Guest post: Dr Andrew Robinson, Manchester University

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 We’re keen to hear from people that would be keen to work with us to develop more workshops.