So I went to my first Raspberry Jamboree today, a big event showcasing uses of the Raspberry Pi in education, a larger scale version I suppose of the regular Raspberry Jams held around -well- basically everywhere. I attended as part of the three day marathon at my former high school Our Lady’s in Preston which also included teacher training, an evening social and a family “hack jam”
I went for several reasons – first, because it was just down the road from me at my old school, so I reckoned even if I didnt know anyone or anything about the Raspberry Pi, at least I’d be in the place which was my second home for 28 years. Secondly, I went because I’ve known Alan O’Donohoe @teknoteacher since 1985 when he was a pupil in my first ever French exam class, and I remember very well a few years ago sitting with him in the staffroom as he explained with enthusiasm about this tiny computer that was really cheap and had the potential to revolutionise teaching in schools. And finally, I went because, having watched from afar for the last few years the progress and development of the Raspberry Pi movement, I thought it was about time I saw it for myself and found out whether I was the Pi type or not…
So here are my personal impressions…
Doors open at 10 said the info. I ambled in at about five past to find the restaurant at my school already buzzing with lots of children and adults, with even more turning up by the time of the official start at 10.30 – the “official start” being Alan standing on a chair and doing a “5,4,3,2,1″ as we do in class. The restaurant (which incidentally is state of the art hi-tech, none of your typical school dining hall) was decked out with Pi-attached monitors for the Pi-less amongst us (like myself) and a number of separate areas were in evidence: a talk space where various people spoke about their experiences with Pi, a learning space where tutorial sessions took place, a hack space where I guess people tried stuff out, a Minecraft space with a server and a keen gang of players and a food space with cakes, coffee and coveted bacon butties. While I noticed that men and boys seemed to make up most of the attendees, I did also notice a pleasing presence of girls and their mums keen to learn – in fact; I appreciated the number of parents, male and female who accompanied their children, male and female, with the desire to find out more about this growing movement. And of course the Leader of the Raspberry Pi Foundation Education mission, Carrie Anne Philbin is a great role model.
After a brief intro by Alan, we moved into the first sessions. I had decided to stay for a couple of hours and in fact I couldn’t have got a more appropriate flavour of Raspberry Pi in the time I was there: Alan ran a beginners class, so I joined that, sitting alongside mums, dads and primary school children all keen to get Pi-ed up.
I confess to being a little fazed at first as one of our tasks was to play a short game either in Minecraft ( a game I simply do not “get”) or Scratch ( a program I have only briefly looked at) and when I chose the Scratch marble game, I realised I didn’t even know what to click to start the game - but that in itself was a learning experience; it’s very valuable to be a total newbie and not very skilled at that! (To be frank, one of the reasons I have so far stayed away from the likes of Pi and the new wave of computing teaching is that I have no interest in developing or hacking games, but I am well aware that’s a big draw for many youngsters.) On the other hand, I adored the “Sabotage” game where we had to deliberately “break” something in our set-up and then get someone else to try and work out what we had done. This totally appealed to my love of troubleshooting problems, one of the reasons I enjoy helping out on the Moodle forums. It’s all about diagnostics, working through possible causes and eliminating stuff until you solve it. Magic.
And then, again, perfect for my first-time needs, came a fascinating and enlightening ” Brief history of Pi” from Pete Lomas, the Raspberry Pi’s hardware designer:
By this stage I was seeing similiarities in the ambiance of the Raspberry Jam(boree) with that of Moodle User Groups and some of the smaller Moots: attendees are passionate about their product; they are enthusiasts and evangelists, experienced or willing to learn from each other. Indeed, as they learn, create and hack together, they’re totally putting into practice the so-called “Martin’s Five Laws” of social constructionism, upon which Moodle is based. And I had to confess to smiling at Pete’s outlining the differences between model A, A+, B, B+ , Generation 2, Compute and so on… I could tell you equally the changes between (pick a number) Moodle 2.0 – 2.8 , what’s coming new in 2.9 and so on… My only slight question was – again similar to Moodle events – are they preaching to the converted? How many new participants come each time and how comfortable do they feel amongst regulars who are all friends? I expect the answer to that is, an increasing number and they are made to feel very welcome, but I just wondered.
I left after a very pleasant couple of hours with my curiosity satisfied and many questions answered. But I still have some questions left, so here goes
Will I go to another Raspberry Pi event? Probably, especially if it’s on my doorstep. I think I’d be more interested in a session for teachers on teaching with Raspberry Pi – even though I am not likely to teach with Raspberry Pi; it’s something I could relate to.
Will I buy a Raspberry Pi? Possibly. I guess I could attach it to the TV and keyboards and mice are very cheap, but I need to find a purpose for the purchase, a reason for committing myself to it. As mentioned above I’m not interested in games but I have in the past got involved in techie stuff as a means to an end: I actually have ancient City and Guilds qualifications (Merits!) in Electronics and Radio Transmission in order to join my then boyfiend and his mates in the joys of Amateur radio; I’d never have studied such topics for the sake of it. In a similar way, I’d need to know how getting a Raspberry Pi could benefit me directly. I guess I could explore Linux and the Terminal – but I already have a laptop with Kubuntu and a Terminal that I venture into from time to time. I don’t want a hidden camera or dog alarm but I’d still like to give it a go! Of course, it’s so cheap I could buy it, try it and if it doesn’t rock my boat, donate it – as Pete Lomas pertinently said, it’s not much different from a few service station Lattes and cakes.
How does Moodle work on a Pi? A quick Google suggested installing Moodle is do-able – is it slow? Is it functional? What would be the point?
I was interested in Pete Lomas’ experiences of the shortcomings of Computing students at Imperial and Cambridge. I suppose it’s early days yet, but is there evidence yet, or how long before we get measurable evidence that Raspberry Pi and associated events are having a beneficial effect on the numbers of pupils taking computing to a higher level and then becoming more skilled at university?
And finally...would I recommend a Raspberry Jam(boree) to anyone of any age who expresses an interest? Yes, absolutely