Tag Archives: schools

Raspberry Pi Weather Station for schools

via Raspberry Pi

When I first joined the Raspberry Pi Foundation, over a year ago now, one of my first assignments was to build a weather station around the Raspberry Pi. Thanks to our friends at Oracle (the large US database company), the Foundation received a grant not only to design and build a Raspberry Pi weather station for schools, but also to put together a whole education programme to go with it. Oracle were keen to support a programme where kids get the opportunity to partake in cross-curricular computing and science projects that cover everything from embedded IoT, through networking protocols and databases, to big data. The goals of the project was ambitious. Between us we wanted to create a weather experiment where schools could gather and access weather data from over 1000 weather stations from around the globe. To quote the original project proposal, students participating in the program will get the opportunity to:

  • Use a predefined Raspberry Pi hardware kit to build their own weather station and write application code that logs a range of weather data including wind speed, direction, temperature, pressure, and humidity;
  • Write applications to interrogate their weather station and record data in a cloud-hosted Oracle Application Express database;
  • Interrogate the database via SQL to enable macro level data analysis;
  • Develop a website on the Raspberry Pi to display local weather conditions that can be accessed by other participating schools; and
  • Access a Weather Station for Schools program website to see the geographical location of all weather stations in the program, locate the websites of other participating schools, interact with other participants about their experiences, blog, and get online technical support.

After a year of grafting on hardware prototypes and software development I’m pleased to announce that the final PCB design has been committed to manufacture and we are ready to start pre-registering schools who’d be interested in participating in the programme. We have 1000 weather station kits to give away for free so to find out how your school can be part of this read the rest of this post below, but first some background on the project.

If you’ve been on Twitter a lot you’ll have noticed me teasing this since about March last year. Below is a photo of the very first version.

I did a lot of testing to ensure that the components were reliable and wouldn’t become problematic on the software side after a long period of uptime. The goal was to have the Pi controlling everything, so that we could leverage learning opportunity: helping kids to learn about writing code to interface directly with the sensors, as well as displaying and analysing collected data. I settled on the following set of sensor measurements for the weather station:

  • Rainfall
  • Wind speed
  • Wind gust speed
  • Wind direction
  • Ambient temperature
  • Soil temperature
  • Barometric pressure
  • Relative humidity
  • Air Quality
  • Real Time Clock (for data logging purposes)

This seemed like a good enough spread of data. I’m sure some people will ask why not this measurement or why not that. It was important for us to keep the cost of the kit under control; although there is nothing to stop you from augmenting it further yourself.

Once that was nailed down I wrote a few lessons plans, and Lance and I trialled them with with two schools in Kent (Bonus Pastor Catholic College and Langley Park School for Boys).

BBC Schools Report were on site and recorded a short feature about the day here.

We gave the kids one lesson from the scheme of work, showing them how to interface with the anemometer (wind speed sensor) in code. One thing that was clearly apparent was how engaged they were. Once their code was up and running, and was able to measure wind speed correctly, they had a lot of fun seeing who could get the fastest movement out of the sensor by blowing on it (current record is 32 kph, held by Clive “Lungs” Beale). Warning: there is a fainting risk if you let your kids do this too much!

We went away from this feeling we were very much on the right track, so we continued to design the scheme of work. I’m also very glad to report that we’re not doing this all on our own! We’ve partnered with the Met Office and OCR Geography to produce the learning resources that will cover understanding how weather systems work and interpreting patterns in the data.

The scheme is has been broken down into three main phases of learning resources:

  1. Collection
    Here you’ll learn about interfacing with the sensors, understanding how they work and writing Python code to talk to them. You’ll finish off by recording the measurements in a MySQL database hosted on the Pi and deploying your weather station in an outdoor location in the grounds of your school.
  2. Display
    This will involve creating an Apache, PHP 5 and JavaScript website to display the measurements being collected by your weather station. You will have the opportunity to upload your measurements to the Oracle cloud database so that they can be used by other schools. Whether or not you choose to upload your data, you’ll still pull down measurements from other schools and use them to produce integrated weather maps.
  3. Interpretation of Weather
    Here you’ll learn how to discern patterns in weather data, analyse them and use them to inform predictions about future weather. This will be done for both local weather (using your own data) and national weather (using data from the Oracle cloud database online).

My next task was to take the breadboard prototype and create a PCB test version that we could use in a small trial of 20 or so units. I had not done any PCB design before this. So over the course of a couple of days I learnt how to use a free, open source, PCB design tool called KiCAD. I used a brilliant series of YouTube videos called Getting To Blinky by Contextual Electronics to get to grips with it.

Below is my second attempt. This board is what most hardware designers would call a sombrero. The Pi goes in upside down so it’s like a HAT that’s too big!

Weather Prototype KiCAD

I was aware that it was a huge waste of PCB real-estate. However, for the small volume run we were making, it was a convenient way to mount the board inside a cheap IP65 junction box that I wanted to use as the case. Below is the PCB prototype when first assembled. The little silk screen rain cloud graphic was borrowed from BBC Weather (thanks guys).

You’ll notice there are two boards. The small board marked AIR holds the pressure, humidity and air quality sensors. Since these must be exposed to the air they are at risk of atmospheric corrosion, especially in coastal environments. I wanted to avoid this risk to the Pi and the main board so this is why I split those sensors off to a separate smaller board. Below is how they look inside their respective cases.

The Pi sits inside the water-tight box on the left with M20 grommets to seal the cables going in and out. The AIR board on the right has conformal coating (a spray on protective layer), and is connected to the main board by a short length of cable. There are three large holes on the base of its case to allow the air in.

The weather station also needs a reliable network connection for remote monitoring, further code changes, to allow it to upload to Oracle, and to make sure that other computers on your school network can load its web pages.

Most importantly it also needs power. So instead of considering large batteries or solar panels I decided to kill two birds with one stone and use power over Ethernet. This allows power and network connectivity to be supplied through a single cable, reducing the number of cable grommets needed. You might be thinking that WiFi is an option for this; however, school WiFi networks are notoriously overloaded with many mobile devices competing for service.

So, if you go the same way as me, your school will need a long cable to run from the school building out to the location that you choose for the weather station. This basically means you never have to worry about its power or network connectivity. You are welcome to solve these challenges in your own way though, and this can actually be a very engaging and fun activity for the students to do themselves.

Once I had the PCB prototype working I had to get twenty more made and tested. This involved spending hours (it seemed longer) on the Farnell website building up a massive basket of electronic components. When the new boards and components were in my possession we took them down to a local company, EFS Manufacturing, in Cambridge for assembly.

Here are the twenty assembled and tested boards:

And here is another layer of the conformal coating spray going onto the AIR boards in the Pi Towers car park. It was a bit smelly and I didn’t want to gas out the office!

You’ll notice there are small bits of sticky tape on there. This is because the conformal coating needs to protect the solder joints on the board, but not block up the air holes on the sensors. This was a bit of a delicate job involving cutting the tape into tiny shapes, waiting for the coating to dry, and peeling it off using a scalpel.

So then it was just a matter of assembling the 20 kits with everything required to build a weather station. From the power bricks, rain gauges and wind vanes right down to grommets, screws and rubber washers. The trial participants were chosen by us to give us a coverage of field-trial users, schools and promotional partners. We kept one back to put on the roof of Pi Towers, and the rest were shipped at the end of November last year.

Slowly but surely reports have been coming in about these prototype kits being used in schools and code clubs.

Dan Aldred of Thirsk School & Sixth Form College has introduced Weather Wednesdays.

Matthew Manning, who runs the awesome YouTube channel RaspberryPiIVBeginners, made this video about setting his one up:

Andrew Mulholland, of Raspi-LTSP fame, has been using one at a Raspberry Jam where he volunteers in Northern Ireland.

James Robinson’s year 10 pupils from Soham Village College have been working through the scheme of work too.

OCR are putting one on their roof, and we’re still trying to acquire permission from the building owners at Pi Towers so we can put ours up on the roof. (Right now it’s operating from an outside window ledge.) Meanwhile, now that I was confident about it, I handed over the electrical schematic of the prototype to our engineering team. They imported it into the professional CAD package that the Raspberry Pi was designed in, and proceeded to make the Weather Board into an official HAT.

They have gone through it and essentially reworked everything to the same standard that you would expect from our products. So here it is, feast your eyes. You snap off the one side, and that is the equivalent of the small AIR board on the prototype.

Weather HAT labels

If you join our weather station scheme, this is what you will get, along with all the wind vanes, screws and other bits you’ll need. The plan is to mount the HAT onto the Pi using standard 11 mm stand-offs. Those will then mount onto a perspex sheet, and that sheet will screw into the electrical junction box. Nice and cheap.

The Raspberry Pi Weather Station kit is a great way to get your pupils involved in a wide range of computing activities whilst undertaking a practical science experiment. There is lots of opportunity for cross-curricular discussion on the science of meteorology, geography and global climate change. You will also get to participate in a global programme with other schools around the world. We have 1000 weather station units to give away to schools that sign up. The supporting educational resources are written in the English language and targeted at students aged around 15-16 years old; however we’re anticipating participation from pupils both younger and older than this. If your school would like to be one of this thousand then please sign up on THIS PAGE.

People we would like to thank:

In case you missed it above, here’s the School Sign Up again.

Teaching literature with Raspberry Pi

via Raspberry Pi

Last week, checking out posts people had made on our Facebook page and the projects they were telling us about, one in particular caught my attention. Sarah Roman, a high school English teacher from New Jersey, had written:

Our English class is going to be using the Raspberry Pi in order to build book-based video games, incorporating Scratch, Sonic Pi, and Python. The students are incredibly excited […]

There was a link to an Indiegogo campaign; we love to see Raspberry Pi used creatively outside of computing lessons, so I clicked on it. A minute of video opened with the title “English Classroom”, but it didn’t look like my high school English lessons. Students work around computers, ignoring the camera as they concentrate intently on… wait, is that Minecraft?

We got in touch with Miss Roman to find out more. She intends (for starters) to get students in her Junior Honors class (15-16 years old) building Pi-based games consoles with games that draw on their reading of Dracula by Bram Stoker, and she is raising funds to kit out her classroom with Raspberry Pis and accessories. The students will use Scratch, working collaboratively to create their own graphics, sounds, and housing for the console. Older students will be using the Raspberry Pis in their study of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Of course, these plans are only the beginning of the road for the Pis, both within and beyond Miss Roman’s classroom; her project proposal notes that there could be an opportunity to work with other instructors to show them how they might use Raspberry Pi in their teaching.

English Literature students

This isn’t the first time that Miss Roman has introduced video games to the English Literature classroom. Last year, Juniors reading William Golding’s Lord of the Flies worked in groups to build the island where the story is set from the imagery evidence they found in the text, adding significant quotes and moments to it via signposts and books; putting each student group into the same Minecraft world allowed them to explore each other’s work. Students were thrilled to use information from the book to build their own islands, and would sigh when the class came to an end. Miss Roman says,

Essentially, the Pi is helping me to integrate fiction and nonfiction, different literacies, and boost creative thinking […] I’m extremely happy with the Pi, and I’m sometimes staggered by the applicability it has for my classroom. I think that complex texts and ideas deserve projects that offer complexity as well, and by opening avenues of this kind for students, they have the ability to understand texts in ways that haven’t been previously accessed.

We’re excited to learn about Raspberry Pi being used in this way, and we hope that this crowdfunding campaign garners plenty of support – we’d love to hear more from New Jersey as this project takes off!

Thirty-five Pixels, powered by Raspberry Pi

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Creative Director and Interactive Developer Michael Newman was tapped by UCLA Extension to design their 2015 winter course catalog cover. To accompany his work, he also designed, developed, and built a Raspberry Pi-powered interactive installation called Thirty-five Pixels which is currently on display at UCLA Extension’s 1010 Westwood building through the 2015 Winter Quarter.

[caption id=”attachment_11152″ align=”aligncenter” width%3

A Raspberry Pi computer lab for learners in South Africa

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Back in July we wrote about an exciting project aiming to make computing accessible to school students in South Africa, where most schools have no computers at all and many lack electricity. Solar Powered Learning was raising funds for a Raspberry Pi computer lab at a secondary school in Johannesburg, with the aim of creating a facility that can be reproduced all over South Africa, and powered by solar energy where mains electricity isn’t available.

Their Indiegogo campaign was successful; we donated a classroom set of Pis and accessories, and project manager Taskeen Adam and fellow organisers set about coordinating volunteers to sand, drill, paint, lay cables, build desks and fit curtains.

Raspberry Pis and accessories to equip the new lab Students helped to prepare the room Ready to go

Remarkably, less than one month after the close of the fundraising campaign, the new computer lab was ready to use.

Computers in the new lab

Computers in the new lab on the day of its launch

Graham Schwikkard, a good friend of Pi who represents us in South Africa, went along to the launch of the new facility in September. He writes:

The team really did a stellar job meeting such a tight deadline. I was especially charmed by the school choir opening the ceremony, a student’s poem extolling the potential of technology and the many hand written thank you letters from students. It was very clear that the school, teachers and learners are very excited and appreciative of the project.

Launch day

Learners and teacher enjoy using their new lab for the first time

The Lab itself utilises a Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) with the Raspberry Pis working as thin clients. The server is additionally loaded with Khan Academy Lite (adapted to the local curriculum). This lets the students have a capable desktop experience and access to teaching videos and interactive exercises. Worth mentioning are the key local partners Siyafunda CTC, PiFactory and Ismail Akhalwaya, who have done a similar setup previously at another local township school and were key in getting this project completed. ​This first pilot does not include solar panels and they were able to use a school which has an existing electrical connection.

Hopefully, in the coming months we’ll be able to see the success of the model, and we hope to see it expand across South Africa where many schools lack both computer labs and valuable computer skills.

Students wrote to thank project sponsors

Several of the students have written letters of thanks to sponsors of the project – it’s clear the school community is really excited about the opportunities their new computer lab offers. It’s been great to watch the project develop this far, and we’re looking forward to more!

Seeking the next Alan Turing – the Bebras Computational Thinking Challenge

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Last week saw the London Film Festival open with the premier of The Imitation Game, a film which chronicles the awe-inspiring work of Alan Turing cracking the German naval Enigma machine at Bletchley Park, Britain’s code breaking centre during WWII.

Alan_Turing_photo

Alan Turing was a man of startling intellect and one of the founding fathers of computer science. After his work at Bletchley, Alan Turing went on to make significant contributions to the development of ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) at National Physical Laboratory (NPL), and later on the Manchester Mark 1 at Manchester University. Turing was a mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, computer scientist, mathematical biologist, and also a marathon and ultra-distance runner (all qualities to which I can only aspire and fail to measure up on every count). Of course, the tragedy of his life is how he was persecuted and prosecuted for his sexuality, which ultimately led to him taking his own life. This injustice was eventually recognised by the British Government in 2012, leading to a posthumous pardon by HM Queen Elizabeth in 2013. To this day Alan Turing remains one of the most notable figures in the development of computing in the UK.

Enigma-G

As an undergraduate at King’s College Cambridge, Alan Turing studied mathematics. It was during this time he did his seminal work on computation. Turing devised a methodology of describing hypothetical abstract machines, and demonstrated such machines are capable of performing any mathematical computation if it could be represented as an algorithmTuring machines are a central object of study in the theory of computation. Building on this earlier work in 1949 Turing proposed an experiment, the Turing test. In this test Turing attempted to understand and define the basis of machine “intelligence”. Turing’s assertion was that a computational device could be said to be “intelligent” if a human interrogator could not distinguish between the responses from the machine and that of another human being, through conversation alone. To this day the Turing test continues to spark debate around the meaning of artificial intelligence, so in homage of his work we’ve created an educational resource – a whole scheme of work for KS2 and KS3 – for teachers to explore the Turing experiment.

Turing Test lesson plan

At Bletchley, Turing had a bit of a reputation. He was nicknamed “The Prof” in recognition of his curious mannerism, his intellect and his understanding of computation. Here at Pi Towers, we are keen on all things computing, and we are always looking for ways to grow the next generation of Turings, so in conjunction with ARM Holdings and Oxford University we are proud to support and sponsor the UK Bebras Computational Thinking Challenge.

beaverUK2[1]

The Bebras Computational Thinking Challenge is open to all schools in the UK, for pupils from Year 2 to Year 13, and runs during the week beginning November 10. The challenge is free to enter, takes about 40 minutes and is completed online. If you are not sure what to expect, you can have a go at questions from previous year’s competitions here, but if you are interested in taking part in this year’s competition your school must register by October 31. Not in the UK ? Don’t worry, this is only the UK chapter of an international competition, so you can find out your national organising body at the Bebras site under countries.

Subscribe to the Raspberry Pi in Education Newsletter

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As an educational charity, education is at the heart of what we do here at Raspberry Pi. This year has seen the education team grow in number, resulting in the development of our new learning and teaching materials (a set of resources we’re adding to all the time), a free teacher training programme (Picademy), the introduction of competitions like the Poster Competition and the current Sonic Pi competition, all at the same time as running and participating in outreach events across the globe.

Spot Raspberry Pi Edu team members from Picademy cohort 4!

Spot Raspberry Pi Edu team members from Picademy cohort 4!

We often contribute posts to this blog to inform you, our wonderful community, about what we have been up to, and about future developments; and you often respond and interact with us to help us improve.

To help us inform teachers, school IT administrators, governors, head teachers, home educators and parents about what’s up in the world of Raspberry Pi in education, we have created a new email newsletter to keep educators and other interested folk up to date on all of our projects.

Our inaugural issue of the newsletter

Our inaugural issue of the newsletter

You can sign up for our newsletter here, and enjoy a monthly email penned by one of the Raspberry Pi Education Team. It is super easy to both subscribe and unsubscribe to the newsletter, and we shall be keeping an archive of all issues on the education page of the website. We promise never to use your email address for spam, and we promise never to sell it, fold, bend, spindle or mutilate it. Go and sign up – we think you’ll find it really useful!

 

Exploring computing education in rural schools in India

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Earlier this year, the Raspberry Pi Foundation supported a University of Cambridge team of two researchers, Dr Maximilian Bock and Aftab Jalia, in a pilot project exploring the possibilities of providing computing access and education in rural schools in India. Working with local organisations and using an adaptable three-day programme, they led two workshops in June 2014 introducing students and teachers to computing with the Raspberry Pi. The workshops used specially designed electronics kits, including Raspberry Pis and peripherals, that were handed over to the partner organisations.

Karigarshala students connect Raspberry Pis and peripherals The first workshop took place at Karigarshala Artisan School, run by Hunnarshala Foundation in Bhuj, Gujarat; the attendees were a group of 15-to-19-year old students who had left conventional education, as well as three local instructors. The students started off with very little experience with computers and most had never typed on a keyboard, so a session introducing the keyboard was included, followed by sessions on programming, using the Raspberry Pi camera module and working with electronics.

Karigarshala students mastering hardware control of an LED via the Raspberry Pi GPIO

Karigarshala students mastering hardware control of an LED via the Raspberry Pi GPIO

Students chose to spend their evenings revisiting what they had learned during the day, and by the end of the course all the students could write programs to draw shapes, create digital documents, connect electronic circuits, and control components such as LEDs using the Raspberry Pi.

Chamoli students practise on their own using a TV as a monitor

Chamoli students practise on their own using a TV as a monitor

The second workshop welcomed six- to twelve-year-old pupils of the Langasu Primary School in the remote Chamoli district, Uttarakhand, along with three of their teachers. This younger group of students followed a programme with more focus on activities featuring immediate feedback — for example, Sonic Pi for live-coding music — alongside programming and electronics tasks. As they learned, students soon began teaching other students.

In an Ideas Competition held at the end of the workshop, entries reflected students’ engagement with the Raspberry Pi as a device with which to build solutions: an inverter system to deal with frequent power outages, a weather station that gives warnings, a robot to assist with menial chores.

Weather station/forecaster Battery-operated inverter Pi-controlled chores robot

The Cambridge team’s “Frugal Engineering” approach, delivering computing education without the need for elaborate infrastructure, proved very successful in both schools. Hunnarshala Foundation has decided to integrate the Raspberry Pi into its vocational training curriculum, while students at Langasu Primary School will not only carry on learning with Raspberry Pis at school but will be able to borrow self-contained Raspberry Pi Loan Kits to use at home. The Cambridge team remains in touch with the schools and continues to provide off-site support.

September 2014 and February 2015 will see the team build on this successful pilot with induction workshops in three new schools, as well as follow-up visits to evaluate the use of Raspberry Pi in past project sites and to provide support and resources for expanding the programmes.

Solar-powered Raspberry Pi school

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I heard about plans for a new Indiegogo fundraiser last week. It launches today, and it really deserves your attention. (And, dare I say it, some of your money.)

Seventy-seven percent of schools in South Africa don’t have any computers – and 40% don’t even have access to electricity. United Twenty-13, a South African non-profit organisation, is looking to bootstrap a new model of solar-powered school computer lab, with the intent of scaling and reproducing the lab all over South Africa.

Taskeen Adam, one of the founders, says: “The fact that you are reading this online means that you already have more computer knowledge than the average South African public school student.” It’s a situation she and her colleagues at United Twenty-13 are making serious efforts to change, with the help of a certain small, affordable, low-power computer.

They’ve already raised sufficient funds for the lab design, for teacher training and for a prefabricated building to house it all in. But they’re looking for additional money to buy hardware (all the software they’re using is open source) – not just the Raspberry Pis and accompanying peripherals, but the expensive solar panels too.

Solar-powered learning

A secure, temperature-regulated classroom for 42 learners

Projects like this, democratising access to computing and access to information, are key in making improvements to local and national economies; and they’re key in empowering and changing the lives of the young people who are exposed to them. We wish the Solar Powered Raspberry Pi School project all the success in the world – you can donate to the project at their Indiegogo. If you’d like a full project brief before you consider donating, you can find that too at www.solarpoweredlearning.com.

PA Consulting Raspberry Pi Competition

via Raspberry Pi

The PA Raspberry Pi competition challenges young people to use the Raspberry Pi to make the world a better place. Last year I helped judge the competition and was amazed by the creativity and innovation of the entries (the excellent AirPi was one of last year’s winners). This year’s event was held in the Science Museum, and I went along to judge the Year 4-6 and Year 7-11 categories, and to run some workshops along the way.

The Sonic Pi workshops were fantastic—they almost ran themselves, with the students continually trying out new things in quest to make the best music or silliest sounds (the exploding farmyard was a particular favourite). I’ve said it before, but Sonic Pi is genius.

In the afternoon I joined my fellow judges: Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC’s technology correspondent, and Claire Sutcliffe, co-founder of Code Club. We spent 15 minutes talking to each of the seven teams.  The winning projects had to have the potential to benefit the world in some way and we were also looking for things like innovation, creativity and originality. What really stood out was the energy of the teams — they all talked passionately and knowledgeably about their projects and how they had used the Raspberry Pi to solve real world problems.

stmarys

St Mary’s CE Primary, with Pi ‘n’ Mighty, their recycling robot

The year 4-6 category was won by St Mary’s CE Primary School with their recycling robot Pi ‘n’ Mighty. The robot scans packaging barcodes and then tells you if it can be recycled and which bin to put it in. The team was bursting with energy and falling over themselves to explain how they’d made it and what it did. I’d love to see a Pi ‘n’ Mighty in every school canteen, encouraging recycling and helping children learn about the topic. And it looks fantastic, exactly how a robot should look!

plantpi

Frome Community College won the year 7-11 category prize with their prodigious Plant Pi, a system to care for plants and monitor their environment. The team had covered every aspect including hardware and web monitoring, and they had even created an app. It really is a brilliantly designed and engineered solution that already has the makings of a commercial product. The project is open source and includes code, instructions, parts list and documentation.

It was a great day and it was a real pleasure to speak to the finalists and to see young people doing remarkable and useful things with the Raspberry Pi. If I could bottle the innovation, enthusiasm, creativity and technical skills in that room then I would have a Phial of Awesome +10. (I would carry it around with me in a belt holster and open it for the occasional sniff when feeling uninspired.) Best of all, I know that we’ll be seeing some of these finalists again: skills like computational thinking stay with you for life and will serve these kids in whatever they do in the future.

Learning through gaming

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Allen Heard, Head of Computing at Ysgol Bryn Elian in North Wales (that’s Welsh for Bryn Elian School), is visiting us at Pi Towers today. We’ve been talking about making Computing fun to learn, and how to make sure that kids remember what they’ve done in their lessons – and perhaps even keep learning at home.

Allen’s been running Tech-Dojo events in North Wales, which have been attracting hundreds of kids – on Saturdays! Here’s what he’s been doing: note the Flappy Bird clones the kids are writing in Scratch, the use of Minecraft, the way kids are learning about pixel art by building recognisable sprites out of beads, and other ways he’s bringing out the kids’ ability to think programatically through building games and the fundamental elements of games.

A few months ago, Allen entered these Tech-Dojo events into the North Wales e-Learning Technology Competition for projects that engage with the local community. He’s just heard that the project won first prize in its category, and will present it to educators from across North Wales at an event at Glyndŵr University, St Asaph, next week. We’re very excited: we think this sort of model of education’s great for kids who find traditional learning dry, and the results the kids are achieving speak for themselves. Congratulations Allen: we look forward to seeing similar events rolling out across Wales, and further into the UK!

High Altitude Ballooning, sixth-form style

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We’ve been very keen to see schools set up high altitude ballooning (HAB) projects with the Pi. HAB is a stupendously rewarding and challenging way to get some really good cross-curricular work done, requiring skills in maths, computing, physics, geography and chemistry. So we were super-chuffed to get this email from Samuel Bancroft, a school student from Cumbria. The team also sent me some really excellent video from the flight, which you’ll find at the bottom of the post.

Hi Liz

I’m writing to you to see if you would be interested in writing an article about a sixth-form student high altitude balloon project that was launched on Friday the 28th June.

The project was completed by three students from William Howard School, Cumbria. We are Jake Greenwood(16), Samuel Bancroft(17) and Ben Bancroft(17). We all are currently doing our A-Levels.

The project started when we all came together with the idea of launching our own weather balloon, to gather scientific data. We got our inspiration from our passion for Physics, and by other launches that has been completed by other people, such as Dave Akerman, the first to launch a Raspberry Pi on a high altitude balloon. We started by seeing how feasible the project would be, by planning out how we would complete it, and pricing it up. We then went to our school, and in turn the Ogden Trust, to look to secure funding.

The project was funded by a Royal Society grant of £300, as well as bit extra which was covered between us.

My brother Ben, was responsible for the electronics, and the programming of the flight computer (we used a Raspberry Pi for this). He designed it to continuously take readings from the sensors it carried, and send it back via a radio link. He has experience in this field, and wants to do a Computer Science degree at university, after completing his A-Levels. Both Jake and I want to do a Physics degree.

The balloon was monitored live via the radio link, which was received by many receivers all across the country, and one in Europe which was 425 miles away. This was only made possible because of the UK High Altitude Society (UKHAS), as they helped track our flight which was vital. This enabled us to track the balloon in real time via its on-board GPS, as well as enabling us to get readings from its sensors throughout the flight. The balloon measured gamma rays, UV flux, temperature and pressure. It also carried a video camera.

The balloon made it into near space, at a height of 31,685 metres (103,953 feet). Minimum temperature was at 11km and was -34 deg C.

Something of interest is that at 800m in altitude, the Pi suffered an application crash. However Ben’s code successfully allowed the flight computer to restart and resume operations.

As one of the Raspberry Pi’s main objectives is to promote computer science in schools, I believe our project serves as an excellent example of the Pi’s success.

Raspberry Pi in schools: discussion

via Raspberry Pi

This video of the closing panel discussion from last month’s Raspberry Jamboree has just appeared, and if you’re interested in applications of the Pi in schools, it’s well worth your time. If you want to find out more about the successful teaching of Computing in schools, this is a great place to start.

The OCR materials that are mentioned in the discussion are available for download for anyone: you don’t have to be a teacher. They’re only the start of a large planned scheme of work, and you’ll find materials for both pupils and teachers.

So watch the video, have a look through the worksheets, and let us know what you think. I’m meeting Alan O’Donohoe, who runs the Raspberry Jams, in…about ten minutes – if you have any questions for him please leave them in the comments, and I’ll pass them on!

Bringing computing to rural Cameroon

via Raspberry Pi

Liz: I was going to post this tomorrow, but it’s so good I just couldn’t wait. We’ve just had some mail from Geert Maertens, from Anzegem in Belgium. He’s been working with a small group of volunteers to raise money to bring computing to a school in a remote area of Cameroon. I’ll quote him in full: what he’s got to tell us is fascinating, and makes us feel very, very proud. Thank you Geert, Kristel, Griet and Hans - please keep us posted!

I am a volunteer in a group that provides the funding to build a secondary school (Saint Marcellin Comprehensive College, or SAMACCOL) in a small village in Cameroon. The village is called Binshua and is located close to Nkambe in the Northwest region of Cameroon. This is a relatively poor region of the country, with no reliable water and electricity supply. Also, at present, the nearest internet connection is found in a town called Kumbo which is a three hour drive from Binshua, not so much because of the distance but rather because of the quality of the road.

Ever since we learned about the Raspberry Pi, we were dreaming of a computer lab equipped with these little wonders. And so we pursued this dream. For the necessary funds, we found a generous partner in Rotary International. Thanks to the efforts of the Rotarians in Waregem, Kortrijk and Kumbo and of the Rotary International Foundation, we have the money to provide the essential infrastructure for the school.

And so last month, we travelled with a group of four Pi enthusiasts (Kristel, Griet, Hans and myself) to Cameroon with 30 Pis in our suitcases. Also, we bought HDMI to VGA convertors here in Belgium because we knew it might be hard to find HDMI screens over there. Furthermore, the network equipment (router, switches, hard drive) and a small load of books all came along from Europe. The screens, keyboards and mice were bought in a local computer shop in Bamenda, Cameroon. Currently, it is not possible to connect the school to the public power network, so the class needs to be powered by a small generator of Chinese manufacture.

In the lab, we installed 25 Raspberry Pis. The remaining 5 RPis are currently unused. They certainly play a role in our plans for the future, but currently serve only as spare parts. All of the systems run on the Raspbian image from December, with LibreOffice and CUPS installed. The Pis are currently used to teach the children the basics of working with an Office suite. But we made sure that we gave the teacher a little introduction (and a good book) on programming in Scratch. So, now we are hoping that this will get Scratch introduced in the school curriculum as well.

The computers are all connected in a network. The central point of the network is a router that’s ready to be connected to a WAN modem. We hope to be able to provide a connection to the internet in the near future, which would certainly bring a small revolution into this rural area. Even without an internet connection, we believe that we created an advanced computer lab in this underdeveloped area. Giving the children in the area a chance to work their way to a better future. And that is our motivation.

Geert Maertens

Charlotte Latin girls give a TEDx talk

via Raspberry Pi

I met Tom Dubick about a year ago at Hackerspace Charlotte, NC. He teaches engineering to the girls at Charlotte Latin School, and we believe his class was the first to be using the Raspberry Pi in the United States.

He and a group of his 13-year-old pupils have just given a TEDx talk called How Girls Should Serve Raspberry Pi. The girls here are presenting the projects they’ve made with Raspberry Pi over this semester, but there’s another important message here: we know that STEM subjects are not just for boys, but we should recognise that not all girls are the same, so our teaching approach is doomed if we decide that the only way to get girls into engineering subjects is to “shrink it and pink it”.

Keep watching – the projects get better and better. (Rolling backpack indicator lights FTW!)

Raspberry Pi Competition Results

via Raspberry Pi

A few months ago PA Consulting Group ran a competition that challenged young people to make the world a better place using a Raspberry Pi. Last Wednesday I went along to help judge the 14 teams who made it to the final.

Walking into the presentation room there was a real creative buzz as the contestants set up their projects and carried out last minute tweaks. They were excited and nervous and proud to have made something both cool and useful. The room was suffused by the Essence of Awesome that I’d love to put in an atomiser and spray on people who proudly tell me that they don’t see the point of the Raspberry Pi.

It was also great to see mixed and all-girl teams well represented and something that we need to see more of.  The creative side of computing often gets overlooked but was very evident here.  As well as writing code, the contestants had built mini wired-up houses; roving robots; prototypes from Lego; hacked an energy monitor; hooked up RFID sensors to time races and built lots of other practical computing stuff that we think is a powerful hook to get people into computing.

Despite what Hollywood would have us believe, computing isn’t about millions of lines of scrolling, arcane code: it’s about concepts and ideas and it’s about solving problems. The fun bit for me is in taking an idea and making it real. What was once only in your head is now alive and kicking in the real world. Better still, you can easily share your creation with the rest of the world via the Net. It doesn’t get much better than that if you like making things. What all of the entries had in common was a useful idea plus a level of creativity that the Raspberry Pi always seems to encourage.

The winners

8-11 years The Richard Pate School who designed a system to help elderly or disabled people answer the door. A great idea that was well thought out and we were impressed by the teamwork.

12-16 years: Dalriada School with their web-controlled pill dispenser. We were impressed with the professional level of research and prototyping as well as the clever idea.

Dalriada School’s brilliant pill dispenser. Various prototypes (front) are made from Lego and 3d-printed.

16-18 years: Team Meteoros from Westminster School, whose AirPi gathers air quality data and provides a web interface for monitoring and analysis.  The judges loved the teamwork, passion and the potential (each AirPi will feed information to a central server). It was my personal favourite: I’ll be making one with my son to stick in our garden and will blog about this as we put it together. Full build instructions and how to get involved are on their site.

AirPi: senses 99.9% of all known stuff

Open category: UNOP who reverse-engineered the communication protocol of an off the shelf electricity monitor to make better use of the data. I loved the hacker ethos: “this doesn’t do what I want it to so I’m going to make it better.”

These projects were a taster of exactly what the Raspberry Pi Foundation set out to do and we look forward to see more and more of this as people get a chance to mess about on an open and accessible platform. We want what was happening in that room to start happening in schools and clubs and homes everywhere.

So congratulations to the winners, thanks again to PA Consulting for running a quite brilliant competition and a special thanks to all of the young people who showed us yet again that given the opportunity and a Raspberry Pi they will surprise us with their ideas, creativity and tech skills. It was a pleasure to be there.

N.B. I have used the words ‘creative’ and ‘creativity’ a lot. I make no apologies. Get a Raspberry Pi. Get creating. I’m off to pitch Essence of Awesome™ to Chanel.