Raspberry Pi Blog

This is the official Raspberry Pi blog for news and updates from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, education initiatives, community projects and more!

Stretch for PCs and Macs, and a Raspbian update

Today, we are launching the first Debian Stretch release of the Raspberry Pi Desktop for PCs and Macs, and we’re also releasing the latest version of Raspbian Stretch for your Pi.

Raspberry Pi Desktop Stretch splash screen

For PCs and Macs

When we released our custom desktop environment on Debian for PCs and Macs last year, we were slightly taken aback by how popular it turned out to be. We really only created it as a result of one of those “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” conversations we sometimes have in the office, so we were delighted by the Pi community’s reaction.

Seeing how keen people were on the x86 version, we decided that we were going to try to keep releasing it alongside Raspbian, with the ultimate aim being to make simultaneous releases of both. This proved to be tricky, particularly with the move from the Jessie version of Debian to the Stretch version this year. However, we have now finished the job of porting all the custom code in Raspbian Stretch to Debian, and so the first Debian Stretch release of the Raspberry Pi Desktop for your PC or Mac is available from today.

The new Stretch releases

As with the Jessie release, you can either run this as a live image from a DVD, USB stick, or SD card or install it as the native operating system on the hard drive of an old laptop or desktop computer. Please note that installing this software will erase anything else on the hard drive — do not install this over a machine running Windows or macOS that you still need to use for its original purpose! It is, however, safe to boot a live image on such a machine, since your hard drive will not be touched by this.

We’re also pleased to announce that we are releasing the latest version of Raspbian Stretch for your Pi today. The Pi and PC versions are largely identical: as before, there are a few applications (such as Mathematica) which are exclusive to the Pi, but the user interface, desktop, and most applications will be exactly the same.

For Raspbian, this new release is mostly bug fixes and tweaks over the previous Stretch release, but there are one or two changes you might notice.

File manager

The file manager included as part of the LXDE desktop (on which our desktop is based) is a program called PCManFM, and it’s very feature-rich; there’s not much you can’t do in it. However, having used it for a few years, we felt that it was perhaps more complex than it needed to be — the sheer number of menu options and choices made some common operations more awkward than they needed to be. So to try to make file management easier, we have implemented a cut-down mode for the file manager.

Raspberry Pi Desktop Stretch - file manager

Most of the changes are to do with the menus. We’ve removed a lot of options that most people are unlikely to change, and moved some other options into the Preferences screen rather than the menus. The two most common settings people tend to change — how icons are displayed and sorted — are now options on the toolbar and in a top-level menu rather than hidden away in submenus.

The sidebar now only shows a single hierarchical view of the file system, and we’ve tidied the toolbar and updated the icons to make them match our house style. We’ve removed the option for a tabbed interface, and we’ve stomped a few bugs as well.

One final change was to make it possible to rename a file just by clicking on its icon to highlight it, and then clicking on its name. This is the way renaming works on both Windows and macOS, and it’s always seemed slightly awkward that Unix desktop environments tend not to support it.

As with most of the other changes we’ve made to the desktop over the last few years, the intention is to make it simpler to use, and to ease the transition from non-Unix environments. But if you really don’t like what we’ve done and long for the old file manager, just untick the box for Display simplified user interface and menus in the Layout page of Preferences, and everything will be back the way it was!

Raspberry Pi Desktop Stretch - preferences GUI

Battery indicator for laptops

One important feature missing from the previous release was an indication of the amount of battery life. Eben runs our desktop on his Mac, and he was becoming slightly irritated by having to keep rebooting into macOS just to check whether his battery was about to die — so fixing this was a priority!

We’ve added a battery status icon to the taskbar; this shows current percentage charge, along with whether the battery is charging, discharging, or connected to the mains. When you hover over the icon with the mouse pointer, a tooltip with more details appears, including the time remaining if the battery can provide this information.

Raspberry Pi Desktop Stretch - battery indicator

While this battery monitor is mainly intended for the PC version, it also supports the first-generation pi-top — to see it, you’ll only need to make sure that I2C is enabled in Configuration. A future release will support the new second-generation pi-top.

New PC applications

We have included a couple of new applications in the PC version. One is called PiServer — this allows you to set up an operating system, such as Raspbian, on the PC which can then be shared by a number of Pi clients networked to it. It is intended to make it easy for classrooms to have multiple Pis all running exactly the same software, and for the teacher to have control over how the software is installed and used. PiServer is quite a clever piece of software, and it’ll be covered in more detail in another blog post in December.

We’ve also added an application which allows you to easily use the GPIO pins of a Pi Zero connected via USB to a PC in applications using Scratch or Python. This makes it possible to run the same physical computing projects on the PC as you do on a Pi! Again, we’ll tell you more in a separate blog post this month.

Both of these applications are included as standard on the PC image, but not on the Raspbian image. You can run them on a Pi if you want — both can be installed from apt.

How to get the new versions

New images for both Raspbian and Debian versions are available from the Downloads page.

It is possible to update existing installations of both Raspbian and Debian versions. For Raspbian, this is easy: just open a terminal window and enter

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

Updating Raspbian on your Raspberry Pi

How to update to the latest version of Raspbian on your Raspberry Pi. Download Raspbian here: More information on the latest version of Raspbian: Buy a Raspberry Pi:

It is slightly more complex for the PC version, as the previous release was based around Debian Jessie. You will need to edit the files /etc/apt/sources.list and /etc/apt/sources.list.d/raspi.list, using sudo to do so. In both files, change every occurrence of the word “jessie” to “stretch”. When that’s done, do the following:

sudo apt-get update 
sudo dpkg --force-depends -r libwebkitgtk-3.0-common
sudo apt-get -f install
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
sudo apt-get install python3-thonny
sudo apt-get install sonic-pi=2.10.0~repack-rpt1+2
sudo apt-get install piserver
sudo apt-get install usbbootgui

At several points during the upgrade process, you will be asked if you want to keep the current version of a configuration file or to install the package maintainer’s version. In every case, keep the existing version, which is the default option. The update may take an hour or so, depending on your network connection.

As with all software updates, there is the possibility that something may go wrong during the process, which could lead to your operating system becoming corrupted. Therefore, we always recommend making a backup first.

Enjoy the new versions, and do let us know any feedback you have in the comments or on the forums!

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MagPi 64: get started with electronics

Hey folks, Rob here again! You get a double dose of me this month, as today marks the release of The MagPi 64. In this issue we give you a complete electronics starter guide to help you learn how to make circuits that connect to your Raspberry Pi!

The front cover of MagPi 64

MAGPI SIXTY-FOOUUUR!

Wires, wires everywhere!

In the electronics feature, we’ll teach you how to identify different components in circuit diagrams, we’ll explain what they do, and we’ll give you some basic wiring instructions so you can take your first steps. The feature also includes step-by-step tutorials on how to make a digital radio and a range-finder, meaning you can test out your new electronics skills immediately!

Christmas tutorials

Electronics are cool, but what else is in this issue? Well, we have exciting news about the next Google AIY Projects Vision kit, which forgoes audio for images, allowing you to build a smart camera with your Raspberry Pi.

We’ve also included guides on how to create your own text-based adventure game and a kaleidoscope camera. And, just in time for the festive season, there’s a tutorial for making a 3D-printed Pi-powered Christmas tree star. All this in The MagPi 64, along with project showcases, reviews, and much more!

Kaleido Cam

Using a normal web cam or the Raspberry Pi camera produce real time live kaleidoscope effects with the Raspberry Pi. This video shows the normal mode, along with an auto pre-rotate, and a horizontal and vertical flip.

Get The MagPi 64

Issue 64 is available today from WHSmith, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Asda. If you live in the US, head over to your local Barnes & Noble or Micro Center in the next few days. You can also get the new issue online from our store, or digitally via our Android and iOS apps. And don’t forget, there’s always the free PDF as well.

Subscribe for free goodies

Want to support the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the magazine, and get some cool free stuff? If you take out a twelve-month print subscription to The MagPi, you’ll get a Pi Zero W, Pi Zero case, and adapter cables absolutely free! This offer does not currently have an end date.

We hope you enjoy this issue!

Nintendo Sixty-FOOOOOOOOOOUR

Brandon gets an n64 for christmas 1998 and gets way too excited inquiries about usage / questions / comments? n64kids@gmail.com © n64kids.com

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Our brand-new Christmas resources

It’s never too early for Christmas-themed resources — especially when you want to make the most of them in your school, Code Club or CoderDojo! So here’s the ever-wonderful Laura Sach with an introduction of our newest festive projects.

A cartoon of people singing Christmas carols - Raspberry Pi Christmas Resources

In the immortal words of Noddy Holder: “it’s Christmaaaaaaasssss!” Well, maybe it isn’t quite Christmas yet, but since the shops have been playing Mariah Carey on a loop since the last pumpkin lantern hit the bargain bin, you’re hopefully well prepared.

To get you in the mood with some festive fun, we’ve put together a selection of seasonal free resources for you. Each project has a difficulty level in line with our Digital Making Curriculum, so you can check which might suit you best. Why not try them out at your local Raspberry Jam, CoderDojo, or Code Club, at school, or even on a cold day at home with a big mug of hot chocolate?

Jazzy jumpers

A cartoon of someone remembering pairs of jumper designs - Raspberry Pi Christmas Resources

Jazzy jumpers (Creator level): as a child in the eighties, you’d always get an embarrassing and probably badly sized jazzy jumper at Christmas from some distant relative. Thank goodness the trend has gone hipster and dreadful jumpers are now cool!

This resource shows you how to build a memory game in Scratch where you must remember the colour and picture of a jazzy jumper before recreating it. How many jumpers can you successfully recall in a row?

Sense HAT advent calendar

A cartoon Sense HAT lit up in the design of a Christmas pudding - Raspberry Pi Christmas Resources

Sense HAT advent calendar (Builder level): put the lovely lights on your Sense HAT to festive use by creating an advent calendar you can open day by day. However, there’s strictly no cheating with this calendar — we teach you how to use Python to detect the current date and prevent would-be premature peekers!

Press the Enter key to open today’s door:

(Note: no chocolate will be dispensed from your Raspberry Pi. Sorry about that.)

Code a carol

A cartoon of people singing Christmas carols - Raspberry Pi Christmas Resources

Code a carol (Developer level): Have you ever noticed how much repetition there is in carols and other songs? This resource teaches you how to break down the Twelve days of Christmas tune into its component parts and code it up in Sonic Pi the lazy way: get the computer to do all the repetition for you!

No musical knowledge required — just follow our lead, and you’ll have yourself a rocking doorbell tune in no time!

Naughty and nice

A cartoon of Santa judging people by their tweets - Raspberry Pi Christmas Resources

Naughty and nice (Maker level): Have you been naughty or nice? Find out by using sentiment analysis on your tweets to see what sort of things you’ve been talking about throughout the year. For added fun, why not use your program on the Twitter account of your sibling/spouse/arch nemesis and report their level of naughtiness to Santa with an @ mention?

raspberry_pi is 65.5 percent NICE, with an accuracy of 0.9046692607003891

It’s Christmaaaaaasssss

With the festive season just around the corner, it’s time to get started on your Christmas projects! Whether you’re planning to run your Christmas lights via a phone app, install a home assistant inside an Elf on a Shelf, or work through our Christmas resources, we would like to see what you make. So do share your festive builds with us on social media, or by posting links in the comments.

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Raspberry Pi clusters come of age

In today’s guest post, Bruce Tulloch, CEO and Managing Director of BitScope Designs, discusses the uses of cluster computing with the Raspberry Pi, and the recent pilot of the Los Alamos National Laboratory 3000-Pi cluster built with the BitScope Blade.

Raspberry Pi cluster

High-performance computing and Raspberry Pi are not normally uttered in the same breath, but Los Alamos National Laboratory is building a Raspberry Pi cluster with 3000 cores as a pilot before scaling up to 40 000 cores or more next year.

That’s amazing, but why?

I was asked this question more than any other at The International Conference for High-Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis in Denver last week, where one of the Los Alamos Raspberry Pi Cluster Modules was on display at the University of New Mexico’s Center for Advanced Research Computing booth.

The short answer to this question is: the Raspberry Pi cluster enables Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to conduct exascale computing R&D.

The Pi cluster breadboard

Exascale refers to computing systems at least 50 times faster than the most powerful supercomputers in use today. The problem faced by LANL and similar labs building these things is one of scale. To get the required performance, you need a lot of nodes, and to make it work, you need a lot of R&D.

However, there’s a catch-22: how do you write the operating systems, networks stacks, launch and boot systems for such large computers without having one on which to test it all? Use an existing supercomputer? No — the existing large clusters are fully booked 24/7 doing science, they cost millions of dollars per year to run, and they may not have the architecture you need for your next-generation machine anyway. Older machines retired from science may be available, but at this scale they cost far too much to use and are usually very hard to maintain.

The Los Alamos solution? Build a “model supercomputer” with Raspberry Pi!

Think of it as a “cluster development breadboard”.

The idea is to design, develop, debug, and test new network architectures and systems software on the “breadboard”, but at a scale equivalent to the production machines you’re currently building. Raspberry Pi may be a small computer, but it can run most of the system software stacks that production machines use, and the ratios of its CPU speed, local memory, and network bandwidth scale proportionately to the big machines, much like an architect’s model does when building a new house. To learn more about the project, see the news conference and this interview with insideHPC at SC17.

Traditional Raspberry Pi clusters

Like most people, we love a good cluster! People have been building them with Raspberry Pi since the beginning, because it’s inexpensive, educational, and fun. They’ve been built with the original Pi, Pi 2, Pi 3, and even the Pi Zero, but none of these clusters have proven to be particularly practical.

That’s not stopped them being useful though! I saw quite a few Raspberry Pi clusters at the conference last week.

One tiny one that caught my eye was from the people at openio.io, who used a small Raspberry Pi Zero W cluster to demonstrate their scalable software-defined object storage platform, which on big machines is used to manage petabytes of data, but which is so lightweight that it runs just fine on this:

Raspberry Pi Zero cluster

There was another appealing example at the ARM booth, where the Berkeley Labs’ singularity container platform was demonstrated running very effectively on a small cluster built with Raspberry Pi 3s.

Raspberry Pi 3 cluster demo at a conference stall

My show favourite was from the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Center (EPCC): Nick Brown used a cluster of Pi 3s to explain supercomputers to kids with an engaging interactive application. The idea was that visitors to the stand design an aircraft wing, simulate it across the cluster, and work out whether an aircraft that uses the new wing could fly from Edinburgh to New York on a full tank of fuel. Mine made it, fortunately!

Raspberry Pi 3 cluster demo at a conference stall

Next-generation Raspberry Pi clusters

We’ve been building small-scale industrial-strength Raspberry Pi clusters for a while now with BitScope Blade.

When Los Alamos National Laboratory approached us via HPC provider SICORP with a request to build a cluster comprising many thousands of nodes, we considered all the options very carefully. It needed to be dense, reliable, low-power, and easy to configure and to build. It did not need to “do science”, but it did need to work in almost every other way as a full-scale HPC cluster would.

Some people argue Compute Module 3 is the ideal cluster building block. It’s very small and just as powerful as Raspberry Pi 3, so one could, in theory, pack a lot of them into a very small space. However, there are very good reasons no one has ever successfully done this. For a start, you need to build your own network fabric and I/O, and cooling the CM3s, especially when densely packed in a cluster, is tricky given their tiny size. There’s very little room for heatsinks, and the tiny PCBs dissipate very little excess heat.

Instead, we saw the potential for Raspberry Pi 3 itself to be used to build “industrial-strength clusters” with BitScope Blade. It works best when the Pis are properly mounted, powered reliably, and cooled effectively. It’s important to avoid using micro SD cards and to connect the nodes using wired networks. It has the added benefit of coming with lots of “free” USB I/O, and the Pi 3 PCB, when mounted with the correct air-flow, is a remarkably good heatsink.

When Gordon announced netboot support, we became convinced the Raspberry Pi 3 was the ideal candidate when used with standard switches. We’d been making smaller clusters for a while, but netboot made larger ones practical. Assembling them all into compact units that fit into existing racks with multiple 10 Gb uplinks is the solution that meets LANL’s needs. This is a 60-node cluster pack with a pair of managed switches by Ubiquiti in testing in the BitScope Lab:

60-node Raspberry Pi cluster pack

Two of these packs, built with Blade Quattro, and one smaller one comprising 30 nodes, built with Blade Duo, are the components of the Cluster Module we exhibited at the show. Five of these modules are going into Los Alamos National Laboratory for their pilot as I write this.

Bruce Tulloch at a conference stand with a demo of the Raspberry Pi cluster for LANL

It’s not only research clusters like this for which Raspberry Pi is well suited. You can build very reliable local cloud computing and data centre solutions for research, education, and even some industrial applications. You’re not going to get much heavy-duty science, big data analytics, AI, or serious number crunching done on one of these, but it is quite amazing to see just how useful Raspberry Pi clusters can be for other purposes, whether it’s software-defined networks, lightweight MaaS, SaaS, PaaS, or FaaS solutions, distributed storage, edge computing, industrial IoT, and of course, education in all things cluster and parallel computing. For one live example, check out Mythic Beasts’ educational compute cloud, built with Raspberry Pi 3.

For more information about Raspberry Pi clusters, drop by BitScope Clusters.

I’ll read and respond to your thoughts in the comments below this post too.

Editor’s note:

Here is a photo of Bruce wearing a jetpack. Cool, right?!

Bruce Tulloch wearing a jetpack

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Decrypt messages and calculate Pi: new OctaPi projects

Back in July, we collaborated with GCHQ to bring you two fantastic free resources: the first showed you how to build an OctaPi, a Raspberry Pi cluster computer. The second showed you how to use the cluster to learn about public key cryptography. Since then, we and GCHQ have been hard at work, and now we’re presenting two more exciting projects to make with your OctaPi!

A happy cartoon octopus holds a Raspberry Pi in each tentacle.

Maker level

These new free resources are at the Maker level of the Raspberry Pi Foundation Digital Making Curriculum — they are intended for learners with a fair amount of experience, introducing them to some intriguing new concepts.

Whilst both resources make use of the OctaPi in their final steps, you can work through the majority of the projects on any computer running Python 3.

Calculate Pi

A cartoon octopus is struggling to work out the value of Pi

3.14159…ummm…

Calculating Pi teaches you two ways of calculating the value of Pi with varying accuracy. Along the way, you’ll also learn how computers store numbers with a fractional part, why your computer can limit how accurate your calculation of Pi is, and how to distribute the calculation across the OctaPi cluster.

Brute-force Enigma

A cartoon octopus tries to break an Enigma code

Decrypt the message before time runs out!

Brute-force Enigma sends you back in time to take up the position of a WWII Enigma operator. Learn how to encrypt and decrypt messages using an Enigma machine simulated entirely in Python. Then switch roles and become a Bletchley Park code breaker — except this time, you’ve got a cluster computer on your side! You will use the OctaPi to launch a brute-force crypt attack on an Enigma-encrypted message, and you’ll gain an appreciation of just how difficult this decryption task was without computers.

Our own OctaPi

A GIF of the OctaPi cluster computer at Pi Towers
GCHQ has kindly sent us a fully assembled, very pretty OctaPi of our own to play with at Pi Towers — it even has eight snazzy Unicorn HATs which let you display light patterns and visualize simulations! Visitors of the Raspberry Jam at Pi Towers can have a go at running their own programs on the OctaPi, while we’ll be using it to continue to curate more free resources for you.

If you’d like to find out more about cluster computing with the Raspberry Pi, read tomorrow’s blog post!

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The Official Projects Book volume 3 — out now

Hey folks, Rob from The MagPi here with some very exciting news! The third volume of the Official Raspberry Pi Projects Book is out right this second, and we’ve packed its 200 pages with the very best Raspberry Pi projects and guides!

Cover of The Official Projects Book volume 3

A peek inside the projects book

We start you off with a neat beginners guide to programming in Python,  walking you from the very basics all the way through to building the classic videogame Pong from scratch!

Table of contents of The Official Projects Book volume 3

Check out what’s inside!

Then we showcase some of the most inspiring projects from around the community, such as a camera for taking photos of the moon, a smart art installation, amazing arcade machines, and much more.

An article about the Apollo Pi project in The Official Projects Book volume 3

Emulate the Apollo mission computers on the Raspberry Pi

Next, we ease you into a series of tutorials that will help you get the most out of your Raspberry Pi. Among other things, you’ll be learning how to sync your Pi to Dropbox, use it to create a waterproof camera, and even emulate an Amiga.

We’ve also assembled a load of reviews to let you know what you should be buying if you want to extend your Pi experience.

A review of the Pimoroni Enviro pHAT in The Official Projects Book volume 3

Learn more about Pimoroni’s Enviro pHAT

I am extremely proud of what the entire MagPi team has put together here, and I know you’ll enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed creating it.

How to get yours

In the UK, you can get your copy of the new Official Raspberry Pi Projects Book at WHSmith and all good newsagents today. In the US, print copies will be available in stores such as Barnes & Noble very soon.

Or order a copy from the Raspberry Pi Press store — before the end of Sunday 26 November, you can use the code BLACKFRIDAY to get 10% off your purchase!

There’s also the digital version, which you can get via The MagPi Android and iOS apps. And, as always, there’s a free PDF, which is available here.

We think this new projects book is the perfect stocking filler, although we may be just a tad biased. Anyway, I hope you’ll love it!

Gif of Picard smiling at three children

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HackSpace magazine #1 is out now!

HackSpace magazine is finally here! Grab your copy of the new magazine for makers today, and try your hand at some new, exciting skills.

HackSpace magazine issue 1 cover

What is HackSpace magazine?

HackSpace magazine is the newest publication from the team behind The MagPi. Chock-full of amazing projects, tutorials, features, and maker interviews, HackSpace magazine brings together the makers of the world every month, with you — the community — providing the content.

HackSpace magazine is out now!

The new magazine for the modern maker is out now! Learn more at https://hsmag.cc HackSpace magazine is the new monthly magazine for people who love to make things and those who want to learn. Grab some duct tape, fire up a microcontroller, ready a 3D printer and hack the world around you!

Inside issue 1

Fancy smoking bacon with your very own cold smoker? How about protecting your home with a mini trebuchet for your front lawn? Or maybe you’d like to learn from awesome creator Becky Stern how to get paid for making the things you love? No matter whether it’s handheld consoles, robot prosthetics, Christmas projects, or, er, duct tape — whatever your maker passion, issue 1 is guaranteed to tick your boxes!

HackSpace magazine is packed with content from every corner of the maker world: from welding to digital making, and from woodwork to wearables. And whatever you enjoy making, we want to see it! So as you read through this first issue, imagine your favourite homemade projects on our pages, then make that a reality by emailing us the details via hackspace@raspberrypi.org.

Get your copy

You can grab issue 1 of HackSpace magazine right now from WHSmith, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and independent newsagents. If you live in the US, check out your local Barnes & Noble, Fry’s, or Micro Center next week. We’re also shipping to stores in Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, Singapore, Belgium and Brazil — ask your local newsagent whether they’ll be getting HackSpace magazine. Alternatively, you can get the new issue online from our store, or digitally via our Android or iOS apps. And don’t forget, as with all our publications, a free PDF of HackSpace magazine is available from release day.

We’re also offering money-saving subscriptions — find details on the the magazine website. And if you’re a subscriber of The MagPi, your free copy of HackSpace magazine is on its way, with details of a super 50% discount on subscriptions! Could this be the Christmas gift you didn’t know you wanted?

Share your makes and thoughts

Make sure to follow HackSpace magazine on Facebook and Twitter, or email the team at hackspace@raspberrypi.org to tell us about your projects and share your thoughts about issue 1. We’ve loved creating this new magazine for the maker community, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

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What do you want your button to do?

Here at Raspberry Pi, we know that getting physical with computing is often a catalyst for creativity. Building a simple circuit can open up a world of making possibilities! This ethos of tinkering and invention is also being used in the classroom to inspire a whole new generation of makers too, and here is why.

The all-important question

Physical computing provides a great opportunity for creative expression: the button press! By explaining how a button works, how to build one with a breadboard attached to computer, and how to program the button to work when it’s pressed, you can give learners young and old all the conceptual skills they need to build a thing that does something. But what do they want their button to do? Have you ever asked your students or children at home? I promise it will be one of the most mindblowing experiences you’ll have if you do.

A button. A harmless, little arcade button.

Looks harmless now, but put it into the hands of a child and see what happens!

Amy will want her button to take a photo, Charlie will want his button to play a sound, Tumi will want her button to explode TNT in Minecraft, Jack will want their button to fire confetti out of a cannon, and James Robinson will want his to trigger silly noises (doesn’t he always?)! Idea generation is the inherent gift that every child has in abundance. As educators and parents, we’re always looking to deeply engage our young people in the subject matter we’re teaching, and they are never more engaged than when they have an idea and want to implement it. Way back in 2012, I wanted my button to print geeky sayings:

Geek Gurl Diaries Raspberry Pi Thermal Printer Project Sneak Peek!

A sneak peek at the finished Geek Gurl Diaries ‘Box of Geek’. I’ve been busy making this for a few weeks with some help from friends. Tutorial to make your own box coming soon, so keep checking the Geek Gurl Diaries Twitter, facebook page and channel.

What are the challenges for this approach in education?

Allowing this kind of free-form creativity and tinkering in the classroom obviously has its challenges for teachers, especially those confined to rigid lesson structures, timings, and small classrooms. The most common worry I hear from teachers is “what if they ask a question I can’t answer?” Encouraging this sort of creative thinking makes that almost an inevitability. How can you facilitate roughly 30 different projects simultaneously? The answer is by using those other computational and transferable thinking skills:

  • Problem-solving
  • Iteration
  • Collaboration
  • Evaluation

Clearly specifying a problem, surveying the tools available to solve it (including online references and external advice), and then applying them to solve the problem is a hugely important skill, and this is a great opportunity to teach it.

A girl plays a button reaction game at a Raspberry Pi event

Press ALL the buttons!

Hands-off guidance

When we train teachers at Picademy, we group attendees around themes that have come out of the idea generation session. Together they collaborate on an achievable shared goal. One will often sketch something on a whiteboard, decomposing the problem into smaller parts; then the group will divide up the tasks. Each will look online or in books for tutorials to help them with their step. I’ve seen this behaviour in student groups too, and it’s very easy to facilitate. You don’t need to be the resident expert on every project that students want to work on.

The key is knowing where to guide students to find the answers they need. Curating online videos, blogs, tutorials, and articles in advance gives you the freedom and confidence to concentrate on what matters: the learning. We have a number of physical computing projects that use buttons, linked to our curriculum for learners to combine inputs and outputs to solve a problem. The WhooPi cushion and GPIO music box are two of my favourites.

A Raspberry Pi and button attached to a computer display

Outside of formal education, events such as Raspberry Jams, CoderDojos, CAS Hubs, and hackathons are ideal venues for seeking and receiving support and advice.

Cross-curricular participation

The rise of the global maker movement, I think, is in response to abstract concepts and disciplines. Children are taught lots of concepts in isolation that aren’t always relevant to their lives or immediate environment. Digital making provides a unique and exciting way of bridging different subject areas, allowing for cross-curricular participation. I’m not suggesting that educators should throw away all their schemes of work and leave the full direction of the computing curriculum to students. However, there’s huge value in exposing learners to the possibilities for creativity in computing. Creative freedom and expression guide learning, better preparing young people for the workplace of tomorrow.

So…what do you want your button to do?

Hello World

Learn more about today’s subject, and read further articles regarding computer science in education, in Hello World magazine issue 1.

Read Hello World issue 1 for more…

UK-based educators can subscribe to Hello World to receive a hard copy delivered for free to their doorstep, while the PDF is available for free to everyone via the Hello World website.

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Ultimate 3D printer control with OctoPrint

Control and monitor your 3D printer remotely with a Raspberry Pi and OctoPrint.

Timelapse of OctoPrint Ornament

Printed on a bq Witbox STL file can be found here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:191635 OctoPrint is located here: http://www.octoprint.org

3D printing

Whether you have a 3D printer at home or use one at your school or local makerspace, it’s fair to assume you’ve had a failed print or two in your time. Filament knotting or running out, your print peeling away from the print bed — these are common issues for all 3D printing enthusiasts, and they can be costly if they’re discovered too late.

OctoPrint

OctoPrint is a free open-source software, created and maintained by Gina Häußge, that performs a multitude of useful 3D printing–related tasks, including remote control of your printer, live video, and data collection.

The OctoPrint logo

Control and monitoring

To control the print process, use OctoPrint on a Raspberry Pi connected to your 3D printer. First, ensure a safe uninterrupted run by using the software to restrict who can access the printer. Then, before starting your print, use the web app to work on your STL file. The app also allows you to reposition the print head at any time, as well as pause or stop printing if needed.

Live video streaming

Since OctoPrint can stream video of your print as it happens, you can watch out for any faults that may require you to abort and restart. Proud of your print? Record the entire process from start to finish and upload the time-lapse video to your favourite social media platform.

OctoPrint software graphic user interface screenshot

Data capture

Octoprint records real-time data, such as the temperature, giving you another way to monitor your print to ensure a smooth, uninterrupted process. Moreover, the records will help with troubleshooting if there is a problem.

OctoPrint software graphic user interface screenshot

Print the Millenium Falcon

OK, you can print anything you like. However, this design definitely caught our eye this week.

3D-Printed Fillenium Malcon (Timelapse)

This is a Timelapse of my biggest print project so far on my own designed/built printer. It’s 500x170x700(mm) and weights 3 Kilograms of Filament.

You can support the work of Gina and OctoPrint by visiting her Patreon account and following OctoPrint on Twitter, Facebook, or G+. And if you’ve set up a Raspberry Pi to run OctoPrint, or you’ve created some cool Pi-inspired 3D prints, make sure to share them with us on our own social media channels.

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Prepare to run a Code Club on FutureLearn

Prepare to run a Code Club with our newest free online course, available now on FutureLearn!

FutureLearn: Prepare to Run a Code Club

Ready to launch! Our free FutureLearn course ‘Prepare to Run a Code Club’ starts next week and you can sign up now: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/code-club

Code Club

As of today, more than 10000 Code Clubs run in 130 countries, delivering free coding opportunities to approximately 150000 children across the globe.

A child absorbed in a task at a Code Club

As an organisation, Code Club provides free learning resources and training materials to supports the ever-growing and truly inspiring community of volunteers and educators who set up and run Code Clubs.

FutureLearn

Today we’re launching our latest free online course on FutureLearn, dedicated to training and supporting new Code Club volunteers. It will give you practical guidance on all things Code Club, as well as a taste of beginner programming!

Split over three weeks and running for 3–4 hours in total, the course provides hands-on advice and tips on everything you need to know to run a successful, fun, and educational club.

“Week 1 kicks off with advice on how to prepare to start a Code Club, for example which hardware and software are needed. Week 2 focusses on how to deliver Code Club sessions, with practical tips on helping young people learn and an easy taster coding project to try out. In the final week, the course looks at interesting ideas to enrich and extend club sessions.”
— Sarah Sherman-Chase, Code Club Participation Manager

The course is available wherever you live, and it is completely free — sign up now!

If you’re already a volunteer, the course will be a great refresher, and a chance to share your insights with newcomers. Moreover, it is also useful for parents and guardians who wish to learn more about Code Club.

Your next step

Interested in learning more? You can start the course today by visiting FutureLearn. And to find out more about Code Clubs in your country, visit Code Club UK or Code Club International.

Code Club partners from across the globe gathered together for a group photo at the International Meetup

We love hearing your Code Club stories! If you’re a volunteer, are in the process of setting up a club, or are inspired to learn more, share your story in the comments below or via social media, making sure to tag @CodeClub and @CodeClubWorld.

You might also be interested in our other free courses on the FutureLearn platform, including Teaching Physical Computing with Raspberry Pi and Python and Teaching Programming in Primary Schools.

 

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