Liz: Our friend Dr Andrew Robinson (whom you may have spotted on this site before) has been working hard to introduce schools to the Raspberry Pi, and recently he’s been teaming up with STEMnet ambassadors to run workshops. Here’s a post from him about a recent visit to Fairfield High Girls’ School in Manchester.
Just before Christmas we were inspired when we saw the Raspberry Pi engaging young people with computing at an event in a Manchester School. It’s great to see how well the Pi goes down with young people, the folks it was designed for!
The girls got to grips with both Python and Scratch, with basic interfacing and control-building games and reaction timers. The now famous Twitter Chicken also made an appearance and was well received, with the students wanting to build their own. By the end of the session some wanted Raspberry Pis and Scalextrics for Christmas.
The workshop was organised by Miss Nisbet, an IT teacher, after she came to our first CPD/networking event organised with STEMnet. We were really pleased when the workshops were a huge hit with a number of teachers, and the STEMnet Ambassador framework provided a means to support them.
The latest workshop was supported by Mike Sanders, a STEM Ambassador, and employee of Waters, who helped with technical support as well as showing the importance of computing in industry and as a career. If you work in computing and are looking at ways of getting involved in education I’d really recommend you contact your local STEMnet office.
We found the event really positive – the energy and enthusiasm of the girls have spurred us on to do more workshops. Some teachers we’ve met have concerns about using Raspberry Pi in the classroom, and we are able to show them that it’s possible. Actually getting hands on gives us experience of some to the problems schools face and the chance to come up with solutions; e.g. some schools were concerned that Raspberry Pis only worked with HDMI monitors, and we’ve found ways round this. There’s still more things to sort, like networking, but we’re convinced these can be overcome. The main thing is to experiment give things a go and then find a way round challenges when they occur.
We’ve got more workshops planned after Christmas. One school is working with a team of Ambassadors for a near-space mission, with others building robots and mobile apps. In all our workshops we focus on building and making something, not just learning to code. Many people don’t understand why they’d want to bother to learn programming, so our approach is to tempt them to make something, so they become thirsty for the knowledge of how to achieve it. We then push them to customise what they make so they realise they can shape technology for their needs rather than just having to consume shrink-wrapped products.
We want to package up materials from the workshops, together with experiences using Raspberry Pi in classrooms and practical ways to manage it. We expect to get the step-by-step guide to building the ‘techno bird box’ out after Christmas, ready for spring nesting season once we’ve finished road testing it with more youngsters.
If you’ve got ideas for more workshops or want to support us then get in touch, either comment below or get in touch though http://pi.cs.man.ac.uk/contact.htm. We’re keen to hear from people that would be keen to work with us to develop more workshops.
Liz: Here’s a guest post from our friend Dr Andrew Robinson at the University of Manchester, who has been leading a team of undergraduates this summer (most of whom seem to be called Tom – hi, Toms, it was a pleasure to meet you) in developing school projects and materials around the Raspberry Pi. They’ve got big plans for the coming months, including a contest, more schools outreach, festival appearances, work with kids and some fun with a Raspberry Pi-enabled birdbox (which had its very own table in the pub here in Cambridge when they last came to visit). Over to Andrew, who will explain a bit more about what they’ve been up to.
At the School of Computer Science at The University of Manchester we want to get more people interested in computer science and using Raspberry Pi. As such we’re launching the Great British Raspberry Pi Bake Off, a competition to get people making projects with a Raspberry Pi. We’ve also produced some example projects and sample worksheets to help people get started.
The competition has categories for under 18s and over 18s so everyone can enter, and they’ll be loads of hot tech prizes to win! We’ll make an official announcement soon on our competition page with the full rules.
We’re very lucky to have some of our talented students working for us; they’ve been paid to play – sorry, to develop – with Raspberry Pi over the summer. How cool is that? They’ve produced activities that teachers will be able to use in the classroom, but more importantly, that are really fun. You’ll be able to try the activities yourself at the Manchester Science Festival – we’ll be publishing more details soon.
Our Raspberry Pi bird box is the result of one of these projects. It’s got light beams that detect when a bird enters or leaves which then sends a message so you know to look out your window or it will take a photo. We’ll be adding other sensors for temperature, weight, etc. and combining these with image recognition from the camera to get some data mining going.
We want lots of people building their own nest boxes all feeding data back to bird mission control, a central webserver where you’ll be able to monitor bird activity across the world in real time! Using our Python and Scratch libraries with our hardware interfaces, even an absolute beginner can get something going in a matter of minutes.
With the help of MOSI and STEMNET we’re supporting teachers and STEM ambassadors to take Raspberry Pi activities into schools. The first sessions booked up in 3 hours, so we’ll be scheduling more soon. We’re developing activities that bridge the gap between what kids are interested in, e.g. nature, music or crafts; and computer science.
So, how can you join in the fun? Get your thinking caps on for a project to enter in to the bake off. Full details will be published later in September. [Liz: we'll be publicising them here when the guys in Manchester are ready.] If you’re a teacher or group leader (e.g. Scouts) then get in touch if you’re interested in knowing more about our worksheets, or want to come to one our sessions. Just leave your details on our website. We look forward to hearing from you!