Pi Day is a special occasion for people all around the world (your preferred date format notwithstanding), and I love seeing all the ways that makers, students, and educators celebrate. This year at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we’re embracing Pi Day as a time to support young learners and creators in our community. Today, we launch our first Pi Day fundraising campaign. From now until 14 March, I’d like to ask for your help to empower young people worldwide to learn computing and become confident, creative digital makers and engineers.
Millions of learners use the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s online coding projects to develop new skills and get creative with technology. Your donation to the Pi Day campaign will support young people to access these high-quality online resources, which they need more urgently than ever amidst disruptions to schools and coding clubs. Did I mention that our online projects are offered completely free and in dozens of languages? That’s possible thanks to Raspberry Pi customers and donors who power our educational mission.
It’s not only young people who rely on the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s free online coding projects, but also teachers, educators, and volunteers in coding clubs:
“The project resources for Python and Scratch make it really easy for the children to learn programming and create projects successfully, even if they have limited prior experience — they are excellent.”
— Code Club educator in the UK
“The best thing […] is the accessibility to a variety of projects and ease of use for a variety of ages and needs. I love checking the site for what I may have missed and the next project my students can do!”
Your Pi Day gift will make double the impact thanks to our partner EPAM, who is generously matching all donations up to a total of $5000. As a special thanks to each of you who contributes, you’ll have the option to see your name listed in an upcoming issue of The MagPi magazine!
All young people deserve the opportunity to thrive in today’s technology-driven world. As a donor to the Raspberry Pi Foundation, you can make this a reality. Any amount you are able to give to our Pi Day campaign — whether it’s $3.14, $31.42, or even more — makes a difference. You also have the option to sign up as a monthly donor.
Let’s come together to give young people the tools they need to make things, solve problems, and shape their future using technology. Thank you.
PS Thanks again to EPAM for partnering with us to match your gifts up to $5000 until 14 March, and to CanaKit for their generous Pi Day contribution of $3141!
One of the harsh lessons we learned last year was that far too many young people still don’t have a computer for learning at home. There has always been a digital divide; the pandemic has just put it centre-stage. The good news is that the cost of solving this problem is now trivial compared to the cost of allowing it to persist.
Removing price as a barrier to anyone owning a computer was part of the founding mission of Raspberry Pi, which is why we so work hard to make sure that Raspberry Pi computers are as low-cost as possible for everyone, all of the time. We saw an incredible rise in the numbers of people — particularly young people — using Raspberry Pi computers as their main desktop PC during the lockdown, helped by the timely arrival of the fabulous Raspberry Pi 400.
Supporting the most vulnerable young people
As part of our response to the pandemic, the Raspberry Pi Foundation teamed up with UK Youth and a network of grassroots youth and community organisations to get Raspberry Pi desktop kits (with monitors, webcams, and headphones) into the hands of disadvantaged young people across the UK. These were young people who didn’t qualify for the government laptop scheme and who otherwise didn’t have a computer to learn at home.
This wasn’t just about shipping hardware (that’s the easy bit). We trained youth workers and teachers, and we worked closely with families to make sure that they could set up and use the computers. We did a huge amount of work to make sure that the educational platforms and apps they needed worked out of the box, and we provided a customised operating system image with free educational resources and enhanced parental controls.
The impact has been immediate: young people engaging with learning; parents who reported positive changes in their children’s attitude and behaviour; youth and social workers who have deepened their relationship with families, enabling them to provide better support.
After a successful pilot programme generously funded by the Bloomfield Trust, we launched the Learn at Home fundraising campaign in December, inviting businesses and individuals to donate money to enable us to expand the programme. I am absolutely thrilled that more than 70 organisations and individuals have so far donated an incredible £900,000 and we are on track to deliver our 5000th Raspberry Pi kit in March.
While the pandemic shone a bright spotlight onto the digital divide, this isn’t just a problem while we are in lockdown. We’ve known for a long time that having a computer to learn at home can be transformational for any young person.
If you would like to get involved in helping us make sure that every young person has access to a computer to learn at home, we’d love to hear from you. Find out more details on our website, or email us at [email protected].
Today, I discuss the second research seminar in our series of six free online research seminars focused on diversity and inclusion in computing education, where we host researchers from the UK and USA together with the Royal Academy of Engineering. By diversity, we mean any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another. This might be, for example, age, gender, socio-economic status, disability, ethnicity, religion, nationality, or sexuality. The aim of inclusion is to embrace all people irrespective of difference.
In this seminar, we were delighted to hear from Prof Tia Madkins (University of Texas at Austin), Dr Nicol R. Howard (University of Redlands), and Shomari Jones (Bellevue School District) (find their bios here), who talked to us about culturally responsive pedagogy and equity-focused teaching in K-12 Computer Science.
Equity-focused computer science teaching
Tia began the seminar with an audience-engaging task: she asked all participants to share their own definition of equity in the seminar chat. Amongst their many suggestions were “giving everybody the same opportunity”, “equal opportunity to access high-quality education”, and “everyone has access to the same resources”. I found Shomari’s own definition of equity very powerful:
“Equity is the fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement of all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. Improving equity involves increasing justice and fairness within the procedures and processes of institutions or systems, as well as the distribution of resources. Tackling equity requires an understanding of the root cause of outcome disparity within our society.”
This definition is drawn directly from the young people Shomari works with, and it goes beyond access and opportunity to the notion of increasing justice and fairness and addressing the causes of outcome disparity. Justice was a theme throughout the seminar, with all speakers referring to the way that their work looks at equity in computer science education through a justice-oriented lens.
Removing deficit thinking
Using a justice-oriented approach means that learners should be encouraged to use their computer science knowledge to make a difference in areas that are important to them. It means that just having access to a computer science education is not sufficient for equity.
Tia spoke about the need to reject “deficit thinking” (i.e. focusing on what learners lack) and instead focus on learners’ strengths or assets and how they bring these to the school classroom. For researchers and teachers to do this, we need to be aware of our own mindset and perspective, to think about what we value about ethnic and racial identities, and to be willing to reflect and take feedback.
Activities to support computer science teaching
Nicol talked about some of the ways of designing computing lessons to be equity-focused. She highlighted the benefits of pair programming and other peer pedagogies, where students teach and learn from each other through feedback and sharing ideas/completed work. She suggested using a variety of different programs and environments, to ensure a range of different pathways to understanding. Teachers and schools can aim to base teaching around tools that are open and accessible and, where possible, available in many languages. If the software environment and tasks are accessible, they open the doors of opportunity to enable students to move on to more advanced materials. To demonstrate to learners that computer science is applicable across domains, the topic can also be introduced in the context of mathematics and other subjects.
Learners can benefit from learning computer science regardless of whether they want to become a computer scientist. Computing offers them skills that they can use for self-expression or to be creative in other areas of their life. They can use their knowledge for a specific purpose and to become more autonomous, particularly if their teacher does not have any deficit thinking. In addition, culturally relevant teaching in the classroom demonstrates a teacher’s deliberate and explicit acknowledgment that they value all students in their classroom and expect students to excel.
Engaging family and community
Shomari talked about the importance of working with parents and families of ethnically diverse students in order to hear their voices and learn from their experiences.
He described how the absence of a background in technology of parents and carers can drastically impact the experiences of young people.
“Parents without backgrounds and insights into the changing landscape of technology struggle to negotiate what roles they can play, such as how to work together in computing activities or how to find learning opportunities for their children.”
Shomari drew on an example from the Pacific Northwest in the US, a region with many successful technology companies. In this location, young people from wealthy white and Asian communities can engage fully in informal learning of computer science and can have aspirations to enter technology-related fields, whereas amongst the Black and Latino communities, there are significant barriers to any form of engagement with technology. This already existent inequity has been enhanced by the coronavirus pandemic: once so much of education moved online, it became widely apparent that many families had never owned, or even used, a computer. Shomari highlighted the importance of working with pre-service teachers to support them in understanding the necessity of family and community engagement.
Building classroom communities
Building a classroom community starts by fostering and maintaining relationships with students, families, and their communities. Our speakers emphasised how important it is to understand the lives of learners and their situations. Through this understanding, learning experiences can be designed that connect with the learners’ lived experiences and cultural practices. In addition, by tapping into what matters most to learners, teachers can inspire them to be change agents in their communities. Tia gave the example of learning to code or learning to build an app, which provides learners with practical tools they can use for projects they care about, and with skills to create artefacts that challenge and document injustices they see happening in their communities.
With so many people all over the world still living in various levels of lockdown, we’ve been working hard to provide free, creative project resources for you to keep young digital makers occupied, learning, and most importantly having fun.
As a dad of two, I know how useful it is to have resources and project ideas for things that we can do together, or that the kids can crack on with independently. As we head into the weekend, I thought I’d share a few ideas for where to get started.
Coding and digital making projects
We offer hundreds of self-guided projects for learning to create with code using tools like Scratch, Python, and more. The projects can be completed online on any computer, they are tailored for different levels of experience, and they include step-by-step guidance that quickly leads to confident, independent young digital makers.
We recently launched a new set of beginner Scratch projects on the theme of ‘Look after yourself’, which include activities designed to help young people take care of their own wellbeing while getting creative with code. They are brilliant.
“I am so excited by the [‘Look after yourself’] projects on offer. It couldn’t be more perfect for everything we are navigating right now.”
If Earth is getting you down, then how about creating code that will be sent to the International Space Station?
As part of Astro Pi Mission Zero, young people up to age 14 can write a Python program to send their own personal message to the astronauts aboard the ISS. Mission Zero takes about an hour to complete online following a step-by-step guide. It’s a fantastic activity for anyone looking to write Python code for the first time!
Make a cool project
We know that motivation matters. Young digital makers often need a goal to work towards, and that’s where Coolest Projects comes in. It’s the world-leading technology showcase where young digital makers show the world what they’ve created and inspire each other.
Coolest Projects is open to young people up to the age of 18, all over the world, with any level of experience or skills. Young people can register their project ideas now and then create their project so that they can share it with the world on our online gallery.
It’s a brilliant way to motivate your young digital makers to come up with an idea and make it real. If you’re looking for inspiration, then check out the brilliant projects from last year.
Happy digital making!
I hope that these resources and project ideas inspire you and your kids to get creative with technology, whether you’re in lockdown or not. Stay safe and be kind to yourself and each other. We’ll get through this.
In this blog post, I’ll discuss the first research seminar in our six-part series about diversity and inclusion. Let’s start by defining our terms. Diversity is any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another. This might be, for example, age, gender, socio-economic status, disability, ethnicity, religion, nationality, or sexuality. The aim of inclusion is to embrace all people irrespective of difference.
It’s vital that we are inclusive in computing education, because we need to ensure that everyone can access and learn the empowering and enabling technical skills they need to support all aspects of their lives.
We kicked off the series with a seminar from Dr Peter Kemp and Dr Billy Wong focused on computing education in England’s schools post-14. Peter is a Lecturer in Computing Education at King’s College London, where he leads on initial teacher education in computing. His research areas are digital creativity and digital equity. Billy is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Education, University of Reading. His areas of research are educational identities and inequalities, especially in the context of higher education and STEM education.
Computing in England’s schools
Peter began the seminar with a comprehensive look at the history of curriculum change in Computing in England. This was very useful given our very international audience for these seminars, and I will summarise it below. (If you’d like more detail, you can look over the slides from the seminar. Note that these changes refer to England only, as education in the UK is devolved, and England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales each has a different education system.)
In 2014, England switched from mandatory ICT (Information and Communication Technology) to mandatory Computing (encompassing information technology, computer science, and digital literacy). This shift was complemented by a change in the qualifications for students aged 14–16 and 16–18, where the primary qualifications are GCSEs and A levels respectively:
At GCSE, there has been a transition from GCSE ICT to GCSE Computer Science over the last five years, with GCSE ICT being discontinued in 2017
At A level before 2014, ICT and Computing were on offer as two separate A levels; now there is only one, A level Computer Science
One of the issues is that in the English education system, there is a narrowing of the curriculum at age 14: students have to choose between Computer Science and other subjects such as Geography, History, Religious Studies, Drama, Music, etc. This means that those students that choose not to take a GCSE Computer Science (CS) may find that their digital education is thereby curtailed from then onwards. Peter’s and Billy’s view is that having a more specialist subject offer for age 14+ (Computer Science as opposed to ICT) means that fewer students take it, and they showed evidence of this from qualifications data. The number of students taking CS at GCSE has risen considerably since its introduction, but it’s not yet at the level of GCSE ICT uptake.
GCSE computer science and equity
Only 64% of schools in England offer GCSE Computer Science, meaning that just 81% of students have the opportunity to take the subject (some schools also add selection criteria). A higher percentage (90%) of selective grammar schools offer GCSE CS than do comprehensive schools (80%) or independent schools (39%). Peter suggested that this was making Computer Science a “little more elitist” as a subject.
Peter analysed data from England’s National Pupil Database (NPD) to thoroughly investigate the uptake of Computer Science post-14 with respect to the diversity of entrants.
He found that the gender gap for GCSE CS uptake is greater than it was for GCSE ICT. Now girls make up 22% of the cohort for GCSE CS (2020 data), whereas for the ICT qualification (2017 data), 43% of students were female.
Peter’s analysis showed that there is also a lower representation of black students and of students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds in the cohort for GCSE CS. In contrast, students with Chinese ancestry are proportionally more highly represented in the cohort.
Another part of Peter’s analysis related gender data to the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI), which is used as an indicator of the level of poverty in England’s local authority districts. In the graphs below, a higher IDACI decile means more deprivation in an area. Relating gender data of GCSE CS uptake against the IDACI shows that:
Girls from more deprived areas are more likely to take up GCSE CS than girls from less deprived areas are
The opposite is true for boys
Peter covered much more data in the seminar, so do watch the video recording (below) if you want to learn more.
Peter’s analysis shows a lack of equity (i.e. equality of outcome in the form of proportional representation) in uptake of GCSE CS after age 14. It is also important to recognise, however, that England does mandate — not simply provide or offer — Computing for all pupils at both primary and secondary levels; making a subject mandatory is the only way to ensure that we do give access to all pupils.
What can we do about the lack of equity?
Billy presented some of the potential reasons for why some groups of young people are not fully represented in GCSE Computer Science:
There are many stereotypes surrounding the image of ‘the computer scientist’, and young people may not be able to identify with the perception they hold of ‘the computer scientist’
There is inequality in access to resources, as indicated by the research on science and STEM capital being carried out within the ASPIRES project
More research is needed to understand the subject choices young people make and their reasons for choosing as they do.
We also need to look at how the way we teach Computing to students aged 11 to 14 (and younger) affects whether they choose CS as a post-14 subject. Our next seminar revolves around equity-focused teaching practices, such as culturally relevant pedagogy or culturally responsive teaching, and how educators can use them in their CS learning environments.
Peter and Billy themselves have recently been successful in obtaining funding for a research project to explore female computing performance and subject choice in English schools, a project they will be starting soon!
If you missed the seminar, watch recording here. You can also find Peter and Billy’s presentation slides on our seminars page.
Next up in our seminar series
In our next research seminar on Tuesday 2 February at 17:00–18:30 BST / 12:00–13:30 EDT / 9:00–10:30 PDT / 18:00–19:30 CEST, we’ll welcome Prof Tia Madkins (University of Texas at Austin), Dr Nicol R. Howard (University of Redlands), and Shomari Jones (Bellevue School District), who are going to talk to us about culturally responsive pedagogy and equity-focused teaching in K-12 Computer Science. To join this free online seminar, simply sign up with your name and email address.
Working with Oak National Academy, we’ve turned the materials from our Teach Computing Curriculum into more than 300 free, curriculum-mapped video lessons for remote learning.
A comprehensive set of free classroom materials
One of our biggest projects for teachers that we’ve worked on over the past two years is the Teach Computing Curriculum: a comprehensive set of free computing classroom materials for key stages 1 to 4 (learners aged 5 to 16). The materials comprise lesson plans, homework, progression mapping, and assessment materials. We’ve created these as part of the National Centre for Computing Education, but they are freely available for educators all over the world to download and use.
More than 300 free, curriculum-mapped video lessons
In the second half of 2020, in response to school closures, our team of experienced teachers produced over 100 hours of video to transform Teach Computing Curriculum materials into video lessons for learning at home. They are freely available for parents, educators, and learners to continue learning computing at home, wherever you are in the world.
Just log in with your username and password and start working or learning!
Raspberry Pi OS also has LibreOffice installed for working with text files, spreadsheets, and the like.
Printing on your Raspberry Pi
Go into the Preferences section in the main menu, and open Print Settings. This shows the system-config-printer dialog window, where you can do the usual things you’re familiar with from other operating systems: add new printers, remove old ones, set a printer as the default, and access the print queue for each printer.
Like most things in Linux-based operating systems such as Raspberry Pi OS, whether you can make your printer model work depends on user contributions; not every printer is supported yet. We’ve found that most networked printers work fine, while USB printers are a bit hit-and-miss. The best thing to do is to try it and see, and ask for help on our forums if your particular printer doesn’t seem to work.
More tips for using Raspberry Pi as a home computer
Our very own Alasdair Allen wrote a comprehensive guide that covers more topics of setting up a Raspberry Pi for home working, from getting your audio and video ready to setting up a Citrix workspace. Thanks Alasdair!
Free resources for learning at home
We’ve got a host of completely free resources for young people, parents, and teachers to continue computing school lessons at home and learn about digital making. Discover them all here!
What do you need?
Let us know in the comments if there are any niggles you’re experiencing, or if you have a top tip to help others who are just getting to grips with using Raspberry Pi as a home learning or working device.
As the UK — like many countries around the world — kicks off the new year with another national lockdown, meaning that millions of young people are unable to attend school, I want to share an update on how the Raspberry Pi Foundation is helping young people to learn at home.
Please help us spread the word to teachers, school leaders, governors, parents, and carers. Everything we are offering here is 100% free and the more people know about it, the more young people will benefit.
Supporting teachers and pupils
Schools and teachers all over the world have been doing a heroic job over the past ten months, managing the transition to emergency remote teaching during the first round of lockdowns, supporting the most vulnerable pupils, dealing with uncertainty, changing the way that schools worked to welcome pupils back safely, helping pupils catch up with lost learning, and much, much more.
Both in my role as Chief Executive of the Raspberry Pi Foundation and as chair of governors at a state school here in Cambridge, I’ve seen first-hand the immense pressure that schools and teachers are under. I’ve also seen them display the most amazing resilience, commitment, and innovation. I want to say a huge thank you to all teachers and school staff for everything you’ve done and continue to do to help young people through this crisis.
Here’s some of the resources and tools that we’ve created to help you continue to deliver a world-class computing education:
The Teach Computing Curriculum is a comprehensive set of lesson plans for KS1–4 (learners aged 5–16) as well as homework, progression mapping, and assessment materials.
Working with the fabulous Oak National Academy, we’ve produced 100 hours of video for 300 video lessons based on the Teach Computing Curriculum.
Isaac Computer Science is our online learning platform for advanced computer science (A level, learners aged 16–18) and includes comprehensive, interactive materials and videos. It also allows you to set your learners self-marking questions.
All of these resources are mapped to the English computing curriculum and produced as part of the National Centre for Computing Education. They are available for everyone, anywhere in the world, for free.
Making something fun with code
Parents and carers are the other heroes of remote learning during lockdown. I know from personal experience that juggling work and supporting home learning can be really tough, and we’re all trying to find meaningful, fun alternatives to letting our kids binge YouTube or Netflix (other video platforms and streaming services are available).
That’s why we’ve been working really hard to provide parents and carers with easy, accessible ways for you to help your young digital makers to get creative with technology:
Hundreds of step-by-step guided projects for coding in Scratch, Python, and more. The projects are self-guided, tailored for different levels of experience, and translated into dozens of languages.
Getting computers into the hands of young people who need them
One of the harsh lessons we learned last year was that far too many young people don’t have a computer for learning at home. There has always been a digital divide; the pandemic has just put it centre-stage. The good news is that the cost of solving this problem is now trivial compared to the cost of allowing it to persist.
That’s why the Raspberry Pi Foundation has teamed up with UK Youth and a network of grassroots youth and community organisations to get computers into the hands of disadvantaged young people across the UK.
For under £200 we can provide a vulnerable child with everything they need to learn at home, including a Raspberry Pi desktop computer, a monitor, a webcam, free educational software, and ongoing support from a local youth worker and the Foundation team. So far, we have managed to get 2000 Raspberry Pi computers into the hands of the most vulnerable young people in the UK. A drop in the ocean compared to the size of the problem, but a huge impact for every single young person and family.
This has only been possible thanks to the generous support of individuals, foundations, and businesses that have donated to support our work. If you’d like to get involved too, you can find out more here.
To round off Computer Science Education Week 2020, the Google Code Next team, working with the Raspberry Pi Foundation and some incredible volunteers in the Chicago area, helped over 400 Black and Latinx high school students get coding using Raspberry Pi 400. Here’s Omnia Saed with more.
Google Code Next is a free computer science education program for Black and Latinx high school students. Between 2011 and 2018, Black and Hispanic college students each only made up 3 percent of computer science graduates; Code Next works to change that. The program provides students with the skills and inspiration needed for long and rewarding careers in computer science.
“We aim to provide Black and Latinx students with skills and technical social capital — that web of relationships you can tap into,” said Google Diversity STEM Strategist Shameeka Emanuel.
The main event
The virtual event brought over 80 Google volunteers, students and teachers together to create their very own “Raspimon”—a virtual monster powered by Raspberry Pi. For many students, it was their first time coding.
Matt Richardson, Executive Director of the Raspberry Pi Foundation North America, opened the event by telling students to share their work with family and friends.
“I hope you find new ways to solve problems or express yourselves creatively. More importantly, be sure to share what you create with someone you know – you might just spark curiosity in someone else,” he said.
In an interview with the Chicago Sun Times, Troy Williams, Chicago Public Schools interim director of computer science, explains, “Our students being able to have access to these Raspberry Pis and other resources supplements the learning they’re doing in the classrooms, and brings another level of engagement where they can create on their own. It really helps toward closing the digital divide and the learning gap as well.”
Want to join in with the fun? You’ll find a copy of the activity and curriculum on the Code Next website.
And if you’re looking to introduce someone to coding over the holidays, there’s still time to order a Raspberry Pi 400 computer kit from our network of Raspberry Pi Approved Resellers.
At the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we are continually inspired by young learners in our community: they embrace digital making and computing to build creative projects, supported by our resources, clubs, and volunteers. While creating their projects, they are learning the core programming skills that underlie digital making.
Over the years, many tools and environments have been developed to make programming more accessible to young people. Scratch is one example of a block-based programming environment for young learners, and it’s been shown to make programming more accessible to them; on our projects site we offer many step-by-step Scratch project resources.
But does block-based programming actually help learning? Does it increase motivation and support students? Where is the hard evidence? In our latest research seminar, we were delighted to hear from Dr David Weintrop, an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland who has done research in this area for several years and published widely on the differences between block-based and text-based programming environments.
A variety of block-based programming environments
The first useful insight David shared was that we should avoid thinking about block-based programming as synonymous with the well-known Scratch environment. There are several other environments, with different affordances, that David referred to in his talk, such as Snap, Pencil Code, Blockly, and more.
Some of these, for example Pencil Code, offer a dual-modality (or hybrid) environment, where learners can write the same program in a text-based and a block-based programming environment side by side. Dual-modality environments provide this side-by-side approach based on the assumption that being able to match a text-based program to its block-based equivalent supports the development of understanding of program syntax in a text-based language.
As a tool for transitioning to text-based programming
Another aspect of the research around block-based programming focuses on its usefulness as a transition to a text-based language. David described a 15-week study he conducted in high schools in the USA to investigate differences in student learning caused by use of block-based, text-based, and hybrid (a mixture of both using a dual-modality platform) programming tools.
The 90 students in the study (14 to 16 years old) were divided into three groups, each with a different intervention but taught by the same teacher. In the first phase of the study (5 weeks), the groups were set the same tasks with the same learning objectives, but they used either block-based programming, text-based programming, or the hybrid environment.
After 5 weeks, students were given a test to assess learning outcomes, and they were asked questions about their attitudes to programming (specifically their perception of computing and their confidence). In the second phase (10 weeks), all the students were taught Java (a common language taught in the USA for end-of-school assessment), and then the test and attitudinal questions were repeated.
The results showed that at the 5-week point, the students who had used block-based programming scored higher in their learning outcome assessment, but at the final assessment after 15 weeks, all groups’ scores were roughly equivalent.
In terms of students’ perception of computing and confidence, the responses of the Blocks group were very positive at the 5-week point, while at the 15-week point, the responses were less positive. The responses from the Text group showed a gradual increase in positivity between the 5- and 15-week points. The Hybrid group’s responses weren’t as negative as those of the Text group at the 5-week point, and their positivity didn’t decrease like the Blocks group’s did.
Taking both methods of assessment into account, the Hybrid group showed the best results in the study. The gains associated with the block-based introduction to programming did not translate to those students being further ahead when learning Java, but starting with block-based programming also did not hamper students’ transition to text-based programming.
David completed his talk by recommending dual-modality environments (such as Pencil Code) for teaching programming, as used by the Hybrid group in his study.
More research is needed
The seminar audience raised many questions about David’s study, for example whether the actual teaching (pedagogy) may have differed for the three groups, and whether the results are not just due to the specific tools or environments that were used. This is definitely an area for further research.
It seems that students may benefit from different tools at different times, which is why a dual-modality environment can be very useful. Of course, competence in programming takes a long time to develop, so there is room on the research agenda for longitudinal studies that monitor students’ progress over many months and even years. Such studies could take into account both the teaching approach and the programming environment in order to determine what factors impact a deep understanding of programming concepts, and students’ desire to carry on with their programming journey.
Next up in our series
If you missed the seminar, you can find David’s presentation slides and a recording of his talk on our seminars page.
Our next free online seminar takes place on Tuesday 5 January at 17:00–18:00 BST / 12:00–13:00 EDT / 9:00–10:00 PDT / 18:00–19:00 CEST. We’ll welcome Peter Kemp and Billy Wong, who are going to share insights from their research on computing education for underrepresented groups. To join this free online seminar, simply sign up with your name and email address.
The official Raspberry Pi magazine turned 100 this month! To celebrate, the greatest Raspberry Pi moments, achievements, and events that The MagPi magazine has ever featured came back for a special 100th issue.
100 Raspberry Pi Moments is a cracking bumper feature (starting on page 32 of issue 100, if you’d like to read the whole thing) highlighting some influential projects and educational achievements, as well as how our tiny computers have influenced pop culture. And since ’tis the season, we thought we’d share the How Raspberry Pi made a difference section to bring some extra cheer to your festive season.
Projects for good
The Raspberry Pi Foundation was originally launched to get more UK students into computing. Not only did it succeed at that, but the hardware and the Foundation have also managed to help people in other ways and all over the world. Here are just a few examples!
Computers for good
The Raspberry Pi Foundation provides free learning resources for everyone; however, not everyone has access to a computer to learn at home. Thanks to funding from the Bloomfield Trust and in collaboration with UK Youth and local charities, the Foundation has been able to supply hundreds of Raspberry Pi Desktop Kits to young people most in need. The computers have allowed these children, who wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, to learn from home and stay connected to their schools during lockdown. The Foundation’s work to distribute Raspberry Pi computers to young people in need is ongoing.
Elsewhere, a need for more medical equipment around the world resulted in many proposals and projects being considered for cheap, easy-to produce machines. Some included Raspberry Pi Zero, with 40,000 of these sold for ventilator designs.
While there’s no global project or standard to say what an offline internet should contain, some educational projects have tried to condense down enough online content for specific people and load it all onto a Raspberry Pi. RACHEL-Pi is one such solution. The RACHEL-PI kit acts as a server, hosting a variety of different educational materials for all kinds of subjects, as well as an offline version of Wikipedia with 6000 articles. There’s even medical info for helping others, math lessons from Khan Acadamy, and much more.
17,000 ft is another great project, which brings computing to schools high up in the Himalayas through a similar method in an attempt to help children stay in their local communities.
Education in other countries
The free coding resources available on our projects site are great, and the Raspberry Pi Foundation works to make them accessible to people whose first language isn’t English: we have a dedicated translation team and, thanks to volunteers around the world, provide our free resources translated into up to 32 other languages. From French and Welsh to Korean and Arabic, there’s a ton of projects that learners from all over the world can access in their first language.
And through the Code Club and CoderDojo programmes, the Foundation supports volunteers around the world to run free coding clubs for young people.
That’s not all: several charitable groups have set up Raspberry Pi classrooms to bring computing education to poorer parts of the world. People in African countries and parts of rural India have benefited from these programmes, and work is being done to widen access to ever more people and places.
The HAM radio community loves Raspberry Pi for amateur radio projects; however, sometimes people need radio for more urgent purposes. In 2016, German group Media in Cooperation and Transition created the Pocket FM 96 , micro radio transmitters with 4–6km range. These radios allowed Syrians in the middle of a civil war to connect to free media on Syrnet for more reliable news.
Raspberry Pi powered these transmitters, chosen because of how easy it is to upgrade and add components to. Each transmitter is powered by solar power, and Syrnet is still transmitting through them as the war continues into its tenth year.
At the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we host a free online research seminar once a month to explore a wide variety of topics in the area of digital and computing education. This year, we’ve hosted eleven seminars — you can (re)discover slides and recordings on our website.
Now we’re getting ready for new seminars in 2021! In the coming months, our seminars are going to focus on diversity and inclusion in computing education. This topic is extremely important, as we want to make sure that computing is accessible to all, that we understand how to actively remove barriers to participation for learners, and that we understand how to teach computing in an inclusive way.
We are delighted to announce that these seminars focusing on diversity and inclusion will be co-hosted by the Royal Academy of Engineering. The Royal Academy of Engineering is harnessing the power of engineering to build a sustainable society and an inclusive economy that works for everyone.
We’re very excited to be partnering with the Academy because of our shared interest in ensuring that computing and engineering are inclusive and accessible to all.
Our upcoming seminars
The seminars take place on the first Tuesday of the month at 17:00–18:30 GMT / 12:00–13:30 EST / 9:00–10:30 PST / 18:00–19:30 CET.
5 January 2021: Peter Kemp (King’s College London) and Billy Wong (University of Reading) will be looking at computing education in England, particularly GCSE computer science, and how it is accessed by groups typically underrepresented in computing.
2 February 2021: Professor Tia Madkins (University of Texas at Austin), Nicol R. Howard (University of Redlands), and Shomari Jones (Bellevue School District) will be talking about equity-focused teaching in K–12 computer science. Find out more.
2 March 2021: Dr Jakita O. Thomas (Auburn University, Alabama) will be talking about her research on supporting computational algorithmic thinking in the context of intersectional computing.
April 2021: event to be confirmed
4 May 2021: Dr Cecily Morrison (Microsoft Research) will be speaking about her work on physical programming for people with visual impairments.
Join the seminars
We’d love to welcome you to these seminars so we can learn and discuss together. To get access, simply sign up with your name and email address.
From our first prototype way back in 2006, to the very latest Raspberry Pi 400, everything we have built here at Raspberry Pi has been driven by a desire to inspire learning. I hope that each of you who uses our products discovers — or rediscovers — the joy of learning through making. The journey from technology consumer to technology creator can be a transformational one; today, on Giving Tuesday, I’m asking you to help even more young people make that journey.
Too few young people have the chance to learn how technology works and how to harness its power. Pre-existing disparities in access to computing education have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. At the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we’re on a mission to change this, and we’re working harder than ever to support young people and educators with free learning opportunities. Our partner CanaKit supports the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s mission, and they’ve extended the generous offer to match your donations up to a total of $5,000.
Alongside our low-cost, high-performance computers and free software, you may know that the Raspberry Pi Foundation provides free educational programmes including coding clubs and educator training for millions of people each year in dozens of countries. You might not know that the Raspberry Pi Foundation was founded as, and still remains, a nonprofit organisation. Our education mission is powered by dedicated volunteers, and our programmes are funded in part thanks to our customers who buy Raspberry Pi products, and in part by charitable donations from people like you.
Every donation we receive makes an impact on the young people and educators who rely on the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Ryka, for example, is a 10-year-old who attends one of our CoderDojo clubs. Since March she’s been using our project guides and following our Digital Making at Home code-along live streams. Her parents tell us:
“We were looking at ways to keep Ryka engaged during this lockdown period and came across Digital Making at Home. As a parent I can see that there has been discernible improvement in her abilities. We’ve noticed that she is engaged and takes interest in showing us what she was able to build. It has been a great use of her time.”
– Parent of a young person who learns through our programmes
Ryka joins millions of learners in our community around the world, many of whom now rely on us more than ever with schools and extracurricular activities disrupted. Through the ongoing support of our donors and volunteers, we’ve been able to rise to the challenge of the pandemic:
Thousands of young people have continued their digital making journey as part of Code Club and CoderDojo, following our rapid pivot to help club leaders run virtual clubs.
We have seen a 140% growth in community translations of our educational projects, covering languages from Arabic and Hindi, to Japanese and Spanish.
Millions of young people are making games, telling stories, and building websites — all through code! — using our online project guides.
Young coders and digital makers need our help in the year ahead as they take control of their computing education under challenging and uncertain circumstances. As a donor to the Raspberry Pi Foundation, you will be investing in our youngest generation of innovators and helping to create a spark in a young person’s life. On Giving Tuesday, I am grateful to each of you for the role you play in creating a world where everyone can learn, solve problems, and shape their future through the power of technology.
Whenever you learn a new subject or skill, at some point you need to pick up the particular language that goes with that domain. And the only way to really feel comfortable with this language is to practice using it. It’s exactly the same when learning programming.
In our latest research seminar, we focused on how we educators and our students can talk about programming. The seminar presentation was given by our Chief Learning Officer, Dr Sue Sentance. She shared the work she and her collaborators have done to develop a research-based approach to teaching programming called PRIMM, and to work with teachers to investigate the effects of PRIMM on students.
As well as providing a structure for programming lessons, Sue’s research on PRIMM helps us think about ways in which learners can investigate programs, start to understand how they work, and then gradually develop the language to talk about them themselves.
Productive talk for education
Sue began by taking us through the rich history of educational research into language and dialogue. This work has been heavily developed in science and mathematics education, as well as language and literacy.
In particular the work of Neil Mercer and colleagues has shown that students need guidance to develop and practice using language to reason, and that developing high-quality language improves understanding. The role of the teacher in this language development is vital.
Sue’s work draws on these insights to consider how language can be used to develop understanding in programming.
Why is programming challenging for beginners?
Sue identified shortcomings of some teaching approaches that are common in the computing classroom but may not be suitable for all beginners.
‘Copy code’ activities for learners take a long time, lead to dreaded syntax errors, and don’t necessarily build more understanding.
When teachers model the process of writing a program, this can be very helpful, but for beginners there may still be a huge jump from being able to follow the modeling to being able to write a program from scratch themselves.
PRIMM was designed by Sue and her collaborators as a language-first approach where students begin not by writing code, but by reading it.
What is PRIMM?
PRIMM stands for ‘Predict, Run, Investigate, Modify, Make’. In this approach, rather than copying code or writing programs from scratch, beginners instead start by focussing on reading working code.
In the Predict stage, the teacher provides learners with example code to read, discuss, and make output predictions about. Next, they run the code to see how the output compares to what they predicted. In the Investigate stage, the teacher sets activities for the learners to trace, annotate, explain, and talk about the code line by line, in order to help them understand what it does in detail.
In the seminar, Sue took us through a mini example of the stages of PRIMM where we predicted the output of Python Turtle code. You can follow along on the recording of the seminar to get the experience of what it feels like to work through this approach.
The impact of PRIMM on learning
The PRIMM approach is informed by research, and it is also the subject of research by Sue and her collaborators. They’ve conducted two studies to measure the effectiveness of PRIMM: an initial pilot, and a larger mixed-methods study with 13 teachers and 493 students with a control group.
The larger study used a pre and post test, and found that the group who experienced a PRIMM approach performed better on the tests than the control group. The researchers also collected a wealth of qualitative feedback from teachers. The feedback suggested that the approach can help students to develop a language to express their understanding of programming, and that there was much more productive peer conversation in the PRIMM lessons (sometimes this meant less talk, but at a more advanced level).
The PRIMM structure also gave some teachers a greater capacity to talk about the process of teaching programming. It facilitated the discussion of teaching ideas and learning approaches for the teachers, as well as developing language approaches that students used to learn programming concepts.
The research results suggest that learners taught using PRIMM appear to be developing the language skills to talk coherently about their programming. The effectiveness of PRIMM is also evidenced by the number of teachers who have taken up the approach, building in their own activities and in some cases remixing the PRIMM terminology to develop their own take on a language-first approach to teaching programming.
Future research will investigate in detail how PRIMM encourages productive talk in the classroom, and will link the approach to other work on semantic waves. (For more on semantic waves in computing education, see this seminar by Jane Waite and this symposium talk by Paul Curzon.)
Resources for educators who want to try PRIMM
If you would like to try out PRIMM with your learners, use our free support materials:
If you missed the seminar, you can find the presentation slides alongside the recording of Sue’s talk on our seminars page.
In our next seminar on Tuesday 1 December at 17:00–18:30 GMT / 12:00–13:30 EsT / 9:00–10:30 PT / 18:00–19:30 CEST. Dr David Weintrop from the University of Maryland will be presenting on the role of block-based programming in computer science education. To join, simply sign up with your name and email address.
When we think back to our school days, we can all recall that one teacher who inspired us, believed in us, and made all the difference to how we approached a particular subject. It was someone we maybe took for granted at the time and so we only realised (much) later how amazing they were.
I hope this post makes you think of a teacher or mentor who has made a key difference in your life!
Here computer science student Jonathan Alderson and our team’s Ben Garside talk to me about how Ben supported and inspired Jonathan in his computer science classroom.
Hi Jonathan! How did you get into computing?
Jonathan: My first memories of using a computer were playing 3D Pinball, Club Penguin, and old Disney games, so nothing productive there…or so I thought! I was always good at IT and Maths at school, and Computing seemed to be a cross between the two, so I thought it would be good.
Jonathan and Ben, can you remember your time working together? It’s been a while now!
Jonathan: I met Mr Garside at the start of sixth form. Our school didn’t have a computer science course, so a few of us would walk between schools twice a week. Mr Garside really made me feel welcome in a place where I didn’t know anyone.
When learning computer science, it’s difficult to understand the importance of new concepts like recursion, classes, or linked lists when the examples are so small. Mr Garside’s teaching made me see the relevance of them and how they could fit into other projects; it’s easy to go a long time without using concepts because you don’t necessarily need them, even when it would make your life a lot easier.
Ben: It was a real pleasure to teach Jonathan. He stands out as being one of the most inquisitive students that I have taught. If something wasn’t clear to him, he’d certainly let me know and ask relevant questions so that he could fully understand. Jonathan was also constantly working on his own programming projects outside of lessons. During his A level, I remember him taking it upon himself to write a program that played chess. Each week he would demonstrate the progress he had made to the class. It was a perfect example of decomposition as he tackled the project in small sections and had a clear plan as to what he wanted to achieve. By the end of his project, not only did he have a program that played chess, but it was capable of playing against real online users including making the mouse clicks on the screen!
Moving from procedural to object-oriented programming (OOP) can be a sticking point for a lot of learners, and I remember Jonathan finding this difficult at first. I think what helped Jonathan in particular was getting him to understand that this wasn’t as new a concept as he first thought. OOP was just a different paradigm where he could still apply all of the coding structures that he was already confident in using.
That sounds like a very cool project. What other projects did you make, Jonathan? And how did Ben help you?
Jonathan: My final-year project, [a video game] called Vector Venture, ended up becoming quite a mammoth task! I didn’t really have a clue about organising large projects, what an IDE was, or you could split files apart. Mr Garside helped me spend enough time on the final report and get things finished. He was very supportive of me releasing the game and got me a chance to speak at the Python North East group, which was a great opportunity.
Ben: Vector Venture was a very ambitious project that Jonathan undertook, but I think by then he had learned a lot about how to tackle a project of that size from previous projects such as the chess program. The key to his success was that whilst he was learning, he was picking projects to undertake that he had a genuine interest in and enjoyed developing. I would also tell my A level students to pick as a project something that they will enjoy developing. Jonathan clearly enjoyed developing games, but I also had students who picked projects to develop programs that would solve problems. For example, one of my students developed a system that would take online bookings for food orders and manage table allocation for a local restaurant.
I think that point about having fun while learning something challenging like programming is really important to highlight. So what are you doing now, Jonathan?
Jonathan: I have just completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Leeds (UoL) with a place on the Dean’s List and am staying to complete a Masters in High Performance Graphics.
During my time at UoL, I’ve had three summer placements creating medical applications and new systems for the university. This helped me understand the social benefits of computer science; it was great to work on something that is now benefitting so many people. My dissertation was on music visualisation, mapping instrument attributes of a currently playing song to control parameters inside sharers on the GPU to produce reactive visualisations. I’ve just completed an OpenGL project to create procedural underwater scenes, with realistic lighting, reflections, and fish simulations. I’m now really looking forward to completing my Game Engine project for my masters and graduating.
Teachers are often brilliant at taking something complicated and presenting it in a clearer way. Are those moments of clarity part of what motivates you to teach, Ben?
Ben: There are lots of things that excite me about teaching computer science. Before I worked for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, there was a phrase I heard Carrie Anne Philbin say when I attended a Picademy: we are teaching young people to be digital makers, logical thinkers, and problem solvers, not just to be consumers of technology. I felt this really summed up how great it is to teach our subject. Teaching computer science means that we’re educating young people about the world around them and how technology plays its part in their lives. By doing this, we are empowering them to solve problems and to make educated choices about how they use technology.
As for my previous in-school experiences, I loved those lightbulb moments when something suddenly made sense to a student and a loud “Yesssss!” would break the silence of a quietly focused classroom. I loved teaching something that regularly sparked their imaginations; give them a single lesson on programming, and they would start to ask questions like: “Now I’ve made it do that…does this mean I could make it do this next?“. It wasn’t uncommon for students to want to do more outside of the classroom that wasn’t a homework activity. That, for me, was the ultimate win!
How about you?
Who was the teacher who helped shape your future when you were at school? Tell us about them in the comments below.
We’re pleased to share that Dr Sue Sentance, our Chief Learning Officer, is receiving a Suffrage Science award for Mathematics and Computing today.
The Suffrage Science award scheme celebrates women in science. Sue is being recognised for her achievements in computer science and computing education research, and for her work promoting computing to the next generation.
Sue is an experienced teacher and teacher educator with an academic background in artificial intelligence, computer science, and education. She has made a substantial contribution to research in computing education in school over the last ten years, publishing widely on the teaching of programming, teacher professional development, physical computing, and curriculum change. In 2017 Sue received the BERA Public Engagement and Impact Award for her services to computing education. Part of Sue’s role at the Raspberry Pi Foundation is leading our Gender Balance in Computing research programme, which investigates ways to increase the number of girls and young women taking up computing at school level.
As Dr Hannah Dee, the previous award recipient who nominated Sue, says: “[…] The work she does is important — researchers need to look at what happens in schools, particularly when we consider gender. Girls are put off computing long before they get to universities, and an understanding of how children learn about computing and the ways in which we can support girls in tech is going to be vital to reverse this trend.”
Sue says, “I’m delighted and honoured that Hannah nominated me for this award, and to share this honour with other women also dedicated to furthering the fields of mathematics, computing, life sciences, and engineering. It’s been great to see research around computing in school start to gather pace (and also rigour) around the world over the last few years, and to play a part in that. There is still so much to do — many countries have now introduced computing or computer science into their school curricula as a mandatory subject, and we need to understand better how to make the subject fully accessible to all, and to inspire and motivate the next generation.”
Aside from her role in the Gender Balance in Computing research programme, Sue has led our work as part of the consortium behind the National Centre for Computing Education and is now our senior adviser on computing subject knowledge, pedagogy, and the Foundation’s computing education research projects. Sue also leads the programme of our ongoing computing education research seminar series, where academics and educators from all over the world come together online to hear about and discuss some of the latest work in the field.
We’re proud to show our support for This is Engineering Day, an annual campaign from the Royal Academy of Engineering to bring engineering to life for young people by showcasing its variety and creativity. This year’s #BeTheDifference theme focuses on the positive impact engineering can have on everyday life and on the world we live in. So what better way for us to celebrate than to highlight our community’s young digital makers — future engineers — and their projects created for social good!
We’re also delighted to have special guest Dr Lucy Rogers on our This Is Engineering–themed Digital Making at Home live streamtoday at 5.30pm GMT, where she will share insights into her work as a creative inventor.
Future engineers creating projects for social good
In July, we were lucky enough to have Dr Hayaatun Sillem, CEO of the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), as a judge for Coolest Projects, our technology fair for young creators. Dr Hayaatun Sillem says, “Engineering is a fantastic career if you want to make a difference, improve people’s lives, and shape the future.”
In total, the young people taking part in Coolest Projects 2020 online presented 560 projects, of which over 300 projects were made specifically for social good. Here’s a small sample from some future engineers across the world:
“I want people to put trash in the correct place so I made this AI trash can. This AI trash can separates the trash. I used ML2 Scratch. I used a camera to help the computer learn what type of trash it is.”
“As we know, burglary cases are very frequent and it is upsetting for the families whose houses are burglarised and [can] make them feel fearful, sad and helpless. Therefore, I tried to build a system which will help everyone to secure their houses.”
Tune in today: This is Engineering-themed live stream with special guest Dr Lucy Rogers
Professor Lucy Rogers PhD is an inventor with a sense of fun! She is a Fellow of the RAEng, and RAEng Visiting Professor of Engineering:Creativity and Communication at Brunel University, London. She’s also a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Adept at bringing ideas to life, from robot dinosaurs to mini mannequins — and even a fartometer for IBM! — she has developed her creativity and communication skills and shares her tricks and tools with others.
Here Dr Lucy Rogers shares her advice for young people who want to get involved in engineering:
1. Create your own goal
A goal or a useful problem will help you get over the steep learning curve that is inevitable in learning about new pieces of technology. Your goal does not have to be big: my first Internet of Things project was making a LED shine when the International Space Station was overhead.
2. Make your world a little better
To me “engineering” is really “problem-solving”. Find problems to solve. You may have to make something, program something, or do something. How can you make your own world a little better?
3. Learn how to fail safely
Learn how to fail safely: break projects into smaller pieces, and try each piece. If it doesn’t work, you can try again. It’s only at the end of a project that you should put all the “working” pieces together (and even then, they may not work nicely together!)
Dr Lucy Rogers will be joining our Digital Making at Home educators on our This is Engineering-themed live stream today at 5.30pm GMT.
This is your young people’s chance to be inspired by this amazing inventor! And we will take live questions via YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Twitch, so make sure your young people are able to get Dr Lucy’s live answers to their own questions about digital making, creativity, and all things engineering!
Engineering at home, right now
To get inspired about engineering right now, your young people can follow along step by step with Electricity generation, our brand-new, free digital making project on the impact of non-renewable energy on our planet!
While coding this Scratch project, learners input real data about the type and amount of natural resources that countries across the world use to generate electricity, and they then compare the results using an animated data visualisation.
Explore our new free pathway of environmental digital making projects for young people! These new step-by-step projects teach learners Scratch coding and include real-world data — from data about the impact of deforestation on wildlife to sea turtle tracking information.
By following along with the digital making projects online, young people will discover how they can use technology to protect our planet, all while improving their computing skills.
The projects help young people affect change
In the projects, learners are introduced to 5 of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with an environment focus:
Affordable and Clean Energy
Responsible Consumption and Production
Life Below Water
Life on Land
Technology, science, maths, geography, and design all play a part in the projects. Following along with the digital making projects, young people learn coding and computing skills while drawing on a range of data from across the world. In this way they will discover how computing can be harnessed to collect environmental data, to explore causes of environmental degradation, to see how humans influence the environment, and ultimately to mitigate negative effects.
Where does the real-world data come from?
To help us develop these environmental digital making projects, we reached out to a number of organisations with green credentials:
We asked the team behind the Ecosia search engine, profits from which get invested in sustainability projects, for their guidance on growing trees. You can watch Ecosia software engineer Jessica Greene chat to us on our weekly Digital Making at Home live stream for young people.
Inspiring young people about coding with real-world data
The digital making projects, created with 9- to 11-year-old learners in mind, support young people on a step-by-step pathway to develop their skills gradually. Using the block-based visual programming language Scratch, learners build on programming foundations such as sequencing, loops, variables, and selection. The project pathway is designed so that learners can apply what they learned in earlier projects when following along with later projects!
We’re really excited to help learners explore the relationship between technology and the environment with these new digital making projects. Connecting their learning to real-world scenarios not only allows young people to build their knowledge of computing, but also gives them the opportunity to affect change and make a difference to their world!
Discover the new digital making projects yourself!
With Green goals, learners create an animation to present the United Nations’ environment-focused Sustainable Development Goals.
Through Save the shark, young people explore sharks’ favourite food source (fish, not humans!), as well as the impact of plastic in the sea, which harms sharks in their natural ocean habitat.
With the Tree life simulator project guide, learners create a project that shows the impact of land management and deforestation on trees, wildlife, and the environment.
Computers can be used to study wildlife in areas where it’s not practical to do so in person. In Count the creatures, learners create a wildlife camera using their computer’s camera and Scratch’s new video sensing extension!
Electricity is important. After all, it powers the computer that learners are using! In Electricity generation, learners input real data about the type and amount of natural resources countries across the world use to generate electricity, and they then compare the results using an animated data visualisation.
Understanding the movements of endangered turtles helps to protect these wonderful animals. In this new Turtle tracker project, learners use tracking data from real-life turtles to map their movements off the coast of West Africa.
Code along wherever you are!
All of our projects are free to access online at any time and include step-by-step instructions. They can be undertaken in a club, classroom, or at home. Young people can share the project they create with their peers, friends, family, and the wider Scratch community.
One of the keys to identifying timely and impactful actions is having enough raw material to work with. However, this up-to-date information typically lives in the databases that sit behind several different applications. One of the first steps to finding data-driven insights is gathering that information into a single store that an analyst can use without interfering with those applications.
For years, reporting environments have relied on a data warehouse stored in a single, separate relational database management system (RDBMS). But now, due to the growing use of Software as a service (SaaS) applications and NoSQL database options, data may be stored outside the data center and in formats other than tables of rows and columns. It’s increasingly difficult to access the data these applications maintain, and a data warehouse may not be flexible enough to house the gathered information.
For these reasons, reporting teams are building data lakes, and those responsible for using data analytics at universities and colleges are no different. However, it can be challenging to know exactly how to start building this expanded data repository so it can be ready to use quickly and still expandable as future requirements are uncovered. Helping higher education institutions address these challenges is the topic of this post.
About Maryville University
Maryville University is a nationally recognized private institution located in St. Louis, Missouri, and was recently named the second fastest growing private university by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Even with its enrollment growth, the university is committed to a highly personalized education for each student, which requires reliable data that is readily available to multiple departments. University leaders want to offer the right help at the right time to students who may be having difficulty completing the first semester of their course of study. To get started, the data experts in the Office of Strategic Information and members of the IT Department needed to create a data environment to identify students needing assistance.
Critical data sources
Like most universities, Maryville’s student-related data centers around two significant sources: the student information system (SIS), which houses student profiles, course completion, and financial aid information; and the learning management system (LMS) in which students review course materials, complete assignments, and engage in online discussions with faculty and fellow students.
The first of these, the SIS, stores its data in an on-premises relational database, and for several years, a significant subset of its contents had been incorporated into the university’s data warehouse. The LMS, however, contains data that the team had not tried to bring into their data warehouse. Moreover, that data is managed by a SaaS application from Instructure, called “Canvas,” and is not directly accessible for traditional extract, transform, and load (ETL) processing. The team recognized they needed a new approach and began down the path of creating a data lake in AWS to support their analysis goals.
Getting started on the data lake
The first step the team took in building their data lake made use of an open source solution that Harvard’s IT department developed. The solution, comprised of AWS Lambda functions and Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) buckets, is deployed using AWS CloudFormation. It enables any university that uses Canvas for their LMS to implement a solution that moves LMS data into an S3 data lake on a daily basis. The following diagram illustrates this portion of Maryville’s data lake architecture:
Diagram 1: The data lake for the Learning Management System data
The AWS Lambda functions invoke the LMS REST API on a daily schedule resulting in Maryville’s data, which has been previously unloaded and compressed by Canvas, to be securely stored into S3 objects. AWS Glue tables are defined to provide access to these S3 objects. Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS) informs stakeholders the status of the data loads.
Expanding the data lake
The next step was deciding how to copy the SIS data into S3. The team decided to use the AWS Database Migration Service (DMS) to create daily snapshots of more than 2,500 tables from this database. DMS uses a source endpoint for secure access to the on-premises database instance over VPN. A target endpoint determines the specific S3 bucket into which the data should be written. A migration task defines which tables to copy from the source database along with other migration options. Finally, a replication instance, a fully managed virtual machine, runs the migration task to copy the data. With this configuration in place, the data lake architecture for SIS data looks like this:
Diagram 2: Migrating data from the Student Information System
Handling sensitive data
In building a data lake you have several options for handling sensitive data including:
Leaving it behind in the source system and avoid copying it through the data replication process
Copying it into the data lake, but taking precautions to ensure that access to it is limited to authorized staff
Copying it into the data lake, but applying processes to eliminate, mask, or otherwise obfuscate the data before it is made accessible to analysts and data scientists
The Maryville team decided to take the first of these approaches. Building the data lake gave them a natural opportunity to assess where this data was stored in the source system and then make changes to the source database itself to limit the number of highly sensitive data fields.
Validating the data lake
With these steps completed, the team turned to the final task, which was to validate the data lake. For this process they chose to make use of Amazon Athena, AWS Glue, and Amazon Redshift. AWS Glue provided multiple capabilities including metadata extraction, ETL, and data orchestration. Metadata extraction, completed by Glue crawlers, quickly converted the information that DMS wrote to S3 into metadata defined in the Glue data catalog. This enabled the data in S3 to be accessed using standard SQL statements interactively in Athena. Without the added cost and complexity of a database, Maryville’s data analyst was able to confirm that the data loads were completing successfully. He was also able to resolve specific issues encountered on particular tables. The SQL queries, written in Athena, could later be converted to ETL jobs in AWS Glue, where they could be triggered on a schedule to create additional data in S3. Athena and Glue enabled the ETL that was needed to transform the raw data delivered to S3 into prepared datasets necessary for existing dashboards.
Once curated datasets were created and stored in S3, the data was loaded into an AWS Redshift data warehouse, which supported direct access by tools outside of AWS using ODBC/JDBC drivers. This capability enabled Maryville’s team to further validate the data by attaching the data in Redshift to existing dashboards that were running in Maryville’s own data center. Redshift’s stored procedure language allowed the team to port some key ETL logic so that the engineering of these datasets could follow a process similar to approaches used in Maryville’s on-premises data warehouse environment.
The overall data lake/data warehouse architecture that the Maryville team constructed currently looks like this:
Diagram 3: The complete architecture
Through this approach, Maryville’s two-person team has moved key data into position for use in a variety of workloads. The data in S3 is now readily accessible for ad hoc interactive SQL workloads in Athena, ETL jobs in Glue, and ultimately for machine learning workloads running in EC2, Lambda or Amazon Sagemaker. In addition, the S3 storage layer is easy to expand without interrupting prior workloads. At the time of this writing, the Maryville team is both beginning to use this environment for machine learning models described earlier as well as adding other data sources into the S3 layer.
The solution described in this post resulted from the collaborative effort of Christine McQuie, Data Engineer, and Josh Tepen, Cloud Engineer, at Maryville University, with guidance from Travis Berkley and Craig Jordan, AWS Solutions Architects.
The Bebras Challenge is a great way for your students to practise their computational thinking skills while solving exciting, accessible, and puzzling questions. Usually this 40-minute challenge would take place in the classroom. However, this year for the first time, your students can participate from home too!
“Thank you for another super challenge. It’s one of the highlights of my year as a teacher. Really, really appreciate the high-quality materials, website, challenge, and communication. Thank you again!”
– A UK-based teacher
Support your students to develop their computational thinking skills with Bebras materials
Bebras is an international challenge that started in Lithuania in 2004 and has grown into an international event. The UK became involved in Bebras for the first time in 2013, and the number of participating students has increased from 21,000 in the first year to more than 260,000 last year! Internationally, nearly 3 million learners took part in 2019.
Bebras is a great way to engage your students of all ages in problem-solving and give them a taste of what computing is all about. In the challenge results, computing principles are highlighted, so Bebras can be educational for you as a teacher too.
The annual Bebras Challenge is only one part of the equation: questions from previous years are available as a resource that you can use to create self-marking quizzes for your classes. You can use these materials throughout the year to help you to deliver the computational thinking part of your curriculum!
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