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.