Raspberry Jam

3 01 2013

I wanted to reflect on what has been a really successful #raspberryjam in London today. Details about the event can be found here.

Workshop 1 was all about Pi-Face (a device that stacks on top of the Pi and allows you to interact with the outside world) and hosted by Andrew from the University of Manchester. We used Scratch to create a program that activated a vibrating chicken (connected to Pi-Face) when a button on Pi-Face was pressed. I have used Scratch with students before – but only ever to control the onscreen sprites – not to be able to control objects in the real world. The possibilities are quite exciting (for example being able to program an alarm sensor (the sort you might find on windows or doors) to sound an alarm/tweet a message when the sensor is activated.


Workshop 2 was run by Alan O’Donohue (@teknoteacher) and was all about Python. What was striking here was the ease with which some of the children were able to program in Python (with some helpful prompt sheets, admittedly). I think Alan would agree that some people might see this as quite a steep learning curve; they may feel more comfortable starting out with something more visual like Scratch that has lots of pre-written commands to draw upon. For me, this was the most challenging workshop in terms of challenging my thinking about how students learn new concepts. I am worried that although students may be able to pick up some programming concepts – do they really understand them? Do they need to? Is being able to use various commands with some success enough? Alan described to me how he had worked with Year 5 children using Python and they understood the concepts he was teaching – so it’s obviously possible.


Workshop 3 was run by Rob Bishop (@rob_bishop) – from Raspberry Pi. Without a doubt, Rob's message was use the Pi to do something in the real world. Not just making things happen on screen, but using it for a physical purpose. He encouraged us to think of some ideas. One gentleman from the group mentioned that the road he lived on had a weight restriction for vehicles, but lorry drivers were constantly flouting this. His idea was to set up a Pi to detect when lorries drove by and snap their number plates using a webcam. For me – this really demonstrated how the Pi could be used in a real world scenario. Another idea (which actually won a prize at the end of the day) was to use the Pi to measure the blood suger levels of a child intermittently and tweet/send the results to a parent for peace of mind. In many ways, this make something happen/solve a real world problem philosophy has a huge amount in common with the Apps for Good project my Year 9 students are working on currently.


Of course, the free pizza, drinks and snacks at the end were a brilliant way to top off the day.


I tweeted throughout the day with comments and pictures – see my twitter stream here.

Thanks to everyone involved for a brilliant and very inspiring day. I am looking forward to learning and exploring more at the Raspberry Jamboree in March.


No Blogging Time!

30 03 2011

I’ve just been speaking with Dan Roberts… well, tweeting anyway (@chickensaltash). We both seem to agree that as teachers, it can sometimes be really quite difficult to find the time to blog. Even as I write this now, I have a day packed full of teaching, planning, moderation visits from an exam board, reports to write, parents evening to plan for. Teaching seems to be a never ending treadmill of things to do. Where can we find the time to blog? For me, it comes pretty low down the list of priorities… afterall, I get paid to run on the treadmill, not to blog my thoughts.

I can’t help but thinking I’m just making excuses. It takes all of 10 minutes to sit down and write a blog post. Surely I can spare that time? Sometimes, as teachers, I think we see networking and blogging as a bolt-on to our work. I normally get into school around 7am, normally leave around 7pm – sometimes the last thing I want to do when I get home is MORE work. But, I do think the added benefits of writing my thoughts down actually outweigh the time spent typing. My thoughts are there for other people to see and comment on and this added perspective is incredibly valuable (we tend to be rather insular in our own schools and classrooms at times).

What do others think? Are you a teacher and do you find that you do make the time to blog/network? How do you manage it? Am I just being incredibly inefficient with my time? Can we spare the extra quarter of an hour every other day to write in a blog? I’d love to know what you think…

Draft Programme – #PeLC11

6 03 2011

I have just been reading through the draft programme for the Plymouth e-Learning Conference 2011 – #pelc11 – (next month!). There is, as usual, a very exciting line up of presentations. We are going with a 3-day format this year and are hoping that many more teachers will be able to attend.

 I will be discussing issues around eSafety in schools, in my capacity as a Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre Ambassador. I will be joined by Simon Finch (@simfin), eLearning Officer at the Northern Grid for Learning. The session will be chaired by conference organiser Steve Wheeler. What are your thoughts on eSafety? Please let me know if you think there is something in particular we should be discussing during the session, or something you think we should be aware of.

Plymouth e-Learning Conference 2011 – Planning is underway…

9 11 2010

I attended the first Plymouth e-Learning Conference 2011 organising committee meeting last week. It took me 3 hours to drive down to Plymouth from Christchurch to join the meeting. It’s an exciting time. This conference in particular is one that will be of particular interest to teachers across the whole of the South-West. Like no other event, PeLC blends the rigour of  academic research with a very accessible forum for practitioners across the primary, secondary, further and higher education sectors. Definitely worth a look in – especially as the first day is free! See what the conference chair, Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth), has to say…

School and PLEs – Chalk and Cheese!

26 03 2010

After reading Steve Wheeler’s blog post I feel compelled to respond to some of the assertions he has made.

The PLE as a concept seems to have evolved in a very short time. One of the main problems is that there is no universal consensus about what it actually is. In fact, it isn’t anything: it is a term used by lots of different people to describe lots of different things. Some interpret a PLE as the collection of web tools that a learner uses, whereas others would describe this as one’s ‘personal web’. I subscribe to the notion that the concept of one’s Personal Learning Environment is not intrinsically digital, so can include things in the real and offline world, such as paper and personal connections with others.

But I do have some concerns. We have created and maintain an education system in which learners are not necessarily motivated to learn; it isn’t always the most pressing concern in their lives. The danger of identifying such a concept as a PLE is that it assumes that the learner knows the best way to approach their own learning. Similar to the problem faced by trying to identify one’s optimum learning style, learners may not yet have been exposed to the best approaches. Therefore, they may not yet be in a position to make those kinds of choices.

The PLE screams that learning is personalised and informal. However, schooling is often formal and teacher-led (even if you believe that there can be aspects of informal learning within a formal learning situation). It is easy for us to tie ourselves in knots trying to encourage the use of a PLE in school. Surely this is not possible? School may be a small part of a learner’s PLE. You simply cannot ‘implement’ a PLE in a classroom as Steve suggests. However, you can use formal learning within a classroom to influence a learner’s PLE, but it is their choice whether or not it is influenced.

Is institutional technophilia preventing (even damaging) learning?

20 08 2009

Those who follow me on twitter will know that I posted the following quote a few days ago from Andy Carvin’s blog –  (originally from Mike Wang)

It’s better to have a good teacher teaching by candlelight than a mediocre teacher surrounded by technology

This was immediately branded as convoluted by @digitalmaverick – who replied with

…a Good teacher doing ANYTHING is better than a mediocre/poor one doing ANYTHING but Tech still has a place

As it happens, I absolutely agree with this. The reason I tweeted Mike’s quote was in response to some schools’ attitude towards their technology.

Danah Boyd has just published a blog post on technophilia in which she really hits on some of the cultural issues that seem to exist in some institutions.

It’s really easy to get in the habit of seeing a new shiny piece of technology and just assume that we can dump it into an educational setting and !voila! miracles will happen… Dumping laptops into a classroom does no good if a teacher doesn’t know how to leverage the technology for educational purposes. Building virtual worlds serves no educational purpose without curricula that connects a lesson plan with the affordances of the technology. Without educators, technology in the classroom is useless

This is demonstrated particularly well by the use of interactive whiteboards, the likes of which lots of teachers seem to use as merely a projector screen. As Boyd proclaims, perhaps we need to invest more time and money in training educators to use the technology they have in new and interesting ways. Innovative practice and excellent learning is not the product of technology, but of the educators use of that technology.

Boyd also goes on to say that students use technology in a very different way to ourselves; do they use social bookmarking sites, or twitter for instance? Can it be assumed that students will want (or even be able to) use these tools to develop their own personal web? She also says that using Web 2.0 tools in classrooms (such as social networking sites) may cause the students to experience

…severe cognitive collision as teens try to work out the shift in contexts

I had not previously considered that using tools that force students to review their social norms could have a detrimental effect on their learning. This said, if we invest enough in educating those teachers and institutions who are going to be using this type of technology, I am confident that we can overcome any and all of the problems Boyd describes.
(Image Source)

Virtual Learning Environments

14 08 2009

I’ve just finished an undergraduate Education degree at the University of Plymouth. Some of the module leaders there decided to make some use of the Universities VLE (Microsoft Sharepoint?!). This use was generally restricted to sharing documents with students (e.g. a copy of the module documentation, hard-copies of which were provided anyway). Some branched out to using a discussion forum, with limited success. Students often only commented once; they usually did not interact with others, but merely stated their viewpoint.

Steve Wheeler recently made another bold statement about the demise of VLEs and gave them a two fingered salute in his recent blog post. Perhaps Steve has a point when it comes to VLEs being used in a way as described above. Indeed, I propose that they must change in order to survive in my recent article on VLEs.

They are changing and they will survive. Why shouldn’t they? Steve argues that they constrain and control, but it is James Clay’s comments that really ring true for me:

Using an institutional VLE does not preclude using other Web 2.0 services and tools, on the contrary, a VLE  and web tools can be used together.

Bingo! We need to be able to support colleagues and learners in building their own personal webs and PLEs. What better way to do this than to allow them to experiment from their institutional learning environment. Once they feel empowered and confident about learning using these sorts of tools, they can begin to venture outside of the VLE. Of course, for myself and many others who have had the opportunity to experiment and begin building a PLE there is no contest. But for those who are yet to understand the power of Web 2.0, a VLE may just be the springboard they need. It may even be that use of the VLE itself encourages the learner to build a better, more flexible and personalised solution for them, such as their PW/PLE, instead!.

So, the VLE:

Dead? No. In need of renewed confidence? Yes. The first rung on the ladder to building a PLE? Definitely.