the benefits of physical computing, emphasising its open-ended, learner-centric nature. She noted that physical computing often attracts students who might not typically engage with traditional computing lessons. This approach makes computing tangible, allowing students to interact with real-world components and see the immediate results of their code.

One of the most striking points Jo made was about the national curriculum. She reminded us that controlling and simulating physical systems is a key objective. If our schools aren't incorporating physical computing, we aren't fully meeting these curriculum requirements. With tools like the micro:bit now freely available to primary schools, there's no excuse not to dive into this hands-on approach.

Jo shared various projects that have worked well in her classroom, such as using Crumble microcontrollers. These small, affordable devices are packed with potential. They are perfect for integrating subjects like Design Technology (DT) and art into computing lessons. For example, her students have created Roman chariots, fairground rides, and even night lights using Crumble kits. These projects not only teach coding but also involve designing, building, and problem-solving—skills crucial for holistic education.

Another compelling project involved creating Morse code devices linked to a World War II history unit. Students learned about historical code-breaking and then built their own Morse code transmitters using Crumble, integrating computing with history and literacy. This cross-curricular approach makes learning more meaningful and memorable for students.

Jo's trip to Malawi provided a poignant example of the universal applicability of physical computing. Despite limited resources, she and her colleagues were able to create functional buggies from plastic bottles and simple electronics. This experience underscored the importance of creativity and adaptability in teaching, and it was a powerful reminder that physical computing doesn't require expensive equipment—just ingenuity and a willingness to experiment.


Jo Hodge's talk was a powerful reminder of the transformative potential of physical computing in education. It encourages us to think beyond traditional computing lessons and explore new ways to engage our students. By integrating physical computing into our curriculum, we can make learning more interactive, cross-curricular, and fun.

Example Exercises:

  • Roman Chariot Project: Have students design and build their own Roman chariots using Crumble kits. This can be tied to lessons in history, DT, and computing.
  • Morse Code Device: Create a project where students build Morse code transmitters and receivers, linking it to a history unit on World War II.
  • Fairground Ride Construction: Guide students in building and programming fairground rides, using motors and LEDs, to explore concepts in physics and engineering.

By trying out these exercises, you can begin to unlock the full potential of physical computing in your classroom. Let’s embrace this dynamic approach to teaching and inspire our students to become creators and innovators in the world of computing.

Useful links shared in the session:

Jo's slides

micro: bit in Wonderland

Mr Bit

Barefoot - Code Cracking

Watch the recording

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