Introducing Microsoft MakeCode
Posted on March 30, 2017 by tballmsft
Microsoft MakeCode is a web-based environment for learning to code with physical computing devices such as the micro:bit. It has a handful of novel features all packed into a single web application (web app). No software installation is required: Microsoft MakeCode runs in any modern web browser on most any operating system. Once the web app has been loaded from the Internet, all its features will continue to work, even if you disconnect from the Internet. If you later return to the web app when your computer is offline, it still works!
So, what about those five features? Microsoft MakeCode provides:
- A web-based simulation of the physical device (micro:bit, for example), so students can edit and test their programs even if they don’t have a device (or left it at home);
- A self-guided “Getting Started” experience to introduce the basic features of the programming environment, and a set of projects for making and coding;
- A compiler that instantaneously creates an executable file to download/copy to the physical device;
- A sharing feature so students can share their programs with students, teachers and parents.
Microsoft MakeCode also adapts to the screen size of your computer – it works well on desktops, laptops, tablets, and even smartphones.
Under the menu bar are three main sections. On the left side is the micro:bit simulator (B). The simulator runs automatically after you have made a change to your program. Buttons under the simulator allow you to stop/start program execution and control other aspects of the simulator. To the right of simulator is the toolbox (C) where you can find different categories of programming blocks. The Basic, Input, Music, Led, and Radio categories provide access to the specific features of the micro:bit. The Loops, Logic, Variables, and Math categories provide access to general programming constructs. Under the Advanced category are more features of the micro:bit, including Pins and Serial.
To the right of the toolbox is the programming canvas/editor (D) where you construct/edit your program. The orange “Getting Started” tab on the upper right of the programming canvas will introduce you to the basics of creating a small script using the Blocks editor. At the bottom of the screen (E) is a toolbar which most prominently features a Download button, which you use to compile a program to a file for copying to the micro:bit. Other features of the toolbar include undo/redo and zoom-in/zoom-out buttons for the editor.
The Block editor provides the ability to construct a program by dragging and arranging colorful blocks on the programming canvas, a paradigm well-known by teachers and students from their experience with Scratch, which pioneered the concept. The Block editor makes it easy to get started and experiment with coding through direct manipulation of the blocks, free of the typos and syntax errors that can occur in text-based editors. Below is a program in the Block editor that shows a smiley face when button A is pressed and shows a sad face when button B is pressed.
Some of the projects you can create with Microsoft MakeCode include a milk carton robot (https://makecode.microbit.org/projects/milk-carton-robot) whose jaws move in response to light stimulus (see below), or an electric guitar (https://makecode.microbit.org/projects/guitar) that makes sounds in response to motion (see banner image of this blog entry).
We hope you find Microsoft MakeCode an exciting and engaging way to get started making and coding with physical computing devices.