Jim Manley wrote:To Emma and anyone else who thinks it's just a matter of not trying hard enough
If you have 1982 students desperate for a Pi Zero then you have a minimum budget of about $10,000?, more importantly you have near 100,000 mouths (or brains) to feed moving forward. Surely if you contacted the foundation in advance you could have managed this better? I’m not sure of how class sizes work in the USA but in the UK we get worried if there are more than thirty children (20 is better), would that amount of teachers be available if the foundation sent a helicopter in the morning with the Pi Zeros?
Does your education authority do procurement like people order pizza deliveries? If they can’t deliver in 15 minutes you aren’t interested? In the UK budgets are set aside 12 months in advance.
Hi Jason - No one knew that the Zero was coming outside the Foundation, manufacturer, MagPi printer, vendors, and other trusted partners until it was announced to the public. So, it wasn't possible to plan purchases far enough in advance to be able to buy any, other than teachers, students, and parents picking their own pockets (which we're prepared to do if we can order any). I'm about as closely aligned with the Foundation as is humanly possible, and have been for over four years, and they're acutely aware of what I'm trying to do. They're trying to be fair to everyone, but at some point it just seems like students, parents, and educators should get dibs on some fraction of the production since the Foundation is an educational charity, especially knowing what's happened in the past where a significant number of boards just languished after the endorphins associated with the acquisition of the latest Internet meme dissipated.
A second problem is that schools are generally not able to purchase from any vendor not on an approved list that takes months to years to qualify to become authorized. Part of this is an effort to minimize the number of vendors that have to be paid and tracked, and it makes it easier to detect fraud, waste, and abuse. Ironically, it's a well-known secret that many vendors have back-channel relationships with politicians, school board members, school administrators, etc., but they're carefully shielded via third-party "cut-outs" and other techniques that would make CIA espionage tradecraft experts raise their eyebrows in admiration.
It's virtually impossible to buy anything at the teacher level with taxpayer funds on an ad-hoc basis, as purchases do have to be planned 9 - 12 months in advance, and for IT equipment, it can take even longer as the IT department has to verify they can support it, and the Educational Technology department has to state that it's willing to ramp up to be able to provide training to faculty and staff. I'm trying to make the case that the Pii are consumables because no one thinks anything of buying multi-hundred-dollar-each single-color laser printer toner cartridges that don't require IT tags or tracking, but technically, even a $5.00 Pi requires an IT barcode sticker that's about the size of the Zero, and it has to be inventoried annually until disposed of via a tracked recycling process.
However, one of the reasons that I'm developing pilot projects using Pii and other current tech (I joke that I'm helping such districts enter the 20th Century, and no, that's not a typo) is that there are grant and other programs that can provide funding on a short-notice basis _if_ reliable, vetted sources can be identified. So far, there are no such sources and no indication that there will be anytime in the foreseeable future. At this point, I'm just trying to get Zeroes into the hands of educators and deserving, self-starter students who we know will be able to benefit from having access to them. I wasn't able to get buy-in at quantity for $35 2Bs, $25 B+s, or even $20 A+s, but $5 Zeroes have attracted the attention needed, especially at the school-wide level. I have the teacher training and curricular material ready to go, but I'm stalled without the computers and no solution in sight. I have to have a lot of things in place well before the Spring break opportunity, and it's even getting close to be able to prepare adequately for Summer programs. I can't arrange for venues, support personnel, auxiliary equipment, etc., until I know I'm going to have the computers and everything else early enough to be able to execute the plans.
My class sizes range from 21 to 35 across 10th, 11th, and 12th grades, and almost none of all of those students has had any significant education in computing principles due to unqualified previous teachers and outdated standards that were over 10 years old. Even seniors who are in their third year of taking computing electives in programming, networking, or web site development have much in the way of demonstrable skills with things like basic code and data structures (if-then-else, case/switch, loops, types, arrays, linked lists, hashes, etc.), IP address, DNS, and subnet configuration, form and table layout, web site uploading, cgi-bin processing, etc. One reason is that IT departments refuse to allow any software development tools such as compilers, assemblers, linkers, etc., to be installed on any district computer, whether it's on a network or not, for fear that they will be used to hack systems or networks.
They also try to ignore the existence of anything beyond Microsoft products on the theory that if students don't know Windows they won't be able to get a job - yeah, that's how bad it is. When I asked them what the vast majority of web servers run, almost none were aware that it's Apache in various forms, they're ignorant of any cgi-bin technology other than .ASP, .NET, Razor, etc., they don't know there are binary-compatible alternatives to MS Office (e.g., Libre Office), they have no idea how mobile devices interact with Cloud resources (e.g., how voice systems such as Siri, Google Now, Cortana, Alexa, etc., send digitized voice snippets off-board for text generation and searching), and so forth. I even have trouble convincing principals and teachers that non-geek students need to participate in events such as Hour of Code - they think even that's too hard for any students other than those who already know how to develop software (frankly, you can smell the fear because they have no idea how computing really works). Lots of administrators want to be able to say that they want robust STEM programs, including computing, but they almost exclusively have humanities and arts degrees, and teaching experience (usually in the distant past, at that).
To get around the software development tools prohibition, some schools, including community colleges, only teach pseudo code and students never actually get to build any real software! This is where the Pii can solve this huge problem, and since they don't generate x86 code, the typical issues with Windows security vulnerabilities don't exist (yes, there are rare non-WIndows cases such as the 12-year long OpenSSL gaff), but most administrators have no idea what that really means, and IT folks don't want to have anything to do with alternatives to "the de facto standard". I've helped start a CyberPatriot competitive computing security team and I'm working with our school's Engineering Academy to expand the software components of our school's competitive robotics team, which are Java, C++, or LabVIEW based. Both of these teams can use Pii to learn computing principles and apply them to real-world challenges.
If it's not clear, I don't intend to try to provide a Zero to every student in the district overnight or even within the next year or so, I made it clear that's a longer-term goal. However, if I don't get the pilot project started now, it will be another year before the next opportunity as I have other fish to fry later this year and early in the next academic year. It seems like we're seeing history from four years ago repeating itself where boards are just tossed into the air and there's a naive expectation that they're going to somehow magically wind up in the hands of deserving students instead of what happened with the Original Flavor Model Bs. It's particularly disappointing because the Pi 2B exists that's more appropriate to what the average person is going to want to do with it.
Life is tough, but it's tougher when you're a grizzled old school marm with kids on your lawn ...