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Thursday, 26 July 2012

First Raspberry Jam

Last night I attended my first Raspberry Jam. An event for enthusiasts of the Raspberry Pi. A circuit board sized computer that harks back to the days of the BBC Micro on which you are able to program in Python to get it to do anything you want it to.

I bought a Raspberry Pi with the sole purpose of figuring out how I could create a scheme of work for KS3 that would engage students in the basics of computer science/programming. Something that would make them go away and think about getting their own pi as a way into CS. For anyone who doesn't know this already, I'm extremely passionate about improving the ICT curriculum so that there is a higher uptake of it post 16 especially by girls. (see www.geekgurldiaries.co.uk)

I took my Pi with me in my handbag into London to the Mozilla offices in the West End. When I arrived I realised very quickly that I was in a room full of men. They all seemed to know each other and were all demonstrating their achievements with the Pi. I instantly felt that I was not going to be the target audience of their talks. I resorted to hiding in a corner on my phone. Lame I know, but this is my default setting. Luckily I was joined by Jenny Gainsford @jennyfer37 (An amazing ICT Teacher that I was lucky to have trained with), and another teacher I had met at Rethinking ICT conference in June. Whilst Jenny and I caught up we were joined by a lady who wants to train to become a primary school teacher and is keen to get young people using the Pi to learn about computing. As we were chatting Alan O'Donohoe @teknoteacher (The main Raspberry Jam man) joined us and asked to record our conversation, he then asked if we would not mind speaking during the event to the group. This seemed to me like the best way to get our thoughts out quickly and in one go, even though we had nothing prepared and I knew Jenny and I were on the same page already.

We settled down to watch presentations about what others had achieved with their Pi, and as the evening went on I became more and more frustrated that there was a huge gap between what people are already doing with the pi, and how teachers are going to get this across to students within the constraints of time, money and the changes to the curriculum. Jenny and I were there to find people willing to help us create schemes of work that would get more young people into CS, because surely that's our combined end goal. Tom Hannen has written an excellent review of all the talks.

So when it was our turn to speak, we felt that we had a lot to say, even though we were completely unprepared. I started to explain our point of view, where we were coming from, and our passion for ICT teaching, and for engaging students in CS, especially girls. It's not easy to stand up in a room full of clever men and make a case for teaching and engaging girls. As soon as you mention girls in IT, there is often a backlash as everyone has an opinion on it. Unfortunately, I was heckled and told that we should look into getting it to "do some shopping". I died a little inside, and thought perhaps this was not the forum that I had expected it to be. Eventually the heckler demanded that he should be allowed to speak, so we graciously gave him the floor. I think actually he misunderstood what we were trying to say, and the reasons why we were there. By the end of the evening I think he understood that we both wanted the same thing.

After our little moment in the limelight, I wanted to crawl away and die. But something unexpected happened. I was approached by many different people from the audience who were keen to discuss ideas. They all said that they were impressed with what we had said and the passion that we had shown. They praised us for our courage, and offered help and suggestions to move forward. It was exactly the reaction I wanted. I was given business cards and contact details for people wanting to help. In fact so many people wanted to talk to me, that we had to move into a room away for the main room because people were trying to give their talks. I missed every speaker after us sadly. Sorry about that!

This morning I sent the following call to arms:

Thank you for your support at last nights Raspberry Jam in London. I am passionate about ICT as a subject and I am excited about bringing programming to students. However (as I hope I got across last night) I am frustrated that there is yet to be a project/scheme of work developed for teachers. It's frustrating because we were told the Pi had been developed for education, and we are constantly told all the great things that it can do (many of which I saw last night) but I need your help to bring that to our students.

What I am looking for from you is a six week scheme of work where students will work in groups or small pairs. I can bring the teacher part and develop lesson plans to meet Ofsted criteria. I can even provide amazing students to test any ideas/kit.

I've created this google document as a starting point for ideas. I've filled out the first bit as an example just to show you how it works for the non teachers. That's not an actual idea I just came up with something to populate the fields. I suggest you make a copy of the document by going to File>Make a copy then we could feed them back into one document before the next Jam?

Problems:

* Time - I teach 50 minute lessons, once a week, how do we keep the engagement and learning.
* Money - Pi's may be cheap but we would need to buy monitors as all ours are VGA. We'd also need to buy SD cards and as was suggested last night we'd need money for any extra kit (breadboards, turbines, etc) This is the biggest issue. My school would not let me buy all this equipment. We would need investment.
* Non specialist ICT Teachers - unfortunately not all my teachers are specialists. Any Pi scheme of work needs to be easy enough for novices to teach or for me to be able to make screencasts/videos that they could play.

It would be great to go to the next Raspberry Jam in London with a step forward.

If you, dear reader want to contribute then please do. Together we can bridge the gap between engineers/enthusiasts and teachers.

12 comments:

  1. Excellent post, well said Miss Philbin

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  2. Wow! This is *amazing* that all this happened from this one London event. I'm so glad that you, Jen and Sarah-Jane came to speak to us.
    In my classroom, I have just started teaching projects based around the Raspberry Pi. I've taken photos and recorded the children's presentations, I need to find a few quiet moments and put them into a blog. I've had some success increasing interest amoung girls in computing, and need to document this for others to try.
    Thanks again for sharing your story and I hope I can persuade you to attend future RaspberryJam events. Also, it's worth plugging Computing At School, if you are not members of this, I highly recommend that you join and encourage others to join as well. http://www.computingatschool.org.uk/

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    1. Thanks Alan, it was a pleasure to meet you and the other guys at the Raspberry Jam in London. I've had lots of supportive emails.

      It is my hope that people start to put their successes online, and into a central place so that we have a resource that teachers can pick and choose schemes of work from for KS2 and 3. If you could add your projects to the google doc that I created so that before the next jam I can put together a body of work, that would be great!

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  3. Good post Miss Philbin,
    I work at The National Museum of Computing and regularly parents will bring their children around and they will play a little on our cluster of Beebs (kids + mum and dad). I encourage most of them to enter a bit of BASIC, if only to understand that there are instructions behind everything a computer does. The majority enjoy taking the controls of a 30 year old computer. Some parents ask 'what next?' they want to know how their child can continue exploring programming, so Im about to embark in setting up a counterpoint to the Beebs, a way forward using the resources of today. Amongst those resources will be the Pi.

    I see a lot of work going into helping children get a few rungs up the coding ladder but I also see this 'sea' of apps with children swimming around wanting to get onto the first rung and finding that damn hard. Many parents too are frightened off - just watch a Pi power up, the lines of text can be scary for those that dont know what it all means.

    Despite the growth of opportunities (especially online), first timers + mums and dads need more help and more empathy from those half way up the ladder.

    I dont have long to influence a child or their parents as they wander through the Museum, so Im going to think very carefully about giving them a free one hour 'experience' plus some good quality signposting as part of their visit.

    Of the 2000+ students that visit our Museum each year (ages typically 15-18) the ratio of males to females must be of the order of 25:1 It is a very big problem and much more needs to be done about it. The issue is complex and no better than the 1980s, but part of it (just a part), is the nerdy/geeky 'flavour' in many activities that are reinforced by male group characteristics. I think peer pressure not to be geeky is far risker for girls than boys. A sweeping generalistation but I thinks its part of the mix.

    We have a 'Jam' at TNMOC today and I will carry your questions and thoughts into the session.

    Good luck with your mission. Drop in to TNMOC sometime and share your thoughts.

    Chris Monk
    The National Museum of Computing

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  4. Thanks Chris for your reply,

    I hope that the resource bank of computing schemes of work using the pi will open the door for teachers who are not confident to give it a go. Once students are introduced to pi programming they would perhaps be more likely to purchase one at home or go home and talk to their parents about it. I would be happy, off the back of any of my lessons, to provide support for parents wishing to encourage their child. I have to say that I've always had more computing knowledge than my family, so I don't see parental input being that much of an issue. I still got to where I am through my own curiosity.

    I'm really excited about organising a school trip to the museum. I've already started the paper work and will be coming in before we return to school. Perhaps we could chat in person if we arrange a suitable time for my visit?

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  5. Happy to show you around & chat when you visit the Museum. Let me know good days/times for you. Best days are Thur 1-5, Sat 1-5 Sun 1-5 but other times possible too. Let me know using learningtnmoc 'at' gmail dot com

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  6. Hi,

    I agree with Chris - excellent post.

    I attended the Milton Keynes jam yesterday, and the parent sitting next to me echoed a lot of your concerns. I think it was a more eclectic mix than the London jam and whilst there were some real techies in the room, there were women and also families. Perhaps that was because it was held on a Sunday morning rather than a weekday evening.

    Also, your blog site here was shown by the Risc OS chap, Brian Hogan, hence me reading it and now commenting.

    Please keep doing what you're currently doing. I have worked in IT for 26 years, and the number of women working in the industry is far too low. The few I have met and worked with are normally more competent than their male counterparts, as they have generally had demonstrate a higher level of ability and had to fight a significant amount of prejudice to arrive at and maintain their position in the industry.

    I also think Chris is right in that as well as getting the girls interested, there are some male group dynamics that need to be addressed. I don't see why IT can't be looked upon as any other profession (Medicine, Law, Education) and the balance redressed. If I can help in any way at all, please let me know,

    Mark

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  7. Hi again, it's been a while since we were sent to the meeting rooms!

    I've finally had a chance to play with wind turbines etc and linking them with the Pi and have a basic system now working.
    I have to admit that the cash issue still exsits. The components I've used are not expensive but still have a cost (although cheaper options may be available).

    The curcuit I have is simple and can be used for 2 levels:

    1. simple - an ADC & 10k trimpot - this can be used with a python script to see a varying input as the button is turned
    2. advanced - An ADC, 10k trimpot & wind turbine kit (incl LED) - this can be used to see the voltage created as the wind turbine is turned, again using a python script.

    This could be attainable within the 6 lesson structure as long as the python scripts are simply provided to the students.

    All the parts (excl Pi etc are about £20-£25 but if enough are purchased or a deal done for education this may come down).

    I'm currently working on loggin results to MySQL and then outputting to a webpage and once that is complete I'll try to write some notes to do the build from start to finish.
    I'd need a fair bit of help to turn this into lesson plans but hopefully there is something there that could be used.

    Richard

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    1. That sounds very exciting and more importantly teachable!

      I've been in contact with Paul Hallett @phalt_ who is working on https://sponsorcraft.com/p/djangopi/ He thinks I could use Sponsorcraft to raise the funds I need to buy any equipment needed. I also think that if it works out at around £50 per set including pi, I might be able to get a few to trail the idea with a test group.

      Don't worry about the lesson plan bit, I can do that, just need to know what they would learn and achieve in each lesson.

      Thanks again for all your help.

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  8. Hi!

    I'm looking forward to this evenings raspberry jam, I hope everyone brings their ideas so that us teachers can start turning them into schemes of work.

    :)

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  9. Miss Philbin, my name is Craig Judd, I am an IT Manager with a huge concern about Computing at our Girls Grammar School, but have an active interest in Raspberrypi (pipipi.co.uk), for which we have developed several projects. Without any specific teaching knowledge I did reach out to you on Twitter, you said for me to message you directly but I failed to find an address.
    I am really keen to stay in contact with you on this issue, as you seem to have a. The knowledge about the target audience and the group of students I am worried about, and b. An interest in how the Pi can achieve this.
    If you have anytime to engage a conversation then I would very much appreciate it.

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    1. Hi Craig, you can contact me through my contact page either on www.geekgurldiaries.co.uk or about.me/carrieannephilbin.

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