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Coding a worthwhile endeavor for this Bayfield middle schooler

Hayden Upson spent months working on his micro:bit calculator
Hayden Upson, 12, a seventh grader at Bayfield Middle School, holds a micro:bit on March 14 that he coded a calculator onto. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

BAYFIELD – Hayden Upson spent numerous weeks creating and coding his own pocket-size calculator, called a micro:bit. It took time to incorporate multiple features, but he accomplished the feat much sooner than he expected.

The Bayfield Middle School seventh grader started his coding project around the start of the 2023-24 school year in August.

He spent about a half-hour per week working on it and completed it the final week of February when he incorporated negative numbers into the micro:bit.

“I thought it would take a lot longer,” he said. “I didn’t think that it would be this easy to actually make it. … I expected it to take probably the entire school year. … I’m pretty impressed with myself.”

That endeavor began one day out of pure boredom. Sifting through the “MakeCode” feature on Microsoft’s website, Hayden found the application needed to get to work.

“So, I thought, ‘Why not build a calculator?’” he said.

A micro:bit is a tiny pocket-size calculator that was first developed and launched by the BBC in 2015.

A micro:bit is half the size of a credit card, and it includes a processor, accelerometer and magnetometer sensors. It also features Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and it can be powered up either by USB or an external battery pack.

Back when he attended Bayfield Intermediate School, Hayden used a program called “Scratch,” which is similar to what he’s currently using now. That piqued his initial interest in coding.

When he first started working on his micro:bit in August, he could only do addition. Soon enough, he added subtraction, multiplication and division capabilities.

Hayden had to figure out how to select specific numbers, how to do the actual math and create negative numbers. That alone took time and created some frustrations, but he figured it out.

Hayden Upson, 12, a seventh grader at Bayfield Middle School, holds a micro:bit on March 14 that he coded a calculator onto. (Jerry McBride/ Durango Herald)
Basic math

To do five plus five, for example, Hayden uses his left thumb to add five followed by right thumb to add another five. Pushing those two buttons simultaneously with both thumbs, it added up to 10 displayed.

He can also form a negative number by tilting the micro:bit to the side.

The micro:bit also has a shaking feature, which will make a buzzing noise when starting from the top.

“With Hayden, what was exceptional about it was that the depth and breadth of his code,” said Paul Pyatt, Hayden’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics teacher. “For example, there are only buttons on there and a shake as an input.”

Hayden’s micro:bit has the ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Within that, he can do exponents.

Pyatt said that’s what sets Hayden apart from others who have worked on such a coding system.

“He’s got that edge. He’s got that extra something. That’s what Hayden has,” Pyatt said. “… With Hayden, it’s his ability to think logically. He can think step by step and then provide an outcome for it. … He’s just one of those lucky kids that can excel at something without too much effort. … He did it in a very short space of time.”

Hayden Upton, 12, a seventh grader at Bayfield Middle School, holds a micro:bit on March 14 that he coded a calculator onto. (Jerry McBride/ Durango Herald)
What the future holds

Hayden said he is pondering a possible occupation in robotics or coding, adding that his ability to learn how to code a micro:bit so quickly can help his future job prospects.

Beyond that sense of pride upon completing the work, it taught him a critical life skill.

“I really liked when I had a problem and I fixed it. At first, when there’s a problem, it sucks. But after minutes, (you spend) a lot of time thinking about how to fix it and you finally find a solution. It’s really nice,” he said. “If I have a problem in real life and I fix it, it just feels so good to fix it.”

Whether Hayden needs to get certain chores done or something else in life happens, calculating on the micro:bit taught him to find a way to ensure he can fix the issue, no matter what it takes.


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