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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.