This thing will change your life
In October 2011, Raspberry Pi co-founder Jack Lang handed me a beta version of the Raspberry Pi. This changed my life. The Pi was familiar yet unworldly: a computer the size of a credit card. As both a teacher and a maker it was a revelation. For the next year I nested in a skip in Cambridge, chittering gently and generally making a pest of myself, until the Foundation lured me into their very first office with a trail of Jaffa Cakes, and put me to work.
It was the best of times…
In early 2013, Computing in the English National Curriculum was over a year away, and although things were starting to happen in the world of computing education, the Pi was still a little bit groovy and a little bit radical for the average ICT classroom. Fortunately, we weren’t the only ones who thought that this small computer could bring about big changes. PA Consulting spotted the potential of the Pi — still in its first incarnation — as a tool for making, problem-solving and collaboration. Each year they challenge schools to use the Raspberry Pi to invent something around a theme. I was lucky to be one of the judges for the first competition in 2013 and it’s been one of my favourite Raspberry Pi events since.
We set this competition up four years ago because at PA we are passionate about technology and innovation, so it was really important for us to encourage the next generation to be as passionate as we are. — Anita Chandraker, Head of Digital at PA Consulting
The 2016 competition
This is the fourth year that I’ve helped judge the competition and each year we’ve been amazed by this innovation and passion. The 2016 final, held at the magnificent Institution of Engineering and Technology in London, was no different. The theme was ‘sports and leisure’, and students scrambled to explain how they’d built and programmed their inventions, which ranged from keep-fit games in Scratch to applications that wouldn’t look out of place at a tech show.
I helped judge the Year 12-13 category which, after much tea and deliberation, was won by Highgate School with PiTime, a system for recording race times and taking finish-line photos. Despite stiff competition — Homewood School’s seriously professional SportTrax deserves a special mention — PiTime won because it was cheap, smart and solved a real-world problem for the team members, who are both competitive runners. Full details of all finalists and the winners in other age categories are on PA’s competition site.
As well as showing off their creations, the finalists had the chance to meet experts from industry and the world of tech. One of these sages was Tom Hartley, winner of the 2013 competition with teammate Alyssa Dayan for their AirPi. He says that the competition, “… opened up a world of opportunities for me — things I never could have imagined became possible.” Tom is currently studying Electronic and Information Engineering at Imperial College, and it’s wonderful to think that the competition and the Raspberry Pi have played some small part in this.
Digital making is central to the Foundation’s ethos. It’s a crazy Venn diagram of fabulous skills, from problem-solving, collaboration and creativity through to programming, electronics and soldering. All put in a Klein bottle and given a good shake. PA Consulting saw this very early on and we’re pleased and proud that they continue to run such an inspiring competition.
Digital making is also a powerful and beautiful thing: it changed my life, it changed Tom’s life, and it’s changing the lives of young people all over the world. So get involved, whether it’s though a Raspberry Jam, a local hack space, Code Club or just by browsing our resources for ideas. And if you are a teacher then please enter the PA Competition next year — even if doesn’t end up changing lives it’s a lot of fun and a great day out for the students :)