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  • Manon Ballester

ecosystem & interoperability

MAGNETICS is positioned as a technological brick making it possible to communicate between software and material resources dedicated to learning programming, in order to improve the integration of these tools as coherent and interdisciplinary educational solutions.

Complementarity with boards

Micro:bit: Micro:bit is an easy-to-use miniature programmable card (4cm x 5cm). It allows you to discover the programming of real objects without knowing anything about electronics or computer concepts. This card was designed by the BBC to help younger children learn to code. It has many programmable inputs/outputs and a Bluetooth connection. It is comparable to Arduino boards, which distinguishes itself by improved ease of use. Today Micro: bit is one of the most popular cards used by the educational world.

The Micro:bit card is currently used with Scratch, Makecode and CircuitPython. Its extensive integration into these tools makes it a card of choice for all teachers. Thanks to the prototype developed by MAGNETICS, it will be possible to more easily carry out projects using several platforms for the best of their functionality. This interoperability will be particularly positive in order to facilitate collaboration between professors in interdisciplinary projects. For example, in France, in college, Mathematics teachers generally know Scratch and technology teachers are more acculturated to MakeCode. Making communication between these two tools possible will allow everyone to keep the most suitable and best-controlled solutions while developing transdisciplinary projects.

Despite its wide acceptance in the educational world, one of the main limitations of the Micro:bit board is its limited memory which hinders its capacities when Bluetooth is used. With the hardware compatibility allowed by MAGNETICS, it will be possible to use other hardware transparently as soon as we need to overcome the memory limitations of the Micro: bit card.

STM32Educ: As a result of a collaboration between the Aix-Marseille academy and the company STMicroelectronics (Rousset), the STM32Education card makes it possible to give meaning to coding and algorithm by offering a complete card thanks to which students will be able to design connected objects and program them simply. This card is intended for many disciplines by the wealth of its onboard sensors. The STM32Educ card is of French design, the development of which is supported by funding for education, and offers, in addition to the use of Micro: Bit, additional features and a set of sensors to integrate richer in scientific and interdisciplinary projects that will be targeted by the project.

Today the main advantage of the STM32Educ card is to allow teachers who need it to go further than what is possible with Micro: bit. Without interoperability, the barrier to be crossed to benefit from these extended functionalities is too important both in terms of teaching and training time for the majority of teachers to agree to use it. MAGNETICS will facilitate this passage and thus use the platform but also the card most suited to each project.

Complementarity with programming platforms

Scratch: Scratch is a free software designed by MIT to introduce students from the age of 8 to fundamental computer concepts. It allows a fun approach to algorithms, which makes it the preferred tool of mathematics teachers for algorithmics. Scratch is dynamic: it allows you to modify the code of the running program. Multimedia oriented for teaching in the computer world, it treats with great ease the basic concepts of programming such as loops, tests, variable assignments, and especially the manipulation of objects, as well as sounds and videos. Scratch is visual: all the code is written directly in the child's mother tongue (around twenty European languages ​​are available) in the form of coloured bricks (for example the controls in yellow, the variables in red, the movements in blue, etc ...). The concept of actor allows a child to very easily realize playful interactive animations.

Today, Scratch 3 is the most practical tool for creating visual and interactive programs on a computer screen. When it comes to programming microcontrollers there are two approaches, the first is to continue what Scratch is best for by driving the board to interact with the visual program on the screen. In this approach, the card does not really need to be programmed. Most of the time, only firmware is injected into the card before its use and the sensor data is retrieved by the computer when requested by the user program. The second approach aims to radically change the philosophy of Scratch by integrating the logic of the target board directly instead of a visualization. This solution is very specific and linked to a type of card and requires the creation of a variation of Scratch which is potentially totally incompatible with the other versions of the tool. This is why we have seen the emergence of tools such as Mind + or MakeBlock in recent years, which are proprietary versions adapted to certain particular cards and often closed, such as Halocode. The goal of MAGNETICS is to allow Scratch to be used for its best (the ability to simply make animations) while allowing it to open up to more hardware-oriented tools like MakeCode.

Microsoft MakeCode: MakeCode allows programming with blocks. The software includes a simulator in order to observe in real time the simulation of the programs on the programmable card, which is useful in order to quickly test the productions of the pupils. This allows you to simulate most inputs such as pressing a button, shaking, tilting, as well as running the simulation in slow motion. A toolbox allows you to easily drag blocks of instructions into the workspace to create the program, by interlocking blocks.

Makecode naturally allows you to program micro-controllers. Whenever one needs to retrieve data from sensors, it is probably the easiest tool to read them. MAGNETICS brings two major benefits to Makecode: it allows programs to communicate using potentially different cards in a simple and uniform manner. And it makes it easier to create visual renderings on the computer screen by making communication with Scratch possible.

CircuitPython is a programming language designed to make it easy to experience and learn programming on low cost microcontroller boards and runs on a text editor. Python is the fastest growing programming language. It is taught in schools and universities. It is a high-level programming language, which means it is designed to be easier to read, write, and maintain. It supports modules and packages, which means it's easy to reuse generated code for other projects. It has a built-in interpreter and therefore no additional steps, such as compilation, to make the code work.

As with Makecode, MAGNETICS brings to CircuitPython a greater facility to communicate different materials and the ability to use other tools to collaborate with teachers from different disciplines. In addition to this, it offers for the first time the simplified capacity to create mesh networks in the educational world and thus easily illustrate the problems of networks added in the programs of technology in college and SNT in high school.


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