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Friday, 1 November 2013

Running a Raspberry Pi Workshop for Young People

I've had a large number of requests on twitter to give details of my experience running a Raspberry Pi workshop at my local library during half term. I hope this post will give you the audience everything you need to do something better!


Libraries

During the summer holidays I contacted my local libraries to see if they would be interested in running a Raspberry Pi workshop. Havering Libraries are fantastic at organising events for both young and old. Every month I attend my local library book club and this weekend a local library is running a craft event where I intend to buy some Christmas sticking fillers! I used the Havering Libraries facebook group to make contact initially and very quickly I was put in touch with the tech savvy member of the libraries who was really enthusiastic about the idea. This half term has been 'Geek Week' at Havering Libraries with a large number of events taking place. It seemed ideal to run a Raspberry Pi workshop as part of that, during half term. I am a secondary school computing teacher by trade, and such a profession allows me to be able to work with children as I have had all the checks to do so. I would thoroughly recommend if you have not had a CRB or DBS check through Stemnet



Equipment

I have a set of roughly 10 Raspberry Pis, mainly due to the kind donation by RS Electronics a few months ago specifically for running workshops with children. I purchased 10 SD cards and added the latest version of Raspbian to them all. I borrowed 10 HDMI to DVI cables and a few headphone splitters from my school. Romford library has an IT suite with DVI monitors and they managed to get enough usb keyboards and mice, as well as some headphones together for the session. 

Activity

Running a workshop in my mind is different to teaching a lesson. I believe that workshop sessions should really be student led. After all they really want to get hands on and have some fun. I also insist that attendees set up their Pis themselves. This enables them to discover how easy it is to do, and you can have discussions about inputs, outputs and talk about the Pi as a computer. All the young people I have ever done this with have always enjoyed this responsibility, whether inside the classroom or during a workshop. Once set up you can discuss the difference between command line interface and the GUI.  

There are a number of activities that you can run workshops on:
  • Minecraft Pi
  • Sonic Pi
  • Basic electronics with GPIO
  • Scratch
  • Basic networking (see David Whale's blog)
Once setup I ran a sonic pi session. One of the great things about a sonic pi session is that it practically teaches itself to any age range or ability user. I showed them how to play a single note, a chord, how to add delays, how to iterate, before they went and discovered it for themselves. They spend an awful lot of time creating their music all by themselves. This allows you time to wander around and then give help to those who are stuck, or more challenges to those who are a little older or more experienced with code. I had two 15 year old lads in my session who had written some Python before. I was able to quickly demonstrate some sonic pi data structures or other different snippets of syntax to help them improve their code.

Could be some good ideas for workshops in here *shameless plug*:


Feedback

In all honesty I was not sure during the session if the children were enjoying themselves. Only at the end of the two hour session did I find out that it was a success, when many of the children came to ask me if I'd do another session. I tried to find out what they would like to do and minecraft pi and scratch seemed to be popular themes. The library manager and other colleagues were keen to have me sign up to run another workshop. The feedback from parents must have also been very good. 

Finally

When I decide to do these types of workshops, I have no idea really what it will be like, other than that young people will do some coding. Each session is different, but one thing remains the same, everyone enjoys it and takes something away from the experience. If you want to run a workshop I say DO IT! You will not regret it. It's rewarding and fun.

2 comments:

  1. I was at the Gadget Show on Saturday and there was a huge amount of interest in Minecraft and Scratch there too. I wasn't really set up to demonstrate Sonic Pi, but a couple of people I spoke to really liked the idea of it.

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