Liz: I was going to post this tomorrow, but it’s so good I just couldn’t wait. We’ve just had some mail from Geert Maertens, from Anzegem in Belgium. He’s been working with a small group of volunteers to raise money to bring computing to a school in a remote area of Cameroon. I’ll quote him in full: what he’s got to tell us is fascinating, and makes us feel very, very proud. Thank you Geert, Kristel, Griet and Hans - please keep us posted!
I am a volunteer in a group that provides the funding to build a secondary school (Saint Marcellin Comprehensive College, or SAMACCOL) in a small village in Cameroon. The village is called Binshua and is located close to Nkambe in the Northwest region of Cameroon. This is a relatively poor region of the country, with no reliable water and electricity supply. Also, at present, the nearest internet connection is found in a town called Kumbo which is a three hour drive from Binshua, not so much because of the distance but rather because of the quality of the road.
Ever since we learned about the Raspberry Pi, we were dreaming of a computer lab equipped with these little wonders. And so we pursued this dream. For the necessary funds, we found a generous partner in Rotary International. Thanks to the efforts of the Rotarians in Waregem, Kortrijk and Kumbo and of the Rotary International Foundation, we have the money to provide the essential infrastructure for the school.
And so last month, we travelled with a group of four Pi enthusiasts (Kristel, Griet, Hans and myself) to Cameroon with 30 Pis in our suitcases. Also, we bought HDMI to VGA convertors here in Belgium because we knew it might be hard to find HDMI screens over there. Furthermore, the network equipment (router, switches, hard drive) and a small load of books all came along from Europe. The screens, keyboards and mice were bought in a local computer shop in Bamenda, Cameroon. Currently, it is not possible to connect the school to the public power network, so the class needs to be powered by a small generator of Chinese manufacture.
In the lab, we installed 25 Raspberry Pis. The remaining 5 RPis are currently unused. They certainly play a role in our plans for the future, but currently serve only as spare parts. All of the systems run on the Raspbian image from December, with LibreOffice and CUPS installed. The Pis are currently used to teach the children the basics of working with an Office suite. But we made sure that we gave the teacher a little introduction (and a good book) on programming in Scratch. So, now we are hoping that this will get Scratch introduced in the school curriculum as well.
The computers are all connected in a network. The central point of the network is a router that’s ready to be connected to a WAN modem. We hope to be able to provide a connection to the internet in the near future, which would certainly bring a small revolution into this rural area. Even without an internet connection, we believe that we created an advanced computer lab in this underdeveloped area. Giving the children in the area a chance to work their way to a better future. And that is our motivation.
If you’re at BETT this week, come over to Stand B240 to meet one of the Robs, Clive and a bunch of impaled Jelly Babies.
The Department for Education (DfE) has just announced that Computer Science is to be added to the new English Baccalaureate or EBacc. The EBacc is a series of new qualifications to replace the GCSEs that English kids take at 16, designed to be more rigorous than the existing standards.
This is an enormous curricular change for England, which has traditionally recognised only Physics, Biology and Chemistry as core science subjects. Computer Science is now on a level footing with those subjects, carrying the same weight and prestige, and having an equal impact on choices pupils can make later about A Levels and University courses. This is wonderful news.
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said today:
It is great news that Google is helping the brilliant Raspberry Pi project. We are replacing the old-fashioned ICT curriculum with a Computer Science curriculum. This will combine with the Raspberry Pi project to spread teaching of computer coding which is so educationally and economically vital.
The new Computer Science curriculum replaces the old ICT curriculum, discontinued last year. The old ICT courses did not prepare students for studying Computer Science at university (or for much else); we’re delighted to see their replacement being treated as a proper, exacting academic subject. There’s a statement from the DfE that you can read in full over at their website; it’s worth a look.
What specifics would you like to see included in a new CompSci curriculum?
Today’s been a bit unlike most Tuesdays at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Today we’re the recipients of a very generous grant from Google Giving, which will provide 15,000 Raspberry Pi Model Bs for schoolkids around the UK. Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, has just been to visit Cambridge, and he and Eben have been teaching a classroom of local kids to code all morning. Lucky kids.
(Usually on Tuesday mornings we eat biscuits and do engineering. This is a bit of a change of pace.)
We’re going to be working with Google and six UK educational partners to find the kids who we think will benefit from having their very own Raspberry Pi. CoderDojo, Code Club, Computing at Schools, Generating Genius, Teach First and OCR will each be helping us identify those kids, and will also be helping us work with them. You’ll already have seen the Raspberry Pi teaching materials from Computing at Schools; OCR will also be creating 15,000 free teaching and learning packs to go with the Raspberry Pis.
We’re absolutely made up over the news; this is a brilliant way for us to find kids all over the country whose aptitude for computing can now be explored properly. We believe that access to tools is a fundamental necessity in finding out who you are and what you’re good at. We want those tools to be within everybody’s grasp, right from the start.
The really good sign is that industry has a visible commitment now to trying to solve the problem of CS education in the UK. Grants like this show us that companies like Google aren’t prepared to wait for government or someone else to fix the problems we’re all discussing, but want to help tackle them themselves. We’re incredibly grateful for their help in something that we, like them, think is of vital importance. We think they deserve an enormous amount of credit for helping some of our future engineers and scientists find a way to a career they’re going to love.
We had some pretty fantastic news yesterday. Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google, visited London’s Science Museum to give a talk on Why Science Matters, as part of the Alan Turing 100th birthday events which are taking place around the country this year. And he made an announcement which has had us jumping around the office with glee.
As part of Google’s very non-evil drive to improve science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) provision in schools, the company will be sponsoring the charity Teach First to take on more than a hundred “exceptional” graduates for training and subsequent mentoring. These new teachers will also be given bursaries by Google with which to buy classroom equipment. Schmidt used his speech to mention Raspberry Pi as relevant, cost-appropriate classroom hardware for the scheme.
“The success of the BBC Micro in the 1980s shows what’s possible. There’s no reason why Raspberry Pi shouldn’t have the same impact, with the right support,” he said. ”It’s vital to expose kids to this early if they’re to have the chance of a career in computing. Only 2% of Google engineers say they weren’t exposed to computer science at high school. While not every child is going to become a programmer, those with aptitude shouldn’t be denied the chance.”
Obviously, we’re chuffed to bits. Teach First estimates that 20,000 children in deprived areas will be reached by this scheme, and we’re really excited to see how the project develops. Read more about the speech here, here and here.
Liz: Alex Bradbury, one of our volunteers at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory (he posts on our forums as ASB), has been talking to other universities about their plans for the Raspberry Pi. I asked him to write a bit for us about one project he’d been telling me about in particular: a hardware/software framework for young hackers and experimenters being developed in India. Over to Alex – and thank you to him and to Dr Ajith Kumar.
Dr. Ajith Kumar of the Inter-University Accelerator Centre, New Delhi recently got in touch with us to share his progress on interfacing the next revision of the expEYES device with the Raspberry Pi. The expEYES (“experiments for Young Engineers and Scientists”) aims to provide a low cost platform for experimentation and education in electronics and physics. The device has 12 bit analog Input/Output, Digital I/O, time interval measurements having microsecond resolution, and several other features accessible from Python. It is packaged with a number of accessories which, with the expEYES software can be used to perform a large number of experiments. For example, the device can be used to study electromagnetic induction, the conductivity of water, to measure gravity by time of flight, alongside many other applications. It aims to enable anybody with elementary Python skills to develop new experiments in addition to the ones already documented.
Ajith and his colleagues at the PHOENIX project have been working on low cost hardware designs to be used in education over a number of years, and all their projects have open, royalty-free designs. The pictures in this post show a new version of expEYES currently under development, aiming for an even lower price point than the original price of $25, or even less under volume production. Their team has been looking for lower-cost alternatives to netbooks for use in conjunction with expEYES, and settled on the Raspberry Pi as a solution. It connects via USB, and Ajith has also designed a version which interfaces through a serial interface using the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins.
Much more information about expEYES is available on the project’s website. In
particular, see here for a more in-depth description of the new device and here for more pictures of the expEYES with the Raspberry Pi. The PHOENIX team
are now working on producing a larger test batch, doing further development on the micro-controller code and then continuing to seek out a path to mass production and global distribution.
Ajith is keen to hear your comments and questions, and will be monitoring and responding to the comments of this post.
Liz: A little while ago, we had an email from Alan Herbert, who helps run the Boreatton Scout troop. The troop had been hoping to get their hands on a Raspberry Pi but hadn’t been lucky with the first batch. They’re a pretty special troop, who have a real affinity with things technological; they’ve been busy winning robotics prizes and building rockets, and we decided they were just the sort of kids we wanted to see get an early start with the Raspberry Pi. We warned them that the software stack isn’t complete yet, and that there would be bugs in there which are being ironed out in time for the educational release – in particular, we’re working on X drivers at the moment to speed up scrolling and so on, which can make things aggravatingly slow for some, but Alan assured us that they’d be able to work around any problems.
The scouts have had their Raspi for a just under a month now: I asked Alan if he’d write something for us about how they’ve been getting on, and he’s really gone to town on it. An enormous thank you to Alan and all the scouts – we hope to feature more of what they’ve been up to with the Raspberry Pi as they develop their mind-control robot project. (And be sure to read down to the end, where there’s some video from some of the scouts on what they’ve been doing.)
The Boreatton Scouts Engineering and Science Team
My scout troop likes doing science projects and competitions – I think most kids do if they have an enthusiastic leader or teacher – and they take part in the First Lego League robotics competition. This year they did well and won their Regional Finals at Manchester University, and went on to win the National Finals Robot Design Prize at Loughborough University. We were chosen as one of the teams to represent the UK at the European Open Championships in Germany in June. Part of the competition is a research project, and the scouts have been busy experimenting in ways to preserve raspberries (see the connection coming!), so my house is filling up with bottles of gases for controlled atmosphere packaging, raspberries pickling in Coca-Cola and generally lots of raspberries in various states of decay! In the international competitions we want to show off some cool Lego-robotics ideas in our base camp, and we started planning what to do just as the Raspberry Pi was launched. Perfect! Especially as, although we missed the front of the queue to buy one, Liz at the Raspberry Pi Foundation liked our idea and sent us one of the very first!
So how have we got on? It’s great! The scouts love it and are very proud to be part of the community that is helping test and develop the Pi.
With all our techy projects, it is important to have a goal and to know what we want to do. That’s easy – we want a mind-controlled Lego NXT robot that is portable and independent of big bulky wired computers, and the Raspberry Pi looks just the job. We want it to be fun too – if it’s a computer then it must have some good games too. That’s what computers are for, right?
So what do we need from the Pi? It needs to do the basic computer things – internet, games, PowerPoint, more games…and it needs to look cool!
Putting it together
First things first – we made a Lego case! It is our Raspberry Pi now! The case is quite easy: the Pi fits into seven splots by eleven splots, and to allow for the the USB and LAN ports we need it to be three bricks high.
The Boreatton Scouts' custom-built Lego Raspberry Pi case
The SD card operating system download now has good detailed instructions. We bought a cheap Sony 8Gb SD card from Maplin, and had no problems once we remembered to resize the partitions after copying the image. We decided to use a old BlackBerry 700mA charger; an mini-USB, light-up keyboard; and a mini light-up mouse; all connected to a newish LCD TV through HDMI. Everything worked right out of the box (our new Lego box that is!). Wired LAN worked right away, and we were on the internet.
Because the software is still in development, it is very slow at the moment! You need patience when browsing in LXDE windows through Midori. I guess it is important to realise what you are trying to do with the Pi, and it you want a netbook or a laptop – that’s not the Pi. But you do need to be able to connect to the internet, and we needed to be away from the wired LAN which is in a room that we can’t devote to the scouts. This is where we ran into problems – the nano-usb WiFi dongles didn’t have drivers available that I could find in Debian, and nor did the full size D-link 54G dongle, so we took the tiny WiFi dongle back to Maplins and exchanged for a Netgear N150 full sized dongle that had been shown to work.
Not for me! Everything worked as per the instructions on the Raspberry Pi website up to the point where it is supposed to connect. This is now well documented as a USB power related issue, and lead eventually to trying a range of power supplies and hub combinations. In the end we found that cheap powered USB travel hubs (the ones that say power port available in case your devices need extra power) try to take power from the hub, and that WiFi and Bluetooth dongles seem to need more than the 150mA that is enough to trip the polyfuses protecting the board at the USB ports. You need a hub that does not connect unless it is powered. I also got quite adept at whipping the lid off the case and checking voltage on the board. The BlackBerry charger seems to deliver slightly low voltage, the iPad charger with a USB to micro-usb (BlackBerry) cable delivers too much voltage (5.3V). So does my Maplin external laptop battery. Quite frustrating.
In the end I gave up messing with random chargers and hub combinations and got a digital bench power supply (cheaper than the cost of petrol driving back and forth to Maplin, who, while not necessarily offering the cheapest price or most comprehensive range, were very helpful and allowed me try and exchange any of the peripherals if they didn’t work). That delivers 5.07V which drops a bit by the time it arrives at the test point. I use an old Belkin powered four-port hub that is not connected to the USB 5V line for WiFi or Bluetooth, and a cheap travel hub for keyboard and mouse. We generally have to boot the Raspberry Pi first then plug in the travel hub. There are still issues, and in particular, the Pi likes me to restart on average 3.14 times before booting up with WiFi working, but at least I can always get up and running now.
Introducing BERT5e, the Boreatton Scouts' prize-winning robot
We do want to be free of heavy accessories, so for going to our Lego competition we have bought an OPTOMA PK320 pico projector that works great from batteries or mains, and takes AV out or HDMI (although the HDMI port is very close to the mains plug, and I have to run off batteries if using my HDMI-mini-HDMI adaptor on the projector). It will be nice to sort our battery power for the Raspberry Pi and its hubs in due course, but for now we run with the bench power supply and the powered hub. I guess I should get the scouts to make up a little regulator circuit to see what happens when we try to run from four AA batteries…
As for drivers, the Debian wiki gives pretty good instructions and I found that the www.wiki.debian.org/WiFi and www.wiki.debian.org/BluetoothUser gave clear instructions that worked for the Netgear N150 WiFi dongle (Atheros chipset, also my WiFi is not secured so I needed to give the essid name directly in the configuration file rather than using a WEP configuration file – the Debian wiki has more general instructions than the ones on the forum links) and for an Abe UB22S Bluetooth dongle. We use the ALSA drivers and the modprobe command sudo modprobe snd-bcm2835 (searched for sound on the forum). Video works through VLC (www.videolan.org) but with rather odd colours (this is a known issue for the old Debian “squeeze” image).
We can also get the Raspberry Pi to drive the Lego robot through nxt-python (Hurrah!) www.code.google.com/p/nxt-python/ gives instructions to get the source and run from the Python IDE in LXDE. We ran one of the demo examples and BERT5e obligingly drove forward 3cm! One small step for BERT5e, and then we stopped for the day so as to end on a win!
Last but not least, we have the Quake III demo working.
Some of it works, some of the time – just not all of it works all of the time
Actually, with the above setup, we can get all of it to work, just not all of it at once – it is still not happy at having WiFi, Bluetooth, mouse and keyboard all together… [Liz: I'm going to butt in here, scouts, and suggest you replace the backlit mouse and keyboard with something that requires less power, and see how you get on with that setup.] I’ve parked that issue for now as we can set it up to do whatever we want now and just reboot when we want to change the setup. Hopefully that will be sorted out by the Educational release. Our next target is to get Puzzlebox Brainstorms. This works well from our laptops with an Emotiv EEG headset, and the Brainstorms software is written in Python. We probably need to get a NeuroSky EEG headset though as the Emotiv drivers are commercial and not yet available for Linux.
The scouting movement has really come on since I (Liz) was a girl, when it was gender-segregated, and, for my Girl Guides troop, all about making tea, washing up properly (I had the badge and everything) and learning what amounted to basic nursing skills. These scouts get to go mud-rafting, prepare pheasants for cooking, shoot bows and arrows, and go mountaineering. I think I was born a quarter of a century too early.
But finally, I can leave the scouts to just have a play on their Pi and be confident that they will be able to do things and explore. I do not know Scratch, but they have seen it at school and very quickly made some programs to chase a raspberry fish around the screen (you always lose, but can run and hide in the corners for a while); and a smiley face maze game where you have to hide from Pac-Man-type monsters that patrol their corners of the maze. They can all, of course, beat my attempts at Quake III.
A couple of them came across last Sunday to make an electric pickup for their guitar (a piezoelectric transducer disk for 99p), and to see what they could do on the Raspberry Pi. They had to be dragged away from the game they had made, and were busy changing and improving it as their parents finally prized them away from it – that’s what it’s about isn’t it!
The scouts’ games are pretty basic compared to downloaded games and anyone else would get bored with them in no time at all, but it is completely different when it is your game that you’ve written yourself, or a game your mate has written. The fun is in planning how to make it better and problem-solving to get the code to do that. GUI programming languages like SCRATCH and the Lego robotics NXT-G mean that my scouts can get to that point and enjoy developing something that is working straight away. They could do that on any computer, and it is a little bit intangible exactly what makes the Raspberry Pi so much cooler than a laptop. But when you can see the board and put it in your pocket it seems much more real. With the Pi they can have their own computer that will be able to go anywhere and it doesn’t matter if they mess things up – they can recreate the whole system by recopying the SD card. Developing the operating system and installing hardware is, for them, more like getting apps from the App Store than upgrading Windows. They will be able to share that with each other in the same way as they recommend new apps to each other. And they like the idea that when they have one each (they all want one each and several are in the queue already) they can just swap SD cards and will have recreated their computer with all their projects.
The initial development release of the Raspberry Pi has had some frustrations as the software and hardware gets sorted out, but that is part of the fun of this stage of the Pi. The scouts can see what I am doing to get it working (with the help of everyone on the troubleshooting forum!) and enjoy the small wins as we make progress.
Should everyone have a slice of the Pi?
How will the Raspberry Pi work for other groups? Obviously, I have a great group of scouts who win national STEM competitions and are a pretty unique bunch, but what makes them succeed? They come from a decent state school and are an ordinary mix of 10-14 year olds. They are not selected in any way other than wanting to join the team, so it’s not just for ‘gifted and talented’ kids. But the leaders enjoy science projects and we generally find that it is very easy to enthuse the scouts at everything that we are enthusiastic about ourselves. They are doing it in their own time and are having fun and not ‘being taught’. They have learned that if they put in the effort they can do really well at whatever they are doing, and now that they know they can succeed, that enthusiasm and confidence means they usually do! I think that formula will work for most groups of kids if they find an enthusiastic teacher or leader. They will be able to do all sorts of great things with a Raspberry Pi, and the price means that once they are widely available, it will be cheap enough for practically any group to get involved – just check out the Projects and Collaboration Forum.
As for the teacher/leader, you do not need to be a computing expert. You need to be reasonably computer literate at this stage obviously, but the Raspberry Pi Forum works well and there are plenty of people out there who will help you through getting to know Linux. The wider Debian community has produced a lot of walk-through instructions to do most things. I think the main requirement is to have some long term objective of what you want to do as a class/group and to want to do it!
Hear from the scouts themselves, and see the BERT5e the robot in action, as well as a game Doc has written in Scratch on the Raspberry Pi. The scouts here are Matt Farrow, Matty (Doc) Smith, Isabelle (Biz) Herbert and Ben Thomas.
Liz: Commander Coder, one of our friends from Computing at School, left the message below on our forums last night. Because I know not all our forum visitors read the Educational applications section, I’m copying what he posted here. Please consider whether there’s anything you can do to help out – we really value community input and we’d be really chuffed if you can take part.
I know a lot of you are interested to learn more about what we’re planning for this year’s educational release. Myra, our educational co-ordinator, has been working on the project for more than a month now, and I hope we’ll be able to publish something about her plans for the run-up to the next academic year later this week.
I’ll hand over to Commander Coder:
Over the past few months the Computing at School’s working group (CAS) has been working on a user manual to be ready for the educational launch. The manual is destined to answer that question to be asked by many Raspberry Pi owners; “What do I do with it?“ The manual will be right there on the desktop when the Raspberry Pi boots up. Thus, the owner won’t need an internet connection to get started.
The manual will answer the question with a series of “step-by-step” guides and “type-in and run” experiments in computer science. CAS has agreed with the Raspberry Pi Foundation that the following languages will be available on the educational launch SD card in a few months. There are hundreds of other languages and systems, but these will be enough to give Raspberry Pi users an experience of computer science.
* Python 3 (including PyGame, PyQt4 and similar libraries)
* and C/C++ (naturally)
We have created a series of experiments for the owners to try out but we’re hungry for more. This is a call to the Raspberry Pi development community for your contribution to the educational manual.
As in the good old days of magazine listings, we are looking for short programs followed by a description of how they do what they do and preferably how it relates to a computing concept. If you’d like to contribute you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ideally, point me at a website which has your experiment, add it to the Wiki Manual section, or simply send a zip or tarball containing the program and readme. Please don’t send links to material you don’t own. We want your contribution, not someone else’s.
Thanks in advance for any contributions and any we use in the manual will be properly attributed to you. We can’t promise we’ll use all the contributions, and I’ve seen a lot of them already mentioned on the forums and the wiki, but we’ll try to collate the most appropriate for teaching computer science to the Raspberry Pi owners.
Even if you don’t want to contribute anything to the manual you can follow our progress on Twitter @rasp_filling, and our Facebook page.