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    Explore Micro:bit With Tinkercad

    Donald Bell
    Published on - November 9, 2020 by Donald Bell

    Teachers & Parents, Features

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    We’re excited to announce the addition of micro:bit to Tinkercad's Circuits editor. With it, students can program and interact with a realistically simulated micro:bit and connect their board to our growing collection of virtual electronic components. Just like everything in Tinkercad, this new feature is free, beginner-friendly, and thoughtfully designed for classroom use.

    What is Micro:bit?

    The BBC micro:bit is an inexpensive electronic circuit board designed for students to learn electronics and coding. It includes buttons and lights and sensors that lend themselves to creating amazing interactive projects. When a student connects the micro:bit to a computer with a USB cable, they can quickly program the board with new interactions using beginner-friendly code environments, such as Microsoft MakeCode.

    officialmicrobit imageOver the past few years, we’ve watched the popularity of micro:bit skyrocket in our educator community. The board’s rugged, yet friendly design holds up to repeated use and the curriculum developed by the Micro:bit Educational Foundation is top-notch and easy to implement.

    In a perfect world every student should be able to have their own micro:bit to tinker with, along with a bottomless drawer of components and alligator clips and batteries. With Tinkercad, that dream is now possible for any student with a computer and an internet connection.

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    What is Tinkercad Circuits?

    When we talk about Tinkercad, we’re really talking about three symbiotic products: our 3D editor, our Codeblocks editor, and our Circuits editor. All of them are free and can be found in your Tinkercad design dashboard. 

    Our Circuits editor allows anyone with an internet connection to create and simulate electronic designs using common components. Our built-in lessons introduce students to the basics of electronics and Arduino, with circuits that can be simulated and analyzed, just like the real thing.

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    One of the most popular features of the Circuits editor is our Arduino simulator. Students can use it to learn, code, and simulate relatively complex interactions with what has been one of the most popular microcontroller project boards ever made. 

    And while the popularity of Arduino continues undiminished, the success of the micro:bit demonstrates that there’s room for competition. It's also shown us that the two platforms are not mutually exclusive. With Tinkercad Circuits, there's nothing preventing students from mixing and remixing any of our components or examples together to create new and imaginative designs.

    We’ve taken everything we’ve learned about Arduino simulation and applied it to our micro:bit support. We’re confident that when students see how fun and easy it is to code their virtual micro:bit, many of them will be inspired to explore our breadboard and Arduino simulations. 

    An Electronics Lab With Endless Possibility

    There are a number of free online tools students can use to code, and even simulate how programs run on their Micro:bit. Tinkercad stands apart with a belief that the micro:bit is more than just a self-contained tool -- it’s the first step into a larger world of understanding code and physical computing.

    Tinkercad’s Circuits editor is a playground of electronics and possibilities that your students can grow into. It’s the only space of its kind where students can just as easily learn to connect and blink an LED with a transistor, or an integrated circuit, or a micro:bit, or an Arduino. 

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    By eliminating the cost of electronic hardware, and consumables like batteries and wires, Tinkercad Circuits lowers the barrier of entry for students and teachers (from elementary up through high school) to learn and tinker with electronics.

    Like other micro:bit coding tools, our blocks-stye code editor makes it easy for students to drag, drop, and rearrange computational concepts and instructions until they get their project working just the way they want. Once students have exhausted the basic capabilities of their micro:bit, Tinkercad allows them to seamlessly integrate breadboards, integrated circuits, sensors, motors, and more. 

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    Best of all, student designs are automatically saved to their Tinkercad design dashboard, where they can be accessed from any computer. Students can work on designs at home or at school, from any available laptop, desktop, or Chromebook.

    If you’re an educator, we encourage you to take advantage of our Tinkercad Classrooms tool. With it, you can easily review your students’ work in Tinkercad, leave notes, and make corrections.

    Example Circuits

    To give you a sense of what’s possible using the micro:bit simulation in Tinkercad, we’ve included a handful of sample circuits that students can access from the Starters menu. 

    Some of these starter circuits showcase how the micro:bit’s built-in sensors (compass, accelerometer, temperature, light-sensitivity) can be manipulated in Tinkercad. In the example below you can see how we’ve been able to simulate different physical gestures, which trigger different patterns on the LED matrix.

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    Other starter circuits were intentionally designed to demonstrate the unique possibilities of combining other elements from our component library. The first example, for instance, is a micro:bit that’s pre-wired to power a small breadboard that students can use to build their circuit.

    The example next to it demonstrates how a PIR motion sensor can be easily wired to the Micro:bit to detect nearby movement and sound an alarm through a connected buzzer. 

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    We encourage you and your students to take some time to explore all the starter circuits for micro:bit. And don’t forget to open up the code panel to see what makes them tick and change the parameters for different results. 

    With Tinkercad, there’s no reason to worry about breaking hardware, burning out LEDs, or losing your code. Students are free to experiment and try out any wild idea they have.

    Sharing Designs With Students

    Just like any design in Tinkercad, teachers can make their work public and generate a direct link to share with students. With this link, students can copy the design to their personal dashboard and modify their copy however they like.

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    Using the annotation tool within Tinkercad Circuits, teachers can markup designs with instructions, explanations, and descriptions. These annotations can be toggled on and off using the eye icon in the top bar (try it in the embedded example below).

    Public designs also include HTML code that you can use to embed your designs on a website (just like the above example). This can come in handy for including designs within a course overview page for your class, or as part of an Instructables guide.

    Limitations at Launch

    As many of you know, Tinkercad is constantly evolving and improving our tools. As proud as we are of the addition of micro:bit to Tinkercad Circuits, we’re certain there’s more we can do to improve it. Some of this work is already underway.

    For example, you can currently export your code as a javascript file. This file can be uploaded to a connected micro:bit using a third-party site like Microsoft MakeCode. We know this isn’t ideal.

    We’re also aware that the Tinkercad iPad app doesn’t yet support circuit simulation. For students to take full advantage of the capabilities of Tinkercad Circuits they’ll need to use a laptop or desktop computer, or Chromebook.

    Micro:bit aficionados will also notice that our current simulation does not include the features of the new micro:bit v2 hardware announced last month. Specifically, the new hardware offers a built-in speaker, microphone, and capacitive touch pad.

    We may include a simulation of micro:bit v2 hardware in a future release. Until then, know that the code generated in Tinkercad should have no problem running on v2 hardware. We also include an example of how to add a speaker to your micro:bit simulation in our “Alarm” starter circuit, for those who want this feature.

    Answers to more of your questions can be found in our FAQ.

    Connect with Tinkercad

    The development and inclusion of micro:bit in Tinkercad can be directly traced back to the enthusiastic requests we received from educators just like you. If you have an idea on how we can improve our micro:bit support (or Tinkercad in general) don’t hesitate to email your thoughts to tinkercad-support@autodesk.com

    That said, we also enjoy hearing your success stories, and how Tinkercad is helping your students learn and express themselves. You can email those to us too, or tag us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook so we can respond and share.