Magic Button Activity
Learn how to detect magnetism around the micro:bit!
This project uses the micro:bit’s compass to detect the presence of a magnet.
The students can:
- Use the compass to detect a magnetic field
Standards Alignment (United Kingdom: CAS)
- Designs simple algorithms using loops, and selection i.e. if statements. (AL)
- Declares and assigns variables. (AB)
- Uses a variable and relational operators within a loop to govern termination. (AL) (GE)
- Uses logical reasoning to predict outcomes. (AL)
- Detects and corrects errors i.e. debugging, in algorithms. (AL)
- Creates programs that implement algorithms to achieve given goals. (AL)
- Understands that programming bridges the gap between algorithmic solutions and computers.(AB)
- Uses nested selection statements. (AL)
This is a simple magic trick you can perform to amaze your friends, where by moving the sticky labels on your micro:bit’s A and B button you appear to make the buttons really switch over.
How the trick works
Unfortunately, the only magic here is in the code. This trick uses a magnet, hidden in your hand, to tell the micro:bit to swap over the buttons so that when the magnet is near the microbit the A button starts working like the B button and the B button starts working like the A button.
About the authors
What you need
The only things you need for this trick are your micro:bit and any magnet that is small enough to fit in your hand, even a fridge magnet will work.
Step 1: getting the buttons to display A and B
Before we code the trick itself, we need to get the buttons working as you would expect them to so that pressing button A displays ‘A’ and pressing button B displays ‘B’:
Step 2: measuring magnetic force
We will use the micro:bit’s compass to detect the magnet. Compass’s tell us what direction we are pointing by detecting the Earth’s magnetic field but they can also detect any other magnet nearby. We will use that to check if our magnet is next to the micro:bit by using the magnetic force block found in the input menu’s ‘more’ section. As we only want to measure the strength we change the drop down to select ‘strength’:
Step 3: checking if the magnetic is nearby
Now we can measure the magnetic force near the microbit, we can check if the value we measure is so big that it means there must be a strong magnet nearby.
If you have ever played with magnets you know they have two ends, often called a north and south ‘pole’. Depending on which end of the magnet is pointing at the microbit the magnetic force measurement will either be a negative number like -100 or a positive number like 100. We just want to know if the strength is at least 100 we don’t care if its negative or positive so we also use the ‘absolute value of’ block from the maths menu to tell our code to ignore the negative sign and just treat -100 as if its 100.
So in the code below we will check if the absolute value of our magnetic field strength reading is more than 100 and save the result of that check in a new variable called ‘isSwitched’:
Step 4: running our ‘magnet nearby’ check all the time
At the moment our code to detect the magnet being nearby will only run once so we need to put it into a forever block so that it keeps getting run again and again checking for the magnet to come near to the micro:bit. We should also make sure ‘isSwitched’ is false when our program starts.
Step 5: swapping the buttons when we know the magnet is nearby
Now we can check the value of our variable ‘isSwitched’ whenever we want and we will know that the magnet is nearby if it’s value is ‘true’. Let’s use that to change how the buttons work and complete the code for our trick. We will add an ‘if, else’ block to each button’s code and check if we should swap over what each button displays because ‘isSwitched’ is equal to true:
Step 6: practice your performance
Now you just need to program your own micro:bit and practice the trick a few times before performing to friends. Try asking your friends to click the buttons after you have switched the labels and the trick won’t work for them as they don’t have a hidden magnet in their hand.
Try to add the following functionality:
- Add an animation when above a certain magnetic force strength
- A live magnetism read-out option when “A+B” buttons pressed.