Tag Archives: Scratch

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!

A GCSE lesson

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Ben Llewellyn Smith is Head of Computing and ECDL manager at AKS in Lytham St Annes. He showed us this video just before last week’s Jamboree, to demonstrate his newly installed classroom Debian server being used by a class of GCSE students who all use Raspberry Pis.

Ben’s pupils each own a Raspberry Pi: we’re convinced that there’s enormous learning value in the sense of ownership and ability to customise that having your own Raspberry Pi, rather than a borrowed school unit, gives you. It’s one of the reasons we worked so hard at getting the cost of the Raspberry Pi down so low. This also means that the pupils can carry on working with their Pis at home in the evenings.

You’ll see the pupils being given a very simple Scratch task to test Ben’s new system in this video, and get a feel for what a teaching environment can be like. Ben’s aiming towards getting the class’s GCSE coursework done as a Minecraft hack, using Python on the Pi: he’s the kind of teacher I wish I’d had. (True story: my own Miss Lyons had to keep a picture of a floppy disk being inserted on her desk so she could remember which way up it fitted in the slot.)

The investigation that Ben’s class will be doing for the GCSE can be done on a Pi as well. We’re very pleased that Ben’s been able to be able to share this video with us all: I hope it’ll be of some help to other teachers out there. You’ll find a lot more from Ben at his YouTube channel: enjoy!

More on Raspberry Pi in Africa

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One of the biggest (and nicest) surprises for us over the last two years has been the Raspberry Pi project’s popularity outside the UK. Over three quarters of our sales are now to overseas customers, and while the US and mainland Europe are our largest markets (with honorable mentions to Australia, New Zealand and Japan), there’s also been a lot of interest from the developing world.

Robotics with Raspberry Pi at Kids Hacker Camp, iHub Nairobi. “Resistors are like parents”!

We’ve already posted about Frederik and Ernest’s epic Pi-powered journey from the UK to South Africa. Alongside this, over the last six months Graham Schwikkard has been working to get supplies of Raspberry Pis into hackspaces across sub-Saharan Africa.

young people programming in Scratch on a Raspberry Pi, Co-creation Hub, Nigeria

Programming in Scratch on a Raspberry Pi, Co-creation Hub, Nigeria

It’s a testament to the rapid pace of development in countries like Kenya and Nigeria that most of these engagements are commercial rather than charitable. While the first batch of Raspberry Pis sent to each location are free, the end goal is to enable local entrepreneurs to set themselves up as value-added resellers (VARs) and to build profitable businesses around the Pi.

It’s early days yet, but as you can see from these photos and videos we’re finding boundless enthusiasm for our little computer a long way from home.

Test Tim’s new Scratch alpha

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Over the last year, we’ve seen big improvements in Scratch performance on the Pi. To date these have resulted from tweaks to the Scratch codebase and the addition of ARMv6-optimized blitting routines to the Squeak Smalltalk VM on which it runs. To give us the next uplift in performance, Tim Rowledge has been busy porting Scratch to a much newer version of Squeak, and he has a very early alpha (i.e. in-progress and therefore buggy) version for you to play with.

Please check out his forum post here and share your feedback.

WARNING! THIS IS A DEVELOPER RELEASE, AND NOT FOR BEGINNERS!

Raspberry Jam, Lilongwe, Malawi

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We’re seeing Raspberry Jams pop up all over the world these days: Eben and I spent three days at the Jam in Tokyo last month (pictures and presentations from that will be coming soon), and an afternoon at the Silicon Valley Jam the week before that. We see video from a lot of these events, but this video, sent to me by John Cass from Young Innovators in Lilongwe, Malawi, is my favourite so far. It was recorded by a Malawi TV station, and ended up on national network TV. There were nearly 100 attendees, a whole lot of Scratch games programming, some brewing, an electric motorbike being tracked by GPS, music-making, and much more.

John and the Young Innovators team have been loaning Pis to interested people in Malawi, as well as donating them to schools and kids’ groups. A number of Pi-based projects are being developed by those people for the next Lilongwe Jam in September. He tells me that there’s a remote lock for a warehouse in the works, along with the development of an IT course for a refugee center, and an application for managing patients at a local clinic.

Young Innovators Malawi do some wonderful stuff; they are a non-profit, volunteer group running events and competitions to inspire young people all over Malawi to get involved with innovation and technology. If you’d like to support them, please visit their website, and consider making a donation. Your donations go towards funding Raspberry Pi kits, bundled with learning materials, which are given to kids and schools.

Raspberry Pi for Dummies: sample chapter

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If you’re wondering about introducing your kids to Scratch, but aren’t quite sure where to start, here’s a handy resource for you. Sean McManus, one of the authors of Raspberry Pi for Dummies, has sent me a link to a couple of sample chapters of the book, including the first chapter on Scratch. You’re welcome to download it to find out whether the book’s for you.

Raspberry Pi For Dummies PDF Sampler

 

Oliver and Amelia make a bee box

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Oliver is five, and has produced this lovely bee box for school. He did the modelling, the painting and some of the soldering, and had lots of help from his very talented big sister Amelia, who is seven and did all the programming for this project in Scratch.

bee box

The bee is made of clay, and has a magnet inside his body. His location is determined by some reed switches inside the box, which are connected to the GPIO pins on a Raspberry Pi, as are the LEDs in the flower and the hive. Amelia’s Scratch program, running on the Pi, then uses a TV to display what the bee’s up to (and, to a very enthusiastic Oliver’s great pleasure, emits a buzzing noise).

I mean it about the enthusiasm. Seriously. If you could bottle this stuff you’d make a fortune.

Full instructions on how to make your own bee box (it’s a really enjoyable project for parents to set up with their kids, and I’m sure you can think of a million ways to customise it) are available at Dad Stewart’s website, along with the Scratch code you’ll need, some GPIO instructions and a costed parts list.

Thanks to Oliver and Amelia from all of us at the Foundation – we are flapping our arms and shouting “BUZZ” right along with you.

Abattoir! A topical Scratch game.

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Martin O’Hanlon from Stuff About Code (you might recall Thursday’s post about his adventures in Minecraft) has written a Scratch game that made us laugh. Hard.

Wherever you are in the world, you’ve probably heard something about the recent horsemeat adulteration scandal in Europe, where cheap beef mince products like lasagna and frozen burgers turned out to be anything up to 100% horse. In Abattoir! you’ll be making sure that only delicious cow makes it into the mincer. Have a look at this video for some gameplay.

Get the code at Stuff About Code.

No Starch Press discounts for Pi users (now 40% off – see below for update)

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A few notices: if you’re at BETT this week, come to Stand B240 to meet one of the Robs, Clive and a bunch of impaled Jelly Babies.

Pete Lomas is at Campus Party in Sao Paolo, Brazil. He’ll be giving a talk on Friday at 5.30pm; if you’re in town, go and hear what he has to say!

Finally, Eben and I are flying out for some meetings in the US today; we’ll be incommunicado until the weekend. 

Update, Feb 1: I just had mail from the folks at No Starch Press, who say:

We heard from a couple customers that they were a little stretched by the price of the books and the international shipping costs, so we decided to bump the coupon value to 40% off to make it easier on everyone. We’re applying the 40% discount to anyone who already used the code, so they’ll have the best price, too.

We were sent copies of two books from No Starch Press last week. Super Scratch Programming Adventure and Python for Kids are terrific; they’re colourful, engaging and just the sort of thing we think kids are going to respond to.

We enjoyed both books, but in particular, we really think the authors of Super Scratch Programming Adventure are on to something: what kid doesn’t enjoy pyramids full of treasure; and what kid doesn’t want to write a game about them? As well as introducing them to Scratch itself, and to programmatic thinking, the book’s a great introduction to game design. Kids will start building games from the first page. And we loved the presentation; this thing is part comic, part storybook.

 No Starch have an offer for Raspberry Pi users: if you enter RPi at the checkout on their website, you’ll get 30% off both of the books (either purchased separately or together). Print book purchases come with free ebook editions, and the code will work for ebooks alone, too, so you don’t need to fork out for shipping if you don’t want to. Click on the books to order.

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!