Coding Evening and BETT 2015

This week I decided to do something a little different – I’ve seen lots of people chatting about Raspberry Jams (meetups for Pi lovers), I’ve been to a Code Club meetup which had a lot of volunteers and not a lot of teachers and I’ve been to a CAS hub for teachers in Hammersmith. The three things combined inspired me to organise my own event – I didn’t want the formatlity of a CAS hub, but I wanted teachers to feel welcome and have the opportunity to relax after a long day at school. I also wanted to encourage some people from the Raspberry Pi and Code Club communities to come along and share what they’re doing (I also hoped to get a few volunteers without schools to come and find a school to volunteer in).

So, after a few emails and phone calls, I found a local pub with a nice function room that was completely free to hire and sent emails out to my local ISI schools, as well as looking up contacts for all the local LEA schools. I then posted on Twitter, the Raspberry Jam page and CAS events page as well as tweeting Code Club (who very kindly emailed out to their local members).

I ended up with about 15-20 people turning up, which I was really pleased about – people felt relaxed enough to order a pint and a burger in their own time while we chatted about what we were doing in school. I had three Raspberry Pis set up so that I could demonstrate things as necessary and I had my other half and my code club volunteer on hand for tech support. Mostly the people were teachers from my local ISI group, but a few people had seen my tweets and the retweets from other groups. I was slightly disappointed not to have any response from the LEA schools, but I’m hoping they’ll come to the next one.

What I enjoyed about the evening is that there was no sales pitch, there was no agenda, it was just a chance to chat. I found that a lot of people had done the same as I had – either bought or planned to buy some Raspberry Pis, but with no idea of what to do with them and that just chatting to the people in the room with experience helped them to feel a bit more confident in trying it out.

The overall conclusion was that people left feeling like they were more confident with trying things out, but could we have another evening in a month or so to catch up and compare – so I’ve already booked the venue again for Friday 13th March!

The next day I went to BETT 2015, but unlike usual, I wasn’t going to hunt around for freebies and find some cool new tech for my school – this year I had volunteered to talk on the Raspberry Pi stand and then been invited to a panel talking about coding in the primary curriculum.

In all honesty, I was so excited about talking that I didn’t look around as much as usual, but I did get a chance to pop to Education City and chat to their staff – we use this resources in the lower school (EYFS and KS1) as it’s a bright colourful website that the children love – in the upper school we just use it for MFL as it’s a useful website for aiding learning. They have a clever marketting ploy for BETT – it’s very simple, if you chat to them about your account, they give you a free mug, so I did and I was actually fairly impressed – they’ve finally made it easy to upload a CSV file of users to have individual accounts, you can easily add in teachers and admin users and the whole admin interface is just a little simpler. They’ve also added in a coding module, which I intend to take a look at in the next few weeks so keep an eye out for a blog!

So, I did a presentation on the Raspberry Pi stand with Tom Sale from Mereside Primary school in Blackpool, talking about how to use the Pi in a primary school, which was great fun – as it was my first time speaking about my teaching in this way, Tom kindly took the lead, but I now feel more confident standing up and having my say. The next thing we both did was a panel with Clive Beale and Carrie-Anne Philbin on the BETT futures stage and, already more confident, I talked for around ten minutes about all the things I’ve been doing with coding since attending Picademy in July (and all of my bad experiences before then) and was able to answer a couple of questions fired from the audience.

So all in all a lovely day at BETT. Now I need to get planning my next coding evening in Twickenham!!

<edit>The March coding evening will be on Friday 13th March – details here: See you there! </edit>

2015 – the year of new stuff

I’ve not posted for a while – things have been busy – my father passed away in October and so I have been dealing with that, but as time has moved on and a new term has started I feel ready to dive back in head first.

Anyway, that’s no excuse – my goal for this year was to write up a guide to the new curriculum and I have so far failed miserably.

So, the last few weeks have been interesting – before Christmas I visited my first CAS Hub event in Hammersmith – it was mostly independent schools like my own and included a chat about how people are getting on as well as a demo of a java script game based Code Kingdoms (more on that later). It was good to see what people were doing, but I ended up arriving late (only by 15 minutes) and felt like I missed out on a lot of the early chat.

I had also attended a Code Club meet up in central London right at the beginning of the academic year and between the two events I decided it was time I started organising my own meet up. My plan was simple, I wanted to keep things informal, I wanted to get lots of teachers there and I wanted to make sure there were things to try out. I’m not a great fan of sticking to timetables so I decided not to plan anything formal for my event and so next Thursday (22nd Jan 2015) I will be hosting a coding meet up in the Stokes and Moncreiff pub in Twickenham – I’m hoping to get lots of teachers to come along (although I’m only up to about 16 so far) as well as trying to encourage some Code Club volunteers to head over. If you’re interested in coming along please sign up here.

At the end of last year, I also volunteered to talk about Raspberry Pi in the primary school at BETT 2015 on the Raspberry Pi stand along with a fellow Picademy alumni, Tom Sale, who is a leading practictioner when it comes to the new curriculum and is well known for helping to organise a big primary school coding event in Blackpool, Hackpool.  We will be talking on the Pi stand at 12.30pm on Friday 23rd and then we have also been invited to sit on a panel at 2.15pm with Clive Beale in the BETT Futures arena to talk about coding in the primary school; next week is looking set to be an exciting week.

While surfing Twitter this week, two very exciting things have come up that I think are important to share: Firstly, CamJam and Raspberry Pi are hosting a third birthday event in Cambridge 28th Feb/1st March – this is looking like it will be a great event for anyone interested in using the Pi, whether it be teachers, parents, professionals or children and it’s less than £10 for a full weekend pass (the day activities are completely free for under 16s). I’m planning on heading along to the Saturday events because I think it will be another great networking opportunity and to get some ideas for how to use the Pi in school (trust me, the best way to be inspired about how to use the Raspberry Pi is to find out how other people are using it). Further details here.

The second thing I saw this morning was a lovely little kickstarter from the guys at Pimoroni called Flotilla. This looks like a perfect bit of kit for any primary school teacher as the cross curricular links are immense. The idea is simple – a USB plug and play hub with an awful lot of sensors that can be controlled with varying levels of coding difficulty starting off with simple recipe cards, to flowcharts, to Scratch, Python and beyond. It can be controlled from a computer or a tablet. My hand slipped when I was making a pledge and I’ve ended up putting down enough to be able to get a mega treasure chest so as soon as this is released I’ll be blogging about how it works. It’s nearly achieved half it’s funding in a few hours so there is no doubt it will be fully funded before too long! Looking at it, it should be great for linking coding to science and I have a feeling there will be ways to link it to other subjects too!

So, I’m declaring 2015 the year of new stuff as I continue to find new and exciting ways to encourage people to enjoy the new coding curriculum….

One final anecdote for you, however, a pair of excellent teachers came to me this week to ask why I was making them teach coding, they wanted to know if they could just go back to teaching ‘word and stuff’ *facepalm* luckily for me, they saw sense, but just goes to show how deeply the old microsoft curriculum has been ingrained into teaching!!