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Home Events Event Raspberry Pi-oneers – the making of #RaspberryJam

Raspberry Pi-oneers – the making of #RaspberryJam

Will the Raspberry Pi hit the school computing mainstream? Tony Parkin investigates
Logo RaspberryJamAn eclectic mix of around 70 hackers, coders, beginners, educational computing veterans, teachers, would-be geeks and students gathered at  Mozilla's MozSpace in St Martin's Lane, London, for the first-ever London #Raspberry Jam.

What is a #RaspberryJam? Organised by Alan O'Donohoe (@teknoteacher), who also compèred the event, a #RaspberryJam consists of a meet of Raspberry Pi computer owners and enthusiasts, gathering to share stories, swap ideas and generally work out what to do with their new devices.

Actually not all those present were owners – as was clear from the groan at the start, many were still impatiently awaiting delivery. And among the crowd were a significant number of educators, keen to find out the potential of the Raspberry Pi to play a role in children's learning, as has been widely promised.

A series of #RaspberryJams are being held across the UK to build new groups

A series of #RaspberryJams are following across the UK, and the hope is that groups will spring up – wherever there are enough enthusiasts – to organise regular meets. And by the end of the evening Alan had five volunteers prepared to organise the next London #RaspberryJam.

Alan O'DonohoeIcebreaker activities had included a very analogue series of sticky-note exercises about what people were looking for from the event, and what they intended to do going forward. The  overwhelming impression I got was of those early 1980s gatherings of excited Spectrum or BBC B owners, excited by the technology but unclear about the way forward. Throughout the night there was passion and excitement aplenty – also drinks, nibbles and fruit thanks to Mozilla, and scones from @rslosek.

During the almost-formal part of the evening Alan introduced a number of speakers that gave some inkling of the range of interests gathered. Several of the inputs were not primarily focused on the Raspberry Pi but belonged in the wider context of the interest in computer studies, the excitement of coding, the joy of geekdom and putting some excitement back into ICT.

First up, and a classic example of this, was Genevieve Smith-Nunes (@pegleggen), whose Hack Day sadly won't feature any Raspberry Pis this year. However, she described her project to get nearly a whole cohort of Year 9s engaged in a Hack Day, courtesy of some dogged persistence and the continued existence of Activities Week at Dorothy Stringer School.

Gen hopes that other schools can engage with the day via the Dorothy Stringer Hack Day website. Throughout the Hack Day there will be expert talks, lasting for about 15 to 20 minutes, which teachers elsewhere should be able to use as video streams in their lessons, wherever they may be in the world. Gen is keen to exploit the Raspberry Pi's potential to build on the Hack Day event.

There's even a Raspberry Pi with own power supply for outdoor learning

In contrast Neil Ford (@neilcford), who some will know from his work with Emma Mulqueeny's Young Rewired State, described his work so far on a portable network field array using wifi and a web server application, based on a Raspberry Pi with its own power supply that could be rucksacked to outdoor activities. He even had an Amazon wish-list of parts (link below). We were now in serious techie terrain... geographically speaking.

Next up was Keith Dunlop, with a second dollop of geek goodness. He is an enthusiastic user of RiscOS, the operating system of the Archimedes computer, and a member of the RiscOS User Group Of London (@rougol). He showed how RiscOS, a 20-year-old operating system created for use in education on ARM chips similar to the one in the Raspberry Pi was looking at this stage in its Pi-variant development. This was especially interesting, not only for its appeal to the educational nostalgists at the event, but also as, uniquely, it was a real-time demo actually using a Raspberry Pi.

The graphics program he used still looked inspiringly impressive, despite its longevity. There are some issues with supporting standards such as wifi and USB – that didn't exist at the time of the Archimedes – but a stable version is expected to be released in September. So, surprisingly,  RiscOS still has its passionate advocates after all these years, though  perhaps less surprisingly its development has forked, so you can find active community sites for RiscOS enthusiasts at https://www.riscosopen.org/content/ and at http://www.riscoscode.com/.

John Bevan (@bevangelist) is the learning partnership lead at Mozilla, the open source corporation behind the  Firefox browser (among other things), and was host for the evening. Mozilla is also offering a number of events targeting the coding agenda, which have been packaged as its Summer Code Party, which started on June 23. His short demo of Thimble, one of the Webmaker tools that Mozilla has launched, showed students could easily become web writers as well as web consumers. To demonstrate just how easy this could be, he customised the Make Your Own Meme project for the the Raspberry Jam event – and you can see the YouTube video below.

If you weren't there, and want to know what happened in detail during these talks, worry not, as the omnipresent Leon Cych (@eyebeams) was there to video the event in its entirety. And he had presenters wearing an infra-red medallion which allowed his second, remote camera to follow them as they moved about – fascinating to watch! You can see the whole thing on YouTube below although of course it's not quite like being there.

If the sessions were eclectic, they were trumped in the networking sessions that followed, and were a main focus of the evening. Everyone scurried around trying to meet up with others with similar interests, or the person with the answers to their problem, or just to admire some of the cool stuff on display. Some of the coolest came from the beaming S K Pang, with his flashing light array – and he has a store which carries an interesting collection of goodies for use with the Raspberry Pi.

Raspberry Pi needs an ecosystem to bridge learning gap for non-geeks

At this point I met up with Mary Farmer (@ebd35), one of the teachers present, and Shreyas who, aged 12, was the youngest person in the room. As a total novice – though she had been there, got the Pi, and wore the t-shirt – Mary Farmer finds the initial learning curve on the Pi rather steep, and had been hoping to find easier access routes to get her using the device educationally as a non-geek.

The Raspberry Pi team are certainly hoping that there are teachers and others out there who will plug this gap, but I believe that Mary is right – for now the gap remains to be filled. James Abela (@eslweb) is already tweeting about developing key stage 3 materials based on the Pi, so hopefully the wait will not be too long.

But it was Pi-owning Shreyas who perhaps pointed us to the future. At 12, Shreyas finds himself in a school where his favourite online games are barred. A friend sitting next to him in the library showed him Scratch online, and he found it cool, and realised that he could play the games that other students had developed and put into the Scratch community.

He found some of the games weren't to his liking, and started to hack them about to improve them and, guess what, he found he enjoyed creating games more than he enjoyed playing them. He was excited to find that Scratch can run on the Pi, but now he also wants to explore other programming environments for game-making. Ironically, his friend lost interest when he heard that the Pi couldn't run Flash, as all his favourite games were Flash-based. But there is no stopping Shreyas now.

If you are an interested educator, and find there is a #RaspberryJam near you, it will definitely be worth going. If there isn't, you may even like to consider organising one. How do you find out where they are? Well the #raspberryjam hashtag on Twitter seems as good a way in as any, and Raspberry Jam is also on Eventbrite.

However, beginners do need to recognise that these are early days, and that while the devices are now speeding from supplier to user, there is still some way to go before the essential supporting ecology and infrastructure for education is in place. But that's also something you could also have fun helping create!

More information

Scientific Moustache's blogpost of the evening 
Genevieve's Hackday site     
Neil Ford's Amazon Wishlist  
Mozilla's Thimble HTML/CSS tool   
Raspberry Jam on Eventbrite   
Raspberry Pi website   
The #Raspberry Jam attended by Tony Parkin was held in St Martin's Lane, London, on June 20, 2012  

Tony ParkinTony Parkin, former head of ICT development at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (The Schools Network) and now an independent consultant, describes himself as a 'disruptive nostalgist'. He can be contacted at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  or on Twitter via @tonyparkin

 
Comments (5)
5 Friday, 07 September 2012 10:29
suzy
The thing is that kids could always get into programming if they were of a geeky mindset – believe me I did. The point of the Pi is surely to widen the base of people with a start in programming.
For that we need to help those who would otherwise stumble in the early days. Indeed, even more that that we need to give teachers enough confidence to buy some of these and have a hope that they won't be failed by Ofsted (ie we have to help them have recognisable lessons at least to get the kids up and running) – then the kids will see them. Thereafter, I agree, hands off and let them play – it's the fun part. But without help we have something that will still only be used by kids who are desperately interested and or have geek parents – the one set of kids who were programming anyway.
4 Wednesday, 04 July 2012 14:59
Gwyn ap Harri
Hi Tony I guess my point is, that the Pi doesn't need teachers for it to be great. Just that it exists will be enough for the kids that are interested to get hold of it and do stuff.
I remember my 'computer science' teacher showing me paper tape when I was programming in assembler. There's no way any curriculum would excite the future programmers, and no way we could get IT teachers to learn the skills to teach the kids what they need to do what they want to do. Web apps need server stuff, php, mysql, ajax, css, javascript etc etc.
Every teacher can tell kids about the Raspberry Pi. That's all the kids would want them to do. Believe me.
3 Monday, 02 July 2012 21:19
Tony Parkin
At the risk of coming over all middle-of-the-road Nick Clegg... I think both of your comments are probably right. I was certainly in two minds during the evening and as I tried to write it. I know there will be kids like Gwyn's son, indeed, I've already met some of them. They will have fun with their Raspberry Pi, alongside Lego, Scratch and the XBox.
Some will probably discard and grow out of it, some may be inspired to do more programming. But I also know that for many teachers and parents, the hurdles Donald identifies will be enough to prevent the Pi seeing any real action. And it makes me sad that this probably means that some learners will be denied the chance to discover that they have a talent in this area? Donald could be right, and they will find other routes or use other devices. But I still think that some helpful resources may just enable a group of teachers to feel confident enough to introduce the Pi into their classrooms, and that from there a proportion of students will take it and fly with it.
Tony
2 Monday, 02 July 2012 18:52
Gwyn ap Harri
Completely disagree with your comment. You can own it, experiment with it, break it, put it in your pocket, see what it's made of, and most importantly you can become fascinated by it. Thousands of kids learnt to program the ZX Spectrum with just a dog eared copy of Sinclair User. I know I did. We never had websites, forums, youtube etc to help us. My seven year old son LOVES his Raspberry Pi and DOESN'T WANT me to teach him. He wants to find out by himself. Now as teachers, we look and don't find the lesson plans and worksheets, and we think something is useless... Don't get me wrong, they're not for every kid, and it won't get the whole nation programming. It's for the future programmers, designers, engineers that need to break things to make things better.
1 Monday, 02 July 2012 13:30
Donald Clark
I've watched both Raspberry Jam videos, hoping to find some convincing ideas. Unfortunately, they confirmed my initial thoughts, expressed in this blog post – http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=Raspberry
In fact, I'd add several other reasons for the Pi being a sideshow:
1. Has shot off up geek cul-de-sac.
2. Far too difficult to get started.
3. Looks like something designed to scare off people from coding.
4. Lack pf educational ideas/materials.
I'd love to be proved wrong here, but it's all a bit hokey and, unlike Scratch, is in danger of being little more than a distraction. Now is not then. When the Spectrum et al was around, that's all we had. Now we all have cheap, powerful computers. A cheap circuit board, without a keyboard, screen or power supply is just odd.

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