Integration of the PI into schools

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by thesynapseuk » Wed Aug 03, 2011 1:14 pm
Hi there,

As a school teacher with a passion for videogames I'm naturally very interested in this device and all that it stands for.

I've written a piece about it here, highlighting some concerns of mine with regards to marketing, whipping up enthusiasm and making it as successful as we all want it to be. Basically, how to get teachers and students on board.

http://amplecan.com/archives/762

I'd be interested in people's feedback, particularly from the RaspberryPI foundation.

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by Mark Hudson » Wed Aug 03, 2011 2:46 pm
Some well written comments and a lot of sense spoken.

I agree that a big issue in terms of education is that it has to be delivered by teachers who have some idea of what they are doing and that "ICT" skills are not enough. But this is where the RPi could make some inroads if it has enough plug-in-and-go capability and doesn't need an already up to speed programming guru to make it do something useful & fun. Simply printing 'hello world' will not wash any longer... ?

Could, for example, a nearly finished game be the STARTING point for the pupil. They could edit existing code to make it rain in a car race, so they do a little bit of work, but then get a big reward by seeing how fast they can get round the track.

This is where good ready to use resources (the very time consuming bit for teachers) are needed to go with the hardware - but who will do it?!
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by Svartalf » Wed Aug 03, 2011 3:42 pm
The biggest problem is trying to convey that nothing of value comes "easy" to them to start off with.

Even if you could manage to have something like Platinum Arts Sandbox run reasonably well on the R-Pi, you're not going to get COD level gaming out of it without some effort in wiring the game together (And it would be something that you might get a whiff of that level of gaming without much in the way of programming with... And it's on the short-list of things I'd like to see tried on this when it's in people's hands...). The problem wasn't so much the tool, much as you surmised on your blog post, thesynapse-uk. The problem lies in getting them interested to take on the challenge. There's got to be a payoff of some sort- and that's where the real work with the R-Pi project lies, I suspect.

But, you need a platform to DO that work. Gotta start somewhere.
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by thesynapseuk » Wed Aug 03, 2011 4:50 pm
Maybe I wasn't clear, for me the challenge IS getting kids interested. If they were already then there is an abundance of tools lying around already, although I feel that the R-Pi will lower the barrier to getting stuck in considerably.

I still think it's a question of resources and getting teachers enthusiastic about it as well. Like I said, I just want this to be everything that it could be. As for me, I can't program yet, but having this device and the good it could do for kids makes me want to learn to teach them. Well apart from the fact I've always wanted to learn, but this may help me have a bit more discipline about it.
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by abishur » Wed Aug 03, 2011 5:42 pm
I find it interesting that everyone equates the learning value of the r-pi to learning to program. Now the r-pi is DEFINITELY a powerful tool in regards to programming. And I would also say that encouraging the next generation to learn programming is part of the official goal of the r-pi team (in fact I believe they have alluded to as much somewhere on the site), but let's not forget the hardware side of things ;) There may not be much in the way of modifying the r-pi (adding daughterboards, swapping out processors or ram, etc.), but having an entire computer laid on a single board will make it wonderfully easy to display the flow of communication that is involved in anything the computer does.

Not only that, but just getting a PC into the hands of a student will do wonders in removing the computer illiteracy of people across the globe (no joke, I have people who pushed their computer closer to the wall when I suggested the backup the computer before restoring it to factory defaults. As you might imagine it was less helpful to them then they would have hoped). Not only that but by using a Linux based system I hope it will also be a good teaching tool to help combat that illiteracy Apple has encouraged since the beginning and Microsoft has picked up with its latest iterations. I'm all for a computers being easy to use, but to hide away all the higher level operations to the point where even a seasoned veteran has problems setting things up manually is rather ridiculous!

Soap box ranting aside, I think the initial breakthrough the r-pi will enjoy is less in the realm of programming (a subject that can only really be pursued on ones on time or in college here in the states) and more in the realm of hardware and OS instruction (this is how you set up a network, here's how USB devices communicate, this is wireshark). Of course, I've always leaned more towards hardware anyways, so I might be a little biased :P
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by thesynapseuk » Thu Aug 04, 2011 2:04 pm
I think this is an interesting point and you're right - there are of course more uses to be made of the R-Pi beyond programming. However, learning to program would be more accessible (in some ways), more useful beyond and more applicable. The reason for the 'hardware' illiteracy that you speak of (again, a good point) is because people just want to use a computer without having to know all the nuts and bolts first. Do you drive? Do you know all the intimate workings of a car engine? Maybe you do, but not everyone should have to learn the workings of an engine in order to be able to drive. Business has catered to that.
In fact, personally, I used to use Linux a fair amount. Until one day what I wanted to do with a computer changed and I just wanted to get on with using it, not having to struggle with the system and OS internals to get a basic program to run (building dependencies....urrrgh!). So I kind of see both points of view to be honest.
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by Emanuele » Thu Aug 04, 2011 9:39 pm
Here is my view on this.

Most of the kids will never be interested in programming. And the way I remember it, they never were even back in the 80s; the majority of them cared only about playing games.

Yes, getting good results is part of the motivation, but programming itself is where the fun is... for a small minority of people. I don't deny that there's a problem with the fact that the bar in technology has been raised, but I think that the problem is smaller than we think.

The problem today is that, out of the pool of the ones who would enjoy programming, fewer and fewer are exposed to programming in the first place.

Now (and more in general), Is it fair to force every kid to learn how to program so that a very small minority can get their best chance to fully express themselves? I don't think so (but you could argue that). Is it a problem for the economy if we lose a few potential programmers? I don't know and I don't care. The reason why I think is right to spend 10-20 hours to teach a tiny bit of programming to every kid is that the invention of programming was really a cultural milestone.
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by abishur » Thu Aug 04, 2011 11:10 pm
By that same logic is it fair that I be forced to take 12 years of history (not counting college)? Making it worse it's not 12 unique years, it's the same thing over and over. Every couple of years there might be something unique (in the 7th grade it was Texas History) but other than that it was always the same time period. We never made it to modern history.

Or what about English? It's certainly good for me to know how to form logical sentences and know how my own language works, but that stopped in the 5th grade, everything from then on was examining literature. Or what about mandatory Art, Music, science and all so that the minority of people interested in THOSE subjects can get a leg up for the rest of their lives.

The point is exposure. Children need to be exposed to all these various things so that they can learn if they ARE interested in it at all. I was extremely interested in computers as a child, but my father wouldn't let me pursue it because it was a dead end life style. I was finally able to change his mind in high school but a course like what the R-pi team is shooting for here would have literally changed my life. My education was initially crippled because educators considered teaching computers for a "minority of interested students" worthless.
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by Emanuele » Fri Aug 05, 2011 5:49 am
Exactly. The reason kids are forced to study History for 12 years cannot be to expose them to History so they might become Historians. I think the reason is that History, Literature, Art, etc... are considered central to our culture. And my point is that learning the few central ideas of programming is not like learning how refrigerators work. The fact that we have "calculating machines" changed our culture deeply and I think that a firm (i.e. practical) understanding of what these calculating machines really are should be common knowledge.

Exposure to various careers is good, just like a field trip to a factory is, but I think it would be a mistake to force kids to a mandatory full course in programing. Specific courses in "real" ICT should be there for the ones who want it, and I'd like to see more extracurricular activities related to ICT, but these are not the point I'm trying to make.
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by Emanuele » Fri Aug 05, 2011 7:54 am
To be more specific, for me, practical programming should be a small activity within Maths or Science (but it should be there!). I'm not familiar with the UK system. I would say 10-20 hours anywhere in the 8-12 age range. This is where I think Raspberry Pi could fit in. I vote for LUA with a simple 2D picture module (a sort of modern Logo).
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by abishur » Fri Aug 05, 2011 12:37 pm
I get what you're saying about culture, but I'm actually coming from a US based school system myself. Sure History, English, Math, and Science are all important, but 12 years exclusive important? I don't think so. Especially when History and English just become the same thing over and over again. It's important for more technically minded things to take the place of the redundancy being forced about children currently. Or, more importantly, even OFFERED to children who want it. I had some (limited) option in the classes I took, a class like this at the very least needs to be an option on the table and not the current complete void that presently exists.
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by Emanuele » Fri Aug 05, 2011 4:02 pm
Maybe it's too difficult to have a general discussions about education. The systems might vary too much from country to country.

To give the board a different perspective, in Italy you make an important, one-time decision when you are 13-14 and you choose to which secondary school to go. You are then in that school until you are 19. In there, you cannot pick the "classes" you want.

As an example, the most prestigious secondary schools are usually of a kind named "Liceo Classico", where the important (i.e. more homework / hours per week) subjects are: Literature, Latin and Ancient Greek. Kind of tragic, because in some areas the only good school around might be a Liceo Classico.

So, in Italy is crucial to get a kid interested before that decision. If already motivated by then, the kid can go to a technical school where (s)he will have plenty of exposure to IT or whatever. The catch is that technical schools are often regarded as inferior.
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by IRBaboon » Sat Aug 06, 2011 6:05 pm
For myself programming in school was boring and a waste of time. (Even for me being interested in science/games/EDV.)
We treat kids like things. Watch those chinese, christian or muslim kids for example.
They are forced to memories books (bible, koran or shakespeare) to satisfy their parents.
Who asks children what they want to be or learn?
Maybe the swedish school model works.

So, in Italy is crucial to get a kid interested before that decision. If already motivated by then, the kid can go to a technical school where (s)he will have plenty of exposure to IT or whatever. The catch is that technical schools are often regarded as inferior.


We are walking apes and only some of us are interested science.
Trust me, there is little interest in EDV. I would say most of the EDV people are after the money/status.

The best way i know of would be an own website or a game.
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by AmyS3 » Sat Aug 06, 2011 11:42 pm
the education system not only differs between country´s but inside of the country as well.
i´ve been raised in two parts of germany.
the school system is a bit complicated since we have some more school types. i´m not going to get in detail here.

one part of my life as child i spend in berlin where i was born and the schools there have not much money for the high amount of kids to be able to teach them those science/technic/edv classes. in the edv classes of a secondary school (this i how you would call it) they just learn how to switch on the box and how to open a webbrowser and a little bit office so they can write a cv in word. thats basically all for edv. no programming or else. pretty often they don´t even learn the basic of computing and how it works. but it still differs between the schools and the teachers as well while some schools/teachers go a bit deeper in the matter but still no programming at all.
in the sience/technic classes they have maybe a few models the kids can look at but mostly its only dry theory.
it changes a bit when they attend to a higher school like a college in english terms. but it is still pretty rare to get to know programming at all.
the only way to learn programming is when you attend a IT based apprenticeship after you leave the school. or if you be able to attend the next higher school like a uni. we have another school between college and uni in germany called gymnasium. there you my be able to get to know computers and programming as a training for the uni or a edv based apprenticeship.

the other part of my life i spend in south germany in a town near "ULM" maybe some of you know that place but the majority of you dont.
the schools in that area have a higher budged and a different teaching model.
in the science and technic classes you are able to actually build something with your own hands and see how and why it works.. or not :-) which makes learning the stuff way more easy and interesting.
the edv classes are more sophisticated as well because you learn how a computer basically works. also how the programms work and what they do with the stuff you enter. but normaly you don´t get any programming expirience in those secondary schools there as well. exept they have some robotic models which can be programmed. we did not have the "turtle" in germany.. sadly ;-) if they had one it was more like the asuro but with a way more simplified interface and language.
when you enter the college grade the edv classes may already offer some programming.
the higher school grades as well depending which classes you attend.

thats basically the german school system. but that was around 1990..
i was lucky that my stepfather had a computer shop when i was still aged 8-16 where i could get more insights about the hardware and software. there i had my first programming trys as well.
but unfortunately he did not realy teach me anything. i had to gather all the knowledge by myself.
exept for electronics. he was always trying to teach me that stuff which i realy areciate. i still love electronics. there is no sweeter smell like an exploded capacitor XD

so looking at the budged the schools have in germany it would be absolute awesome to get the raspi in the schools!
since the little gemstone is so affordable the kids could by them on their own or from the school with some kind of discount..
the only problem which would be left is the time the teachers can spend with the kids on the raspi to generate some education :-)
normaly they have only one edv class of 45 minutes in the week. maybe two.
but they have normaly 2 classes of sports and 1 class religion... just skip those absolutely unnecessary classes and give the edv classes 135 minutes more time.. they could also skip those boring politic classes..
awww... if i had the power i would change the whole school system since it is outdated anyway...
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by Lob0426 » Fri Aug 12, 2011 1:38 am
I think with the mentality of youth here in the US it will be a milestone to get them beyond using it as a music player. When I was a teen I could not wait to drive. Nowadays they are more worried about texting their friends and what is being said on Facebook. I bought a car and they buy cell phones. The goal will to be to break this cycle, the social cycle, long enough to attempt a step into learning. You will have to literally make this learning "Cool". Do not take this as negative comments. It just needs to be realized that it is going to be a tough sell to mid teens. The younger the age you introduce it the better it is going to go. This needs to be considered a long term project.
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by tnelsond » Fri Aug 12, 2011 3:39 am
Well then, make it so they have to code their own music player, and a web browser first.
Ok maybe not.
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by Emanuele » Fri Aug 12, 2011 7:22 am
Writing games for smarthphones (and I guess apps for facebook) IS considered cool by some late teens. And I'm not talking about "geeks" here. So, given the opportunity, some of them will try. How many will enjoy it and stick around is another issue.
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by Marchombre » Fri Aug 12, 2011 3:11 pm
In France, students from 11 to 14 must attend lessons called "technologie". 1 hour per week I think, don't remember exactly. They choose one project per year, to introduce very basic things like how to build a clock, a mini simplistic robot... Usually, CRAPPY projects. You end up with some lame useless thing. Of course, the idea is to choose cheap projects, so the childrens have to pay only a few euros (like 10) to help the school to afford those projects. That's the reason why it's crappy.
Don't you think it might be a good idea to offer those schools a project, which might be something like / build your own Raspberry Pi. You'd ship all that's necessary for making one, and they'll have to do it by their own. I would have loved to do it myself back then !
And let me tell you that would make a lot of sales, as just every children attend those lessons. Just imagine 2-3 % of them doing such a project...

Later, in some specialised in electronic high school, there are some similar yet much more complex lessons. Maybe they are more capable to achieve successfully such a project without screwing things. I don't know how much complicated it is to put all the parts together. Nor what it takes do to it. It would be very interesting, that I'm sure.
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by jamesh » Fri Aug 12, 2011 3:22 pm
Raspi isn't really suitable as a kit - you cannot solder on a ball grid array package with a soldering iron - you need specialist equipment. You could solder on the connectors I suppose, but it would make no difference to the price.

More appropriate would be making add on boards with standard DIL chips on a breadboard. That could be cheap and cheerful. You get the joy of making the hardware, and producing the software to drive it.

So what would you guys/gals make as an add on board that would be a good school project?
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by Lob0426 » Sat Aug 13, 2011 7:36 pm
Controller cards that can switch appliances on and off.
Short range wireless learning board.
PLC boards.
Radio receiver board.
Each board type should teach a new skill set either in construction or in programming. Example short range wireless to teach communication protocols. Radio receiver board integrates external receiver to use resources provided by the RasPi. Etc.
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by thesynapseuk » Tue Aug 30, 2011 10:39 am
Kids could design their own game controllers. Good project for design and technology to support. Make their own controllers, and then build games to go with it/demonstrate the use of the controller. Multi-subject potential, allows kids to really let rip with creativity.

I'm not sure about the obsession with Radio transmitting/receiving here. I have never heard of any UK kids being interested in that kid of thing, even the intellectual/geeky ones that I teach.

For the record in this conversation, I'm England educated and a UK teacher (since it seems everyone is id-ing their 'educational origins'!)
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by torrent99 » Tue Oct 18, 2011 3:58 pm

Most of the kids will never be interested in programming. And the way I remember it, they never were even back in the 80s; the majority of them cared only about playing games.

That's true.... but a few were, and many of them (myself included) went on to have careers based on it.
Just because you teach Biology to kids doesn't mean you expect all of them to become biologists, but a few will.
Trouble is that, right now kids aren't being exposed to programming in schools, so they don't (in most cases) have much choice.

RE: The Pi, it quite obviously harks back to the BBC Micro, which was not just an excellent piece of hardware, it was also backed up with a whole TV series, really good manuals and example software. ( It could also play games that were as good as the ones in the arcades when it was released, the Pi couldn't hope to compete on that front)
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by torrent99 » Tue Oct 18, 2011 4:04 pm
Quote from thesynapseuk on August 30, 2011, 11:39
I'm not sure about the obsession with Radio transmitting/receiving here. I have never heard of any UK kids being interested in that kid of thing, even the intellectual/geeky ones that I teach.


Back in the 80's that's the kind of thing we did using computers at school, at my school we tried to recieve and decode weather satellites.
The thing was that in those days there wasn't the internet, so communicating with someone in another country was quite a thrill.

Did anyone see that TV series about techology thru the decades, where they subjected a whole family to living with the tech of the 60's, 70's, 80's & 90's? The one on the 80's was very interesting. They gave the family a BBC Micro, and within a few hours the 14 year old boy was trying to write programs....
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by Josh » Tue Oct 18, 2011 5:05 pm
Quote from torrent99 on October 18, 2011, 17:04
Quote from thesynapseuk on August 30, 2011, 11:39
I'm not sure about the obsession with Radio transmitting/receiving here. I have never heard of any UK kids being interested in that kid of thing, even the intellectual/geeky ones that I teach.


Back in the 80's that's the kind of thing we did using computers at school, at my school we tried to recieve and decode weather satellites.
The thing was that in those days there wasn't the internet, so communicating with someone in another country was quite a thrill.

Did anyone see that TV series about techology thru the decades, where they subjected a whole family to living with the tech of the 60's, 70's, 80's & 90's? The one on the 80's was very interesting. They gave the family a BBC Micro, and within a few hours the 14 year old boy was trying to write programs....


Why wasn't I born in the Eighties??!!! :(
All we do now is make Word documents and low-level websites on Dreamweaver. ICT? More like Secretary Training.
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by barnaby » Tue Oct 18, 2011 5:28 pm
It's important for more technically minded things to take the place of the redundancy being forced about children currently. Or, more importantly, even OFFERED to children who want it.


Yes, I think a 'pull up from the top' method would be good, whereby people who are interested get the option to have a go — not in a lunchtime club, but in lessons instead of ICT. I was actually offered this a few years ago when I was 13, but the teacher (who actually knew what C was) had to leave because his (fantastic) teaching style was causing 'problems'.

I advocate a computing class that starts off by explaining roughly how computers work (Using Steve jobs' metaphor of a person who only understood extremely simple instructions but could execute thousands of them per second), then go on to explain roughly how procedural programming works, then OO. Students would get hands on experience along the way (using maybe python or PHP).
Along the way, fundamental concepts behind computers and the web would be exposed, and the options to do more advanced programming would be completely open to people who wanted to, alongside the rest of the teaching.

Cheers,
Barnaby

P.S.

illiteracy Apple has encouraged since the beginning


Hey, the Apple I was a kit! That encouraged literacy in hardware and practical skills as well as software. But whilst I'm a solid mac user I agree it's a huge pity that they stifle comprehension.

(To be fair, the OS comes with apache installed, the developer tools are extremely well documented and free, and include support for many languages, so the options are there to people who want them. As it's UNIX and can run many Linux applications, the underlying technology is fairly open to general tinkering)
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