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!
Since 2017 we’ve been training Computing educators in England and around the world through our suite of free online courses on FutureLearn. Thanks to support from Google and the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE), all of these courses are free for anyone to take, whether you are a teacher or not!
We’re excited that Computer Science educators at all stages in their computing journey have embraced our courses — from teachers just moving into the field to experienced educators looking for a refresher so that they can better support their colleagues.
Hear from two teachers about their experience of training with our courses and how they are benefitting!
Moving from Languages to IT to Computing
Rebecca Connell started out as a Modern Foreign Languages teacher, but now she is Head of Computing at The Cowplain School, a 11–16 secondary school in Hampshire.
Although she had plenty of experience with Microsoft Office and was happy teaching IT, at first she was daunted by the technical nature of Computing:
“The biggest challenge for me has been the move away from an IT to a Computing curriculum. To say this has been a steep learning curve is an understatement!”
However, Rebecca has worked with our courses to improve her coding knowledge, especially in Python:
“Initially, I undertook some one-day programming courses in Python. Recently, I have found the Raspberry Pi courses to be really useful in building confidence and taking my skills further. So far, I have completed Programming 101 — great for revision and teaching ideas — and am now into Programming 102.”
GCSE Computing is more than just programming, and our courses are helping Rebecca develop the rest of her Computing knowledge too:
“I am now taking some online Raspberry Pi courses on computer systems and networks to firm up my knowledge — my greatest fear is saying something that’s not strictly accurate! These courses have some good ideas to help explain complex concepts to students.”
“I really like the new resources and supporting materials from Raspberry Pi — these have really helped me to look again at our curriculum. They are easy to follow and include everything you need to take students forward, including lesson plans.”
And Rebecca’s not the only one in her department who is benefitting from our courses and resources:
“Our department is supported by an excellent PE teacher who delivers lessons in Years 7, 8, and 9. She has enjoyed completing some of the Raspberry Pi courses to help her to deliver the new curriculum and is also enjoying her learning journey.”
Refreshing and sharing your knowledge
Julie Price, a CAS Master Teacher and NCCE Computer Science Champion, has been “engaging with the NCCE’s Computer Science Accelerator programme, [to] be in a better position to appreciate and help to resolve any issues raised by fellow participants.”
“I have encountered new learning for myself and also expressions of very familiar content which I have found to be seriously impressive and, in some cases, just amazing. I must say that I am becoming addicted to the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s online courses!”
She’s been appreciating the open nature of the courses, as we make all of the materials free to use under the Open Government Licence:
“Already I have made very good use of a wide range of the videos, animations, images, and ideas from the Foundation’s courses.”
With 29 courses to choose from (and more on the way!), from Introduction to Web Development to Robotics with Raspberry Pi, we have something for everyone — whether you’re a complete beginner or an experienced computer science teacher. All of our courses are free to take, so find one that inspires you, and let us support you on your computing journey, along with Google and the NCCE.
In the brand-new issue of Hello World magazine, Shuchi Grover tells us about the limits of constructionism, the value of formative assessment, and why programming can be a source of both joy and angst.
How much open-ended exploration should there be in computing lessons?
This is a question at the heart of computer science education and one which Shuchi Grover is delicately diplomatic about in the preface to her new book, Computer Science in K-12: An A-to-Z Handbook on Teaching Programming. The book’s chapters are written by 40 teachers and researchers in computing pedagogy, and Grover openly acknowledges the varying views around discovery-based learning among her diverse range of international authors.
“I wonder if I want to wade there,” she laughs. “The act of creating a program is in itself an act of creation. So there is hands-on learning quite naturally in the computer science classroom, and mistakes are made quite naturally. There are some things that are so great about computer science education. It lends itself so easily to being hands-on and to celebrating mistakes; debugging is par for the course, and that’s not the way it is in other subjects. The kids can actually develop some very nice mindsets that they can take to other classrooms.”
Grover is a software engineer by training, turned researcher in computer science education. She holds a PhD in learning sciences and technology design from Stanford University, where she remains a visiting scholar. She explains how the beginning of her research career coincided with the advent of the block-based programming language Scratch, now widely used as an introductory programming language for children.
“Almost two decades ago, I went to Harvard to study for a master’s called technology innovation and education, and it was around that time that I volunteered for robotics workshops at the MIT Media Lab and MIT Museum. Those were pretty transformative for me: I started after-school clubs and facilitated robotics and digital storytelling clubs. In the early 2000s, I was an educational technology consultant, working with teachers on integrating technology. Then Scratch came out, and I started working with teachers on integrating Scratch into languages, arts, and science, all the things that we are doing today.”
Do her formative experiences at MIT, the birthplace of constructionist theory of student-centred, discovery-based learning, lead her to lean one way or another in the tinkering versus direct instruction debate? “The learning in informal spaces is, of course, very interest-driven. There is no measurement. Children are invited to a space to spend some time after school and do whatever they feel like. There would be kids who would be chatting away while a couple of them designed a robot, and then they would hand over the robot to some others and say, ‘OK, now you go ahead and program it,’ and there were some kids who would just like to hang about.
“When it comes to formal education, there needs to be more accountability, you want to do right by every child. You have to be more intentional. I do feel that while tinkering and constructionism was a great way to introduce interest-driven projects for informal learning, and there’s a lot to learn from there and bring to the formal learning context, I don’t think it can only be tinkering.”
“Everybody knows that engagement is very important for learning — and this is something that we are learning more about: it’s not just interest, it’s also culture, communities, and backgrounds — but all of this is to say that there is a personal element to the learning process and so engagement is necessary, but it’s not a sufficient condition. You have to go beyond engagement, to also make sure that they are also engaging with the concepts. You want at some point for students to engage with the concept in a way that reveals what their misconceptions might be, and then they end up learning and understanding these things more deeply.
“You want a robust foundation — after all, our goal for teaching children anything at school is to build a foundation on which they build their college education and career and anything beyond that. If we take programming as a skill, you want them to have a good understanding of it, and so the personal connections are important, but so is the scaffolding.
“How much scaffolding needs to be done varies from context to context. Even in the same classroom, children may need different levels of scaffolding. It’s a sweet spot; within a classroom a teacher has to juggle so much. And therein lies the challenge of teaching: 30 kids at a time, and every child is different and every child is unique.
“It’s an equity issue. Some children don’t have the prior experience that sets them up to tinker constructively. After all, tinkering is meant to be purposeful exploration. And so it becomes an issue of who are you privileging with the pedagogy.”
She points out that each chapter in her book that comes from a more constructionist viewpoint clearly speaks of the need for scaffolding. And conversely, the chapters that take a more structured approach to computing education include elements of student engagement and children creating their own programs. “Frameworks such as Use-Modify-Create and PRIMM just push that open-ended creation a little farther down, making sure that the initial experiences have more guide rails.”
Approaches to assessment
Grover is a senior research scientist at Looking Glass Ventures, which in 2018 received a National Science Foundation grant to create Edfinity, a tool to enable affordable access to high-quality assessments for schools and universities.
In her book, she argues that asking students to write programs as a means of formative assessment has several pitfalls. It is time-consuming for both students and teachers, scoring is subjective, and it’s difficult to get a picture of how much understanding a student has of their code. Did they get their program to work through trial and error? Did they lift code from another student?
“Formative assessments that give quick feedback are much better. They focus on aspects of the conceptual learning that you want children to have. Multiple-choice questions on code force both the teachers and the children to experience code reading and code comprehension, which are just so important. Just giving children a snippet of code and saying: ‘What does this do? What will be the value of the variable? How many times will this be executed?’ — it goes down to the idea of code tracing and program comprehension.
“Research has also shown that anything you do in a classroom, the children take as a signal. Going back to the constructionist thing, when you foreground personal interest, there’s a different kind of environment in the classroom, where they’re able to have a voice, they have agency. That’s one of the good things about constructionism.
“Formative assessment signals to the student what it is that you’re valuing in the learning process. They don’t always understand what it is that they’re expected to learn in programming. Is the goal creating a program that runs? Or is it something else? And so when you administer these little check-ins, they bring more alignment between a teacher’s goals for the learners and the learners’ understanding of those goals. That alignment is important and it can get lost.”
The title of Grover’s book, which could be thought to imply that computer science education consists solely of teaching students to program, may cause some raised eyebrows.
What about building robots or devices that interact with the world, computing topics like binary, or the societal impacts of technology? “I completely agree with the statement and the belief that computer science is not just about programming. I myself have been a proponent of this. But in this book I wanted to focus on programming for a couple of reasons. Programming is a central part of the computer science curriculum, at least here in the US, and it is also the part that teachers struggle with the most.
“As topics go, programming carries a lot of joy and angst. There is joy in computing, joy when you get it. But when a teacher is encountering this topic for the first time there is a lot of angst, because they themselves may not be understanding things, and they don’t know what it is that the children are not understanding. And there is this entire body of research on novice programming. There are the concepts, the practices, the pedagogies, and the issues of assessment. So I wanted to give the teachers all of that: everything we know about children and programming, the topics to be learnt, where they struggle, how to help them.”
Hello World is our magazine about all things computing education. It is free to download in PDF format, or you can subscribe and we will send you each new issue straight to your home.
In issue 14 of Hello World, we have gathered some inspiring stories to help your learners connect with nature. From counting penguins in Antarctica to orienteering with a GPS twist, great things can happen when young people get creative with technology outdoors. You’ll find all this and more in the new issue!
How do you get internet over three miles up the Himalayas? That’s what the 17000 ft Foundation and Sujata Sahu had to figure out. Rob Zwetsloot reports in the latest issue of the MagPi magazine, out now.
Living in more urban areas of the UK, it can be easy to take for granted decent internet and mobile phone signal. In more remote areas of the country, internet can be a bit spotty but it’s nothing compared with living up in a mountain.
“17000 ft Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation in India, set up to improve the lives of people settled in very remote mountainous hamlets, in areas that are inaccessible and isolated due to reasons of harsh mountainous terrain,” explains its founder, Sujata Sahu. “17000 ft has its roots in high-altitude Ladakh, a region in the desolate cold desert of the Himalayan mountain region of India. Situated in altitudes upwards of 9300 ft and with temperatures dropping to -50°C in inhabited areas, this area is home to indigenous tribal communities settled across hundreds of tiny, scattered hamlets. These villages are remote, isolated, and suffer from bare minimum infrastructure and a centuries-old civilisation unwilling but driven to migrate to faraway cities in search of a better life. Ladakh has a population of just under 300,000 people living across 60,000 km2 of harsh mountain terrain, whose sustenance and growth depends on the infrastructure, resources, and support provided by the government.”
The local governments have built schools. However, they don’t have enough resources or qualified teachers to be truly effective, resulting in a problem with students dropping out or having to be sent off to cities. 17000 ft’s mission is to transform the education in these communities.
High-altitude Raspberry Pi
“The Foundation today works in over 200 remote government schools to upgrade school infrastructure, build the capacity of teachers, provide better resources for learning, thereby improving the quality of education for its children,” says Sujata. “17000 ft Foundation has designed and implemented a unique solar-powered offline digital learning solution called the DigiLab, using Raspberry Pi, which brings the power of digital learning to areas which are truly off-grid and have neither electricity nor mobile connectivity, helping children to learn better, while also enabling the local administration to monitor performance remotely.”
Each school is provided with solar power, Raspberry Pi computers to act as a local internet for the school, and tablets to connect to it. It serves as a ‘last mile connectivity’ from a remote school in the cloud, with an app on a teacher’s phone that will download data when it can and then update the installed Raspberry Pi in their school.
“The solution has now been implemented in 120 remote schools of Ladakh and is being considered to be implemented at scale to cover the entire region,” adds Sujata. “It has now run successfully across three winters of Ladakh, withstanding even the harshest of -50°C temperatures with no failure. In the first year of its implementation alone, 5000 students were enrolled, with over 93% being active. The system has now delivered over 60,000 hours of learning to students in remote villages and improved learning outcomes.”
It’s already helping to change education in the area during the winter. Many villages (and schools) can shut down for up to six months, and families who can’t move away are usually left without a functioning school. 17000 ft has changed this.
“In the winter of 2018 and 2019, for the first time in a few decades, parents and community members from many of these hamlets decided to take advantage of their DigiLabs and opened them up for their children to learn despite the harsh winters and lack of teachers,” Sujata explains. “Parents pooled in to provide basic heating facilities (a Bukhari – a wood- or dung-based stove with a long pipe chimney) to bring in some warmth and scheduled classes for the senior children, allowing them to learn at their own pace, with student data continuing to be recorded in Raspberry Pi and available for the teachers to assess when they got back. The DigiLab Program, which has been made possible due to the presence of the Raspberry Pi Server, has solved a major problem that the Ladakhis have been facing for years!”
How can people help?
Sujata says, “17000 ft Foundation is a non-profit organisation and is dependent on donations and support from individuals and companies alike. This solution was developed by the organisation in a limited budget and was implemented successfully across over a hundred hamlets. Raspberry Pi has been a boon for this project, with its low cost and its computing capabilities which helped create this solution for such a remote area. However, the potential of Raspberry Pi is as yet untapped and the solution still needs upgrades to be able to scale to cover more schools and deliver enhanced functionality within the school. 17000 ft is very eager to help take this to other similar regions and cover more schools in Ladakh that still remain ignored. What we really need is funds and technical support to be able to reach the good of this solution to more children who are still out of the reach of Ed Tech and learning. We welcome contributions of any size to help us in this project.”
Learning computing is fun, creative, and exploratory. It also involves understanding some powerful ideas about how computers work and gaining key skills for solving problems using computers. These ideas and skills are collected under the umbrella term ‘computational thinking’.
When we create our online learning projects for young people, we think as much about how to get across these powerful computational thinking concepts as we do about making the projects fun and engaging. To help us do this, we have put together a computational thinking framework, which you can read right now.
What is computational thinking? A brief summary
Computational thinking is a set of ideas and skills that people can use to design systems that can be run on a computer. In our view, computational thinking comprises:
Patterns and generalisations
All of these aspects are underpinned by logical thinking, the foundation of computational thinking.
What does computational thinking look like in practice?
In principle, the processes a computer performs can also be carried out by people. (To demonstrate this, computing educators have created a lot of ‘unplugged’ activities in which learners enact processes like computers do.) However, when we implement processes so that they can be run on a computer, we benefit from the huge processing power that computers can marshall to do certain types of activities.
Computers need instructions that are designed in very particular ways. Computational thinking includes the set of skills we use to design instructions computers can carry out. This skill set represents the ways we can logically approach problem solving; as computers can only solve problems using logical processes, to write programs that run on a computer, we need to use logical thinking approaches. For example, writing a computer program often requires the task the program revolves around to be broken down into smaller tasks that a computer can work through sequentially or in parallel. This approach, called decomposition, can also help people to think more clearly about computing problems: breaking down a problem into its constituent parts helps us understand the problem better.
Understanding computational thinking supports people to take advantage of the way computers work to solve problems. Computers can run processes repeatedly and at amazing speeds. They can perform repetitive tasks that take a long time, or they can monitor states until conditions are met before performing a task. While computers sometimes appear to make decisions, they can only select from a range of pre-defined options. Designing systems that involve repetition and selection is another way of using computational thinking in practice.
Our computational thinking framework
Our team has been thinking about our approach to computational thinking for some time, and we have just published the framework we have developed to help us with this. It sets out the key areas of computational thinking, and then breaks these down into themes and learning objectives, which we build into our online projects and learning resources.
To develop this computational thinking framework, we worked with a group of academics and educators to make sure it is robust and useful for teaching and learning. The framework was also influenced by work from organisations such as Computing At School (CAS) in the UK, and the Computer Science Teachers’ Association (CSTA) in the USA.
We’ve been using the computational thinking framework to help us make sure we are building opportunities to learn about computational thinking into our learning resources. This framework is a first iteration, which we will review and revise based on experience and feedback.
Computational thinking (CT) comprises a set of skills that are fundamental to computing and being taught in more and more schools across the world. There has been much debate about the details of what CT is and how it should be approached in education, particularly for younger students.
In our research seminar this week, we were joined by María Zapata Cáceres from the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid. María shared research she and her colleagues have done around CT. Specifically, she presented work on how we can understand what CT skills young children are developing. Building on existing work on assessing CT, she and her colleagues have developed a reliable test for CT skills that can be used with children as young as 5.
Why do we need to test computational thinking?
Until we can assess something, María argues, we don’t know what children have or haven’t learned or what they are capable of. While testing is often associated with the final stages in learning, in order to teach something well, educators need to understand where their students’ skills are to know what they are aiming for them to learn. With CT being taught in increasing numbers of schools and in many different ways, María argues that it is imperative to be able to test learners on it.
How was the test developed?
One of the key challenges for assessing learning is knowing whether the activities or questions you present to learners are actually testing what you intend them to. To make sure this is the case, assessments go through a process of validation: they are tried out with large groups to ensure that the results they give are valid. María’s and her colleagues’ CT test for beginners is based on a CT test developed by researcher Marcos Román González. That test had been validated, but since it is aimed at 10- to 16-year-olds, María and her colleagues needed to adapt it for younger children and then validate the adapted rest.
Developing the first version
The new test for beginners consists of 25 questions, each of which has four possible responses, which are to be answered within 40 minutes. The questions are of two types: one that involves using instructions to draw on a canvas, and one that involves moving characters through mazes. Since the test is for younger children, María and her colleagues designed it so it involves as little text as possible to reduce the need for reading; instead the test includes self-explanatory symbols.
Developing a second version based on feedback
To refine the test, the researchers consulted with a group of 45 experts about the difficulty of the questions and the test’s length of the test. The general feedback was very positive.
Drawing on the experts’ feedback, María and her colleagues made some very specific improvements to the test to make it more appropriate for younger children:
The improve test mandates that an verbal explanation be given to children at the start, to make sure they clearly understand how to take the test and don’t have to rely on reading the instructions.
In some areas, the researchers added written explanations where experts had identified that questions contained ambiguity that could cause the children to misinterpret them.
A key improvement was to adapt the grids in the original test to include pathways between each box of the maze. It was found that children could misinterpret the maze, for example as allowing diagonal moves between squares; the added pathways are visual cues that it clear that this is not possible.
Validating the test
After these improvements, the test was validated with 299 primary school students aged 5-12. To assess the differences the improvements might make, the students were given different version of the test. María and her colleagues found that the younger students benefited from the improvements, and the improvements made the test more reliable for testing students’ computational thinking: students made fewer errors due to ambiguity and misinterpretation.
Statistical analysis of the test results showed that the improved version of the test is reliable and can be used with confidence to assess the skills of younger children.
What can you use this test for?
Firstly, the test is a tool for educators who want to assess the skills young people have and develop over time. Secondly, the test is also valuable for researchers. It can be used to perform projects that evaluate the outcomes of different approaches to teaching computational thinking, as well as projects investigating the effectiveness of specific learning resources, because the test can be given to children before and again after they engage with the resources.
Assessment is one of the many tools educators use to shape their teaching and promote the learning of their students, and tools like this CT test developed by María and her colleagues allow us to better understand what children are learning.
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