Colour Tower

We have to make safe places for students to take creative risks, and trust students in those places.”

Colour Tower

I remember taking a risk in 6th grade art, though at the time, I didn’t know I was.  Using British English to title my drawing “Colour Tower” made perfect sense to me. I was reading the Chronicles of Narnia at the time, and thought it was cool how the words were spelled differently than I was used to. The word “colour” felt exotic to me – like much more vibrant colors emerged when you spelled it that way.

As soon as my “Colour Tower” was hanging in the hallway at school, the disgusted-sounding taunts began. “Doesn’t Katie know how to spell? That’s stupid.”

I never had a chance to explain myself, and I didn’t want to.  I felt embarrassed and ashamed.   I stopped spelling the word color with the letter U, and my world became a little less bright. For girls, creative risk-taking in middle school can be wildly terrifying.  But, some girls don’t just stop using the letter U to spell new words in middle school – worse things happen. They can stop leaning into their academic talents and using the power of their minds coupled with the power of their hearts.  Their true passions can become secretive and hidden. They sometimes stay locked for years, or never get unlocked at all.  That’s painful.

I think I was one of these middle school girls, too.  How was I ever going to lean into my own talents, when I was obsessed with matching what I saw everyone else doing?  It was easier to conform than to try something new and risk feeling embarrassed. ((Having said that, I did want to be a spy in 7th grade. For a while I carried around a bag with a 110 film camera, mirrors for looking around corners, and a notebook. Mostly I did this with my best friend in her forest, but once I brought the bag to school. Although no one knew I was a spy. Because, well, that was the point.))

How can we help more middle school girls feel confident to take creative risks?

We have to make it less unusual for a middle school girl to do something different from her peers, and that starts with us doing something different for our students. We have to make safe places for students to take creative risks, and trust students in those places.

While I don’t believe tools themselves solve the problems we are talking about, trusting students to take creative risks with tools they may never before have used can have a profound impact on their life.

You don’t always need tools to help inspire confidence, but there are some good ones that can help. They are beginner-friendly and cost as little as $15 per kit, but the possibilities are endless. They rely on students’ minds and hearts to bring them to life.

Learn more: A Low Cost Robotics Kit – Great for Girls

A teacher works on a robot dancer with cardboard, the micro:bit, and MicroBlocks

A Low Cost Robotics Kit – Great for Girls

Inspire Creativity and Confident Risk-Taking with this Low Cost Robotics Kit


  • Library
  • STEAM/Maker Space
  • Computer Science Education
  • Interdisciplinary
Infosys WinterPathfinders 2020. Class “Art with the BBC micro:bit”  John Maloney, creator of MicroBlocks, and I facilitate workshops like this one with teachers using the tools below.

WHY – Read Colour Tower

Getting Started

micro:bit in front of website
MicroBlocks Activity Cards – Free

Why use micro:bit?

The micro:bit is a tiny programmable computer that makes STEM, computer science, and coding easy and fun.  With this one device, students can start taking creative risks in nearly any subject. Check out for free lesson plans and student project ideas.

Why use MicroBlocks?

MicroBlocks is a small, fast, human friendly programming language specifically designed for tools like the micro:bit.  MicroBlocks is perfect for libraries, maker spaces, and anywhere with lots of people and resources coming and going.

Just plug your micro:bit into your computer,  open MicroBlocks, and click the gear icon to “update firmware”. That’s it.  Double-check to make sure the USB icon has a green circle behind it to show the connection is good. (See it in action below.)

Note: This 16 second video has sound.  

A Little More

You can do a lot with the buttons, sensors, and display built right into the micro:bit, but you can also do more by adding accessories.  The basic:bit is one way to easily add accessories.

Attach your micro:bit to the front of the basic:bit with 5 screws that come with the basic:bit. (See photos below.) Use the same battery pack that came with your micro:bit to power it all. MicroBlocks makes it easy to start programming your basic:bit instantly.

(Note: If it is difficult for your school to order basic:bits from that website above, try this one: The price goes up a bit, but the transaction should be smoother.)

micro:bit (top) and basic:bit (bottom)
Attach the micro:bit to the top of the basic:bit using the five screws that come with the basic:bit. Use the battery pack that came with your micro:bit to power it all.
The backside of the micro:bit attached to the basic:bit.

Rainbow Ready

(Note:  If it is difficult for your school to order from that website, try this one The price goes up a bit, but the transaction should be smoother.)

micro:bit powered NeoPixel strip, programmed in MicroBlocks

Attach your NeoPixel strip to the basic:bit. The MicroBlocks NeoPixel activity card makes it easy to learn.  Because the basic:bit comes with a piezo speaker built in, try using the sound and NeoPixels together. The MicroBlocks sound  activity card will help you.

Note: This 4 second video has sound.


This project was made using the winch and crank build videos at the BirdBrain Technologies Build page. This puppet uses two position servos: one in the eyes and one in the mouth. The MicroBlocks servos activity card makes it easy to get started with servos. Also, this puppet is being powered by the ring:bit instead of the basic:bit.  You can make a puppet with a basic:bit, but the extra battery in the ring:bit will help your puppet last longer.  However, the ring:bit doesn’t have a piezo speaker built in like the basic:bit does.

Note: This 5 second video has sound. 

Everything You Need

Getting Started

A Little More

Rainbow Ready


A teacher builds a model bridge with a micro:bit powered servo driving a car back and forth. The project is programmed using MicroBlocks.



Contact me with questions.