Tag Archives: schools

PA Consulting Raspberry Pi Competition

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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.


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!


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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Emma’s second-grade poster project

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Emma is in the second grade (7-8 year olds). And she’s already well on her way to being a fully fledged engineer.

Every year, Emma’s school runs a State Board project, where each kid in the second grade is assigned a US state to make a trifold poster about. Emma’s already a Maker Faire veteran who knows how to solder and how to use a milling machine. She programs in Python, and she’s very keen on electronics; so with some help from Dad she used a Raspberry Pi to turn her poster into an all-singing, all-dancing interactive Vermont extravaganza.

Here’s a great bit of video of Emma showing off her soldering skills; she’s constructing a Perma-Proto that’s used in the project. She learned how to solder at Maker Faire in NY last year; those adults among you who sometimes comment here saying you haven’t ever done any soldering and don’t feel you have the time to learn should hang your heads. (And then go and buy a soldering iron.) Remember: Soldering is Easy.

When I was Emma’s age, I was glueing fake fur, lentils and macaroni onto a large cut-out ankylosaurus. If I remember correctly, I wasn’t allowed to use the scissors on my own, so someone else did the cutting-out for me. I feel a little outclassed.

Well done Emma – we’re all really impressed by your project and your technological skills, and we hope you’ll let us know if you use a Raspberry Pi in any of your future schoolwork!

You can learn more about Emma’s State Board project at Dad’s website.

Video from Chesterton Community College

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A short video from last week’s announcement of Google’s $1m grant for Raspberry Pi kits and teaching materials has just appeared in my inbox. No new news here, but we thought you’d like to see just how well the kids at Chesterton Community College got on with the morning’s programming; and to watch Eben trying his hardest not to break into a giant grin.

Computer Science added to EBacc

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If you’re at BETT this week, come over to Stand B240 to meet one of the Robs, Clive and a bunch of impaled Jelly Babies.

The Department for Education (DfE) has just announced that Computer Science is to be added to the new English Baccalaureate or EBacc. The EBacc is a series of new qualifications to replace the GCSEs that English kids take at 16, designed to be more rigorous than the existing standards.

This is an enormous curricular change for England, which has traditionally recognised only Physics, Biology and Chemistry as core science subjects. Computer Science is now on a level footing with those subjects, carrying the same weight and prestige, and having an equal impact on choices pupils can make later about A Levels and University courses. This is wonderful news.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said today:

It is great news that Google is helping the brilliant Raspberry Pi project. We are replacing the old-fashioned ICT curriculum with a Computer Science curriculum. This will combine with the Raspberry Pi project to spread teaching of computer coding which is so educationally and economically vital.

The new Computer Science curriculum replaces the old ICT curriculum, discontinued last year. The old ICT courses did not prepare students for studying Computer Science at university (or for much else); we’re delighted to see their replacement being treated as a proper, exacting academic subject. There’s a statement from the DfE that you can read in full over at their website; it’s worth a look.

What specifics would you like to see included in a new CompSci curriculum?

15,000 Raspberry Pis for UK schools – thanks Google!

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Today’s been a bit unlike most Tuesdays at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Today we’re the recipients of a very generous grant from Google Giving, which will provide 15,000 Raspberry Pi Model Bs for schoolkids around the UK. Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, has just been to visit Cambridge, and he and Eben have been teaching a classroom of local kids to code all morning. Lucky kids.

(Usually on Tuesday mornings we eat biscuits and do engineering. This is a bit of a change of pace.)

We’re going to be working with Google and six UK educational partners to find the kids who we think will benefit from having their very own Raspberry Pi. CoderDojo, Code Club, Computing at Schools, Generating Genius, Teach First and OCR will each be helping us identify those kids, and will also be helping us work with them. You’ll already have seen the Raspberry Pi teaching materials from Computing at Schools; OCR will also be creating 15,000 free teaching and learning packs to go with the Raspberry Pis.

We’re absolutely made up over the news; this is a brilliant way for us to find kids all over the country whose aptitude for computing can now be explored properly. We believe that access to tools is a fundamental necessity in finding out who you are and what you’re good at. We want those tools to be within everybody’s grasp, right from the start.

The really good sign is that industry has a visible commitment now to trying to solve the problem of CS education in the UK. Grants like this show us that companies like Google aren’t prepared to wait for government or someone else to fix the problems we’re all discussing, but want to help tackle them themselves. We’re incredibly grateful for their help in something that we, like them, think is of vital importance. We think they deserve an enormous amount of credit for helping some of our future engineers and scientists find a way to a career they’re going to love.

BETT 2013

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Are you going to BETT this year? BETT (Jan 30—Feb 2) is the UK’s annual educational technology conference, and this year we’ve teamed up with the exam board OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA examinations) for the show. We’ll be with them at stand B240.

We know that a lot of the teachers who read this blog will be there, and we’d love it if you could drop by the stand to meet us: Rob Bishop will be doing whizz-bang demonstrations there and showing you how easy incorporating the Pi into your computing classes can be; he’ll also have some fun physical computing projects to talk about (he’s been muttering about making machines that interface with Twitter, and making dark hints about robots). You can find out about some exciting new resources from OCR, and we’ll also be introducing you to our new Director of Educational Development, whose identity we’re keeping secret until the end of the month; he and Dr Rob Mullins will be presenting at the weekend. We’ll have more details about that closer to the event.

OCR are helping us to run a special prize draw for UK teachers, who can win ten Raspberry Pis for use in their classroom. (Sorry, non-teachers – this one’s for educators only.) We’re running on-stand demos throughout the event plus a ‘Learn Live’ session on Friday 01 February 2013 at 1.15pm.  Don’t miss it!

Guest post: Dr Andrew Robinson, Manchester University

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Liz: Our friend Dr Andrew Robinson (whom you may have spotted on this site before) has been working hard to introduce schools to the Raspberry Pi, and recently he’s been teaming up with STEMnet ambassadors to run workshops. Here’s a post from him about a recent visit to Fairfield High Girls’ School in Manchester.

Just before Christmas we were inspired when we saw the Raspberry Pi engaging young people with computing at an event in a Manchester School. It’s great to see how well the Pi goes down with young people, the folks it was designed for!

The girls got to grips with both Python and Scratch, with basic interfacing and control-building games and reaction timers. The now famous Twitter Chicken also made an appearance and was well received, with the students wanting to build their own. By the end of the session some wanted Raspberry Pis and Scalextrics for Christmas.

The workshop was organised by Miss Nisbet, an IT teacher, after she came to our first CPD/networking event organised with STEMnet. We were really pleased when the workshops were a huge hit with a number of teachers, and the STEMnet Ambassador framework provided a means to support them.

The latest workshop was supported by Mike Sanders, a STEM Ambassador, and employee of Waters, who helped with technical support as well as showing the importance of computing in industry and as a career. If you work in computing and are looking at ways of getting involved in education I’d really recommend you contact your local STEMnet office.

We found the event really positive – the energy and enthusiasm of the girls have spurred us on to do more workshops. Some teachers we’ve met have concerns about using Raspberry Pi in the classroom, and we are able to show them that it’s possible. Actually getting hands on gives us experience of some to the problems schools face and the chance to come up with solutions; e.g. some schools were concerned that Raspberry Pis only worked with HDMI monitors, and we’ve found ways round this. There’s still more things to sort, like networking, but we’re convinced these can be overcome. The main thing is to experiment give things a go and then find a way round challenges when they occur.

We’ve got more workshops planned after Christmas. One school is working with a team of Ambassadors for a near-space mission, with others building robots and mobile apps. In all our workshops we focus on building and making something, not just learning to code. Many people don’t understand why they’d want to bother to learn programming, so our approach is to tempt them to make something, so they become thirsty for the knowledge of how to achieve it. We then push them to customise what they make so they realise they can shape technology for their needs rather than just having to consume shrink-wrapped products.

We want to package up materials from the workshops, together with experiences using Raspberry Pi in classrooms and practical ways to manage it. We expect to get the step-by-step guide to building the ‘techno bird box’ out after Christmas, ready for spring nesting season once we’ve finished road testing it with more youngsters.

If you’ve got ideas for more workshops or want to support us then get in touch, either comment below or get in touch though
http://pi.cs.man.ac.uk/contact.htm. We’re keen to hear from people that would be keen to work with us to develop more workshops.

CAS Raspberry Pi Educational Manual

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You might remember that we mentioned last year that a team of UK teachers from Computing at School (CAS) was working on a Creative Commons licensed teaching manual for the Raspberry Pi, with recognition and encouragement from the Raspberry Pi Foundation. That manual is now available at the Pi Store (which you’ll find on your Raspberry Pi’s desktop) as a PDF. If you’re not a Pi owner, there’s a link to a copy at the bottom of this post.

The manual is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 unported licence, which is a complicated way of saying that it’s free for you to download, copy, adapt and use – you just can’t sell it.

You’ll find chapters here on Scratch, Python, interfacing, and the command line. There’s a group at Oracle which is currently working with us on a faster Java virtual machine (JVM) for the Pi, and once that work’s done, chapters on Greenfoot and Geogebra will also be made available – we hope that’ll be very soon.

We want to say an enormous thank you to the whole CAS team, especially Andrew Hague, who corralled everything (and everyone) together as well as editing much of the document and writing a couple of the chapters. Thanks also to the team at Publicis Blueprint (beware! This link autoplays some video), who did more copy-editorial, production and typesetting work, all on a volunteer basis. Thank you to Graham Hastings, Michael Kölling, Ben Croston, Adrian Oldknow and Clive Beale, who wrote chapters of the manual; thank you to Bruce Nightingale, Brian Starkey and Alan Holt for the digital content. And thank you to the army of CAS members who worked so hard on reviewing and proofreading everything. Everybody who worked on this manual gave freely of their own time to make it happen, and we’re very, very grateful to you all.

The manual itself? It’s brilliant, and we think you’ll find it really useful. Head over to the Pi Store from your Raspberry Pi’s desktop to download a copy directly to your Pi, or, if you don’t have a Raspberry Pi, download it here. We’ll be hosting the manual on this site too, once I’m in front of the right computer – I’ll update again this evening!

Of Mohawk Guy and Raspberry Pi

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The 20% sale on T-shirts ends tonight – and today is the last day for guaranteed Christmas delivery of those shirts outside the UK. Get them while you can – they make for a great Christmas present for your best beloved hacker! (Or yourself…)

Here’s a guest post from Rik Goldman, a teacher from Chelsea School in Maryland, US, who has been using the Raspberry Pi in the classroom. He’s got some thoughts about what excites kids about STEM education, and what impact the Pi has had at his school. We’d like to share them with you. 

I urge readers to look back boldly: Is it not impossible to exaggerate the grip Mohawk Guy had on Networked Americans? In all honesty, I thought it was just me: My spouse was driving us to Florida while I read livefeeds of the Mars Rover’s late-show landing on August 5-6, 2012 – days prior to the start of this Fall term for secondary students and teachers in the United States. Being not entirely dull, I recognized sometime before dawn that there had to be something significant in the realization that I had learned more about Mohawk Guy in two hours of livefeeds than I had about Mars over the course of years of education formal and informal.

It wasn’t just me: by 4 pm on the afternoon of the landing, Maura Judkis revealed in a Washington Post blog post the extent of Mohawk Guy’s – nee Bobak Ferdowski’s – grip on our attention spans: by dawn, according to Judkis, Ferdowski was an “insta-celebrity” – in just a few short hours, Ferdowski accumulated 10,000 twitter followers; moreover, by dawn a Tumblr blog emerged with a curated collection of Ferdowski tributes – significantly dedicated as much to his good looks as his accomplishments as the Rover’s Mission Controller. [1]

Bobak Ferdowsi, who cuts his hair differently for each mission, works inside the Spaceflight Operations Facility for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover. (Brian van der Brug – AP)

CNN made clear on 15 August that Mohawk Guy wasn’t merely a social media sensation: With the title “Mars rover mission’s ‘Mohawk Guy’ inspires Obama,” writer Elizabeth Landau recounts Obama’s own nod to Ferdowski [2]:

“Mohawk Guy,” a Mars rover flight director, isn’t just a social media sensation — he made an impression on President Barack Obama, too.

“I, in the past, thought about getting a mohawk myself, but my team keeps on discouraging me,” Obama told scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a phone call Monday broadcast on NASA TV.

“And now that he’s received marriage proposals and thousands of new Twitter followers, I think that I’m going to go back to my team and see if it makes sense,” he said to the sound of laughter from dozens of NASA employees.

Judkis’s blog post was followed by another Washington Post publication that helped get at the tacit kernel of Mohawk Guy’s popularity: If the title of the post, “Bobak Ferdowsi, aka ‘Mohawk Guy’ and STEM education’s new dream come true” doesn’t drive it home, a single, terse paragraph further down the 7 August article really does – “He makes science cool.” [3]

Ours is a small, nonpublic, secondary school serving urban students; perhaps it isn’t representative. Nevertheless, an informal poll of students who know of the Curiosity’s landing suggests that it’s had null impact on their interest in STEM fields (the majority of students polled did not know of the Curiosity mission). Our faculty and administration corroborate the findings of this informal poll: Our Head of School suggests Curiosity’s success has had no impact on our students. The teacher of Fundamentals of Technology, a state-mandated course, suggests that our students have not been explicitly moved by Curiosity. In my role as the academic coordinator of the technology department, as well as in my role as an advanced technology instructor, I can also testify that students aware of Curiosity are no more invested in STEM as a result of the mission’s success.

Nevertheless, it would be dishonest to say there hasn’t been a tidal change in student’s interest in STEM fields this academic year: In academic year 2011-2012, our co-curricular technology club had one student and a spotty meeting schedule; the student wasn’t enrolled in any technology classes but is a stellar kinesthetic learner, so our focus was on troubleshooting, building, and replacing ATX PCs and components.

By way of contrast, at our annual club fair this academic year, two-fifths of our population – from both the middle school and high school – joined the technology club. The enthusiasm for the club this year overshadowed that of any other co-curricular club offering – and came very close to challenging our extraordinarily popular basketball program. Two things notable about our showing at the club fair: in contrast to other prospective clubs, tech club did not rely on trifold boards. Our presence was simply but markedly different, and I have to credit this difference for some of the enthusiasm: we had two Raspberry Pis at the table as manipulatives; along with the “Raspis” was an open box with every surface covered in visual information about the Raspberry Pi.

Chelsea School student Steven and a Raspberry Pi (Liz interjects: I’ve seen that pose before somewhere!)

If you’re just hearing about the Raspberry Pi, don’t be concerned. It’s a computing technology that saw it’s first public release in March of 2012. At that time, the Raspberry Pi was a credit-card sized, single-board computer developed in the UK that included 2 USB ports, a 10/100 Ethernet (FastEthernet) port, an SD card slot for secondary storage, an HDMI port for high definition video, component video out, and a 1/8” phone plug to provide stereo audio output. At the time of its initial release, it featured 256MB of RAM shared by its ARM processor and very capable video processor (it now features 512MB – the price point remains the same); the additional features include an array of input/output pins that make the Raspberry Pi extraordinarily conducive to electrical engineering and hardware innovation. In sum, at the time of its debut, the Raspberry Pi was a computer with video capabilities roughly equivalent to those of Microsoft’s XBOX and processing power that would be familiar to those who remember the Pentium III generation of PCs. An array of operating systems is available for the Raspberry Pi, including at least three GNU/Linux distros. Each of these operating systems is supported by a community with deeply shared commitments: promote software, hardware, and electrical engineering in primary and secondary schools. Distros provide versatile tools for a computer science: A language developed at MIT, Scratch, uses a visual approach to reinforce very complex programming ideas to primary school children. Python, which was originally considered an official language of instruction for Raspberry Pi is versatile, extensible, and celebrated especially for its similarities to natural language syntax. Too often, Raspberry Pi advocates forget to mention that bash and dash shells are included and are essential for students interested in systems administration and automation.

If we take into account that the Raspberry Pi is a product of a nonprofit foundation committed to promoting STEM education, that the $35 cost of the Raspberry Pi is the cost of production with no overhead built in, we have a fairly convincing case for, at the very least, discussing how the Raspberry Pi could inform STEM curriculum revisions for even the earliest grades.

I’ve seen enough frankly: the Raspberry Pi has ignited student interest in STEM fields. “Too soon, too soon:” there’s a reluctance out there that I don’t share.

At a recent talk in DC, Raspberry Pi Foundation representative Rob Bishop shared that the Foundation is on track to sell a million units within the first year of availability (by March 2013) [4]. That information is no real measure of success. For me, the evidence is immediate and grows daily:

1. Given only brief exposure to the device and an opportunity to manipulate it, our technology club participation has skyrocketed from 1 student to 2/5 of our student population.

2. Our advanced technology students are using the Raspberry Pi to learn system administration, shell programming and automation, and programming with Python.

3. Our Web Design and Development student has built two web servers from the “official” GNU/Linux distro for the Raspberry Pi – one LAMP server and one Node server; he uses both to practice both design and administration.

4. Two students – one advanced technology student and our Web Design student, are working with an international group of collaborators to create a computer science and information technology curriculum for grades 8-12 that covers electrical and hardware engineering as well as programming and system administration and that shares Raspberry Pis as a common resource (to be grounded in the sound pedagogy of constructivism and authentic assessment).

5. Technology Club has been introduced to program control flow with Scratch and has begun converting a tabletop game to a computer game with Python.

James, another Chelsea School student, holds a Raspberry Pi

Still to come: temperature logging and graphing; creating a Raspberry Pi SDK (software development kit); contributing code with educational or humanitarian goals to the open-source community; revision control with the Raspberry Pi; adapting a revision control system intended for code to the needs of academic writers.

If our school is any indication of what’s happening in UK and US schools, Mohawk Guy and Curiosity pale in comparison to the potential of the Raspberry Pi to impact students’ investment in STEM education.

Early this term, I provided a Raspberry Pi and a running instance of Scratch to a single student in each of three periods. In each case, the student said the same thing after almost precisely five minutes working with Scratch: “This is amazing.” I find that very compelling; and at a $35 price point, I find it appealing not only in my role as a teacher, but also as a citizen committed to economic and social justice.

[1] Judkis, Maura. “NASA’s ‘Mohawk Guy’: 5 reasons the Internet is obsessed with him.” Washington Post. Washington Post, 06 2012. Web. 4 Dec 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/arts-post/post/nasas-mohawk-guy-5-reasons-the-internet-is-obsessed-with-him/2012/08/06/960f62da-dff5-11e1-a421-8bf0f0e5aa11_blog.html.

[2] Landau, Elizabeth. “Mars rover mission’s ‘Mohawk Guy’ inspires Obama.” CNN. CNN, 15 2012. Web. 4 Dec 2012.http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/13/us/mars-rover-curiosity-obama/index.html.

[3] Kolawole, Emi. “Bobak Ferdowsi, aka ‘Mohawk Guy’ and STEM education’s new dream come true.” Washington Post. Washington Post, 08 2012. Web. 4 Dec 2012.

[4] Wikipedia contributors. “Raspberry Pi.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 3 Dec. 2012. Web. 4 Dec. 2012.

This post was first published at gonzotech.tumblr.com.