CamJam – I made it at last!

Today I finally made it to the Cambridge Raspberry jam after what seems like a million calendar clashes preventing me from attending the previous events. I have heard lots of positive comments about this event and I wasn’t disappointed!

The morning begins with a programming workshop for children which this time was hosted by the fantastic Carrie Anne Philbin (@MissPhilbin) who was introducing them to the SonicPi application on the Raspberry Pi. If you haven’t already seen this you should check it out – making music whilst introducing programming concepts and a brilliantly accessible method of introducing programming. I, unfortunately, wasn’t here for this but Carrie Anne tells me it was fantastic with 40 children ranging from 5-14! I did support Carrie Anne in a similar workshop for girls over the summer, you can see my post about it here.

I arrived, ready for the afternoon session and began exploring the ‘marketplace’ the first thing I will say was: ROBOTS. With the new curriculum and everything I am so excited that robots are back in fashion because what’s more engaging and motivating than programming something you can see working? The second thing I noticed was families! There was definitely a friendly feeling and it was lovely to watch different generations interacting, sharing and discussing all the future projects that awaited them.

After having a look around the marketplace and chatting with some people about what they had to offer we wandered to the lecture theatre for the first talk. The talk was by Craig Richardson (@CraigArgh) and focused on using Minecraft on the Pi to introduce coding to kids.

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He explained the differences between Minecraft on the PC (which the majority if children will be used to) and on the Pi. Some of the most notable being no ‘survival mode’ but instead being only ‘creative mode’ (in its natural form, there are mods for survival mode on the Pi). Although this might seem less exciting, the excitement comes from within – by learning Python you can do some really cool things you can’t do normally in either games such as creating a teleport, changing the blocks beneath your feet to certain materials (especially good if you’re trying to build something specific) or make blocks of TNT which explode. After all, who doesn’t like a good explosion?

Knowing my class of year 5s (9-10 year olds) as I do, I know how excited they are about anything Minecraft from a book, to a picture, to a mention of a character – imagine how quickly they’d take to the idea that they could modify their Minecraft world just by learning some simple programming techniques. The idea is really fantastic and I look forward to trying it at some point in the future, maybe as a lunchtime club to begin with! If you want more information you should check out Craig’s blog: http://arghbox.wordpress.com/

So far my visit to Cambridge Raspberry Jam was off to an inspirational start! Next, we decided to return to the marketplace, grab a cuppa and a cake and investigate the marketplace one more. This time I spent a bit more time looking over the products and there were some great things on offer.

Interestingly, I have always known that the first ‘computer’ my Dad built was a ‘kit’ calculator when he was 11 or 12 and it seems that we have come full circle. Here is a 2014 build a calculator kit:

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Now I am sure this is a lot more snazzy than the on my Dad built in the early 70s but once again it is an opportunity to enjoy the triumph of creation. It’s all good and well being proud of a piece of writing, or knowing you worked hard and solved a maths calculation, but I have honestly never found anything more satisfying than creating something either through programming software or constructing hardware and being able to use it! As well as this, being able to send it to someone else and them being able to use it – even if it is a simple game of pairs or a calculator!

Ever with my teaching head on, next I saw a mini speaker.

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This is from The Pi Hut (http://thepihut.com/) and includes the ability to play music via Bluetooth, microSD or to be plugged into a headphone jack. From a teaching with Pi perspective, if you were to do a lesson such as the Sonic Pi workshop, where the children are using headphones and programming music there will come a point where you want them to share their creations. How easy would it by to just swap their headphones for this mini speaker to share, and then move on? The Pi Hut also tell me they offer education discounts.

Next I began to look at the electronics side of things particularly circuits and circuit boards. Some as ad-ons to the Pi and some as stand alones. One of the key things young children need to understand in order to use circuits or programme things is the necessity of sequencing and order. I great tool I saw for this was:

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These easy clip on and off pieces really give children the ability to test their ideas of sequencing and see the effects of incorrect ordering. Having googled to see the product I have also seen some kits specifically for lights and sounds – lots of possibilities there!

Finally I looked at the opposite end of the scale for circuit board add-ons that plug directly into the Pi. These require soldering and many would suggest that they’re too advance for primary aged children but I’m willing to explore the possibility. The board looks like this:

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This is a BerryClip 6 LED Board and although I probably wouldn’t get them soldering it just yet (never say never) I’m interested in them using the board to explore programming certain reactions from the buttons and LEDs. These boards are relatively cheap (around £7) so I have purchased one to have a play. Watch this space.

After this session of exploration we return to the lecture theatre to hear about AirPi. AirPi is a project designed by Tom Hartley (@tmhrtly) as part of a competition to change the world with a Raspberry Pi. His project turned the Raspberry Pi into a weather station which transmits data continuously to the web. He went on to win the competition and used his winnings to produce more devices for others to build their own.

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According to Clive, from the Raspberry Pi foundation, the AirPi “senses 99.9% of all known stuff.” From an educational perspective think of data logging. Think of how awfully difficult it was to teach these lessons. Remember these?

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Now, this is a much more modern version than what I was thinking but I can’t remember the name of the original device I’m thinking of. The predecessor to this type of device was a chunky box which you plugged different aerials into for different sensors. You would then send children wandering (collecting data) and when they returned tried plugging the devices into a computer to upload what they recorded. Frequently, however, the devices would not accurately record data, whether that’s due to children holding the sensor or another factor, and trying to use the data it recorded was nigh on impossible when you managed to get it off of the device in the first place.

Now I’m sure since the days to which I am referring data loggers have progressed a bit further but can you imagine one that can monitor temperature, humidity, air pressure, light levels, UV levels, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and smoke level and then upload it to the internet? As well as this, the AirPi can be left unattended for an amount of time to collect data as it wishes (assuming there are no inquisitive small people unattended!) Whilst the AirPi is unattended you can still watch it’s readings live online – very cool.

Obviously the building aspect of the AirPi will make it less accessible to primary school students, and I’m by no means suggesting we replace handheld data loggers with devices like this, but it is definitely an interesting addition modelling real life tech and why we learn such things.

Tom finished his talk discussing those obstacles he’d had to overcome as a 17 year old business man – an interesting tale to say the least – as well as the many usage stories he’d heard about from those that had purchased and built their own. A personal favourite was a guy who had built it and took a photo of it in his fridge, to measure the temperature you’re thinking? No. To test whether the fridge light really does go off when you shut the door!

After that the final presentation we stayed for was Wesley Hill (@hakobyte) about the Internet of Things using his “Twiimote” project as an example. For those of you who are not familiar the Internet of Things this is a simple explanation by Stuart Heritage in a recent Guardian article:

“The Internet of Things is a network of objects that, although passive now, will soon spring to life and begin communicating with each other. To use one example, imagine that your morning meeting has been postponed. Soon your phone will be able to read the email telling you this and update your calendar, which will in turn alter your alarm clock to give you extra time in bed, your boiler to start heating water later than normal, your coffee machine so you don’t wake up to a mug of cold muck and your car to start melting the ice on your windscreen in time for your later commute.”

You can read the full article here.

Anyway, in Wesley’s presentation he had used a Bluetooth receiver on the Pi to connect a Wii remote to it. From here he had then programmed the remote to respond (vibrate and flash) to receiving a tweet with a specific hashtag or to a specific user. In terms of how this will benefit life, it is probably very little, however, as with everything the world is evolving to keep us constantly updated and connected, anywhere through any means and this is just another method I the list. In terms of achievements again it is a nice example with a clear result from the code you have written.

His second demo involved using Berg’s Little Printer to auto-print Snapchat photos. Now I have to say here my interest peaked, not because of snapchat but instead because of this adorable printer…

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Now this little printer has been around for a while but I haven’t seen it up to now. He us a little pricey for what get us £150 and I’m not too sure how you’d re-fuel his ink supplies but I think the idea behind him us brilliant! If you’re interested check out the promo vid.

This presentation was out last as we were now full of inspiration and ready for the drive home, we look forward to the next CamJam!

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