Thoughts on EdTech

I’ve been strangely busy for quite a while now and my posting has dropped quite a lot. In the last few months I’ve been doing a lot of work planning, creating and curating curriculums, supporting schools and just getting my life in order. I’ve been in a lot of schools recently and have had some great experiences with lovely teachers and schools, but it has highlighted that we still have a long way to go before technology usage in schools becomes seemless and useful.

So, here, in no particular order, are my thoughts on the current state of EdTech.

computer computer keyboard contemporary displayFirstly, very few teachers and schools are in a place where they can use technology effectively. This isn’t a criticism of teachers in anyway, but without training and support, or even just sharing of ideas and information, why would an English teacher think to use 3D printing to help students understand the importance of objects within the text they are exploring? Why would a history teacher think to use Google Earth to explore the battle sites of WW1? Why would a maths teacher realise that using Scratch to draw shapes can help pupils calculate exterior angles? There are so many valuable resources out there that could utilise technology to make teaching all subjects more engaging for educators and students alike, but teachers don’t necessarily know how to access them or just how valuable those tools might be. The trouble is, most teachers experience of using technology involves an arduous booking process to try and get access to sluggish and outdated machinary. Or else, they’re handed a tablet or even a class set of tablets and told that it will revolutionise their teaching even though they’ve not been shown how to use it and nor have the students so then they become glorified web browsers and cameras with very little useful educational value.

Which brings me onto my second point – we’re living in an age of the ‘quick fix’. Far too many EdTech products seem to be offering a ‘quick and easy’ way to use their tool in the classroom to make a difference. Half of the time, the tool in question has been rushed out of the factory in China full of hardware faults and the promised resources are weak at best, non-existent at worst. The educators are assured that by using this shiny new product, children will magically become engaged and education will become a delight… what they assume is that every teacher has the time to sit and learn how to use the tool, how to troubleshoot the tool and how to come up with innovative and exciting ways to use the tool. While it’s true that some educators will do all of those things, for the majority, there isn’t the time or the energy to become world experts on whatever has been bought. And that’s the bigger problem… usually this quick fix tools end up eating away the majority of the ICT budget because they look flashy and will impress the governors/Ofsted/parents even if they won’t end up being used beyond the first half term.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some amazing products, some amazing teachers and some amazing tools out there, but they are still too few and far between.

turned on black acer laptop

My thoughts are that technology needs to become an intrinsic part of teaching. Look at the world around us – computers, phones, tablets are ubiquitous, we can’t get away from them and yet often pupils will spend days without touching technology for their learning. In the world outside of school, they are likely to be surrounded by technology and yet our teaching methodology is based on a time before computers even existed. BUT, and it’s a big but, we need to make sure that when technology is used in education, it’s used purposefully so we’re not just using the tablets for searching up on the Internet or using a fancy app to impress a visiting dignitary. It’s difficult, but once pupils are shown how to use tech, they are actually pretty good at suggesting ways to use it themselves and we should remember that a lot of EdTech is actually designed to make both teaching and learning more simple.

GfE_Logo_3fkBssr.max-1300x1300That’s one of the reasons I’m really enjoying doing freelance work for Google lately. I can see that their Education team has been thinking about ways to support teachers – it’s obvious in their constant updates in response to feedback from teachers that they have educators at heart. G Suite for Education is designed to be interactive, intuitive and collabrative. I tend to find that a day of delivering G Suite training usually involves introducing the tools and letting teachers discover for themselves what they can do and then discussing and suggesting ways of using it in their classroom. I’ve delivered the Google Applied Digital Skills curriculum a few times and it’s a fantastic set of resources (that doesn’t HAVE to be used with Google products). The idea behind it is to offer cross curricular teaching ideas using technology that will link to real world, for example planning a bake sale using spreadsheets and designing posters; or how about using Google Slides to create an interactive choose-your-own-adventure style story, planned on a collaborative doc of course – and with a bit of thought, you could fit the project into your teaching for any subject – what about an interactive exploration of a historical period?

But, regardless of whether you are a user of Google, Microsoft or something else in your school, it’s so important that students (and teachers) understand that these web-based tools are here to stay and should become part of our daily teaching, otherwise we’re letting our students down and not properly preparing them for the future.

Another thing I often see furiously debated by teachers is the value of computers/laptops/tablets and I find this to be an interesting discussion. While I loved having iPads one to one in my classroom as a primary school teacher, I still valued the computing suite and access to desktop computers or laptops on occasion. You see, I think tablets are great for quick and effective learning. You can easily access your mail and camera as well as get onto the web, there are some wonderful tools out there and yes, you can add a keyboard to make it ‘like a laptop’, but I would also add that I almost never used a tablet myself – we’ve got a handful of iPads at home and I would rarely pick one up to use it for anything. The last thing I used one for was to create an animation for a project in November. My laptop, Chromebook and phone are all used much more frequently – my laptop for the majority of the work, but the Chromebook if I just want to get onto a G Suite tool quickly and easily or I want to take a light, affordable laptop somewhere without the stress of my MacBook Pro in my bag.

When it comes to teaching, I don’t think it’s fair to only expose children to tablets – it pains me when I teach KS2 pupils who don’t understand how to click a mouse and who take ten minutes to type their name on a keyboard – these, to me, are basic lifeskills and I know that people argue that with touchscreen and voice-to-text you don’t need those skills anymore, but I have both of those tools on my Chromebook and yet still prefer to navigate using the touchpad and type with the keyboard.

So, my general opinion is that iPads and other tablets are wonderful, and they certainly inspire enthusiasm from staff and pupils when they are new and shiny, but it is important that you have either desktop or laptop computers a) to teach some basic digital literacy skills like navigating an OS, b) so that you have access to tools that might not be possible to use effectively on a tablet and c) to expose students to a broad range of different tools because we don’t really know what hardware or software will need to be used in their future workplace.

And again, I circle back on to training – whatever hardware your school decides to buy, if teaching staff aren’t given the opportunity to learn how to use it, to understand how it applies to whatever they teach, then it just won’t be used effectively and you’re back to a cupboard full of unused tech – it’s not just the computing staff that need to know how to use technology – everyone should be trying to use it across the curriculum.

One of the projects I recently worked on was a computing scheme of work for a company called Kapow and the key things we discussed was to make sure that the lessons for computing were accessible to even the least computer-literate teacher – we had a a very fine line to tow between being  patronising and supporting teachers and I’m pretty proud of what we achieved. In my role, not only did I create content, but I proof read and edited every single lesson to ensure those accessibility goals were met and the main feedback from schools so far has been that it is easy to follow for everyone. While we were creating the lessons, at the back of my mind and I kept thinking – how could this tool also be used in another subject? What could we suggest as next steps for cross-curricular teaching? For me, that’s what primary school computing teaching is all about – understanding how to use technology across all subjects. The skills are taught in computing, but applied more generally.

I guess I’m not really offering any solutions here, just highlighting some of the issues that I’ve seen recently as well as some projects I’ve worked on. What are your thoughts? Do you think EdTech is heading in the right direction or the wrong direction? How can we support educators across the curriculum to use technology more effectively?

Let me know what you think, but just remember – the students of today will likely be using the tools of tomorrow in their workplace so we, as teachers, need to arm them with as much understanding of technology as we can possibly provide!

Role Models

Well, here goes… attempt number two to write this post after the original version disappeared into the ether last night for no apparent reason.

People often ask me what we can do to address the gender inbalance in the world of coding, computing and digital making and I always have the same reply “We need more positive role models for girls interested in coding”. Think about it, when we think of famous coders, developers, programmers and makers they all have one thing in common – they are almost all white, middle-aged and male. That’s not to say there is anything wrong with being white, middle-aged and male, but it’s not exactly inspiring for teenage girls to go into an industry that appears to be entirely populated by people who they can’t identify with.

Computing has a bit of an image problem and it doesn’t exactly help matters that we often use Ada Lovelace as a shining beacon of a female role model in the world of coding. Yes, she was the first ever programming and yes, she was a rebel and an awesome person, but she died over 160 years ago so she’s not exactly contemporary. We also tend to highlight Margaret Hamilton and Grace Hopper, who are excellent examples of women who changed the world, but your average teenage girl isn’t going to be excited by a picture of a woman in her 70s receiving an award. How are we going to convince teenage girls that coding is cool when the only role models they have were born before their grandparents?

If you ask young people today what they’d like to be when they grow up, you’re less likely to hear “footballer, fireman, pop star” and more likely to hear YouTuber high on the list – the role models that our young people aspire to be like are those that are involved with digital content, that are relatable and fun and we should be capitalising on that in the maker community to identify other role models that can inspire young people and especially young women, to get involved.

So, rather than just identify the problem, I’m going to share with you now some of my favourite inspiring role models.

Carrie Anne Philbin


Four years ago, while trawling twitter for a way to upskill my computer science teaching in anticipation of the curriculum change, I came across something called “Picademy” and decided to apply. Little did I know how much attending picademy would change my life and I owe a huge debt of thanks to Carrie Anne Philbin for being a real role model to myself and hundreds of other teachers around the world. Carrie Anne shows us that anyone can be involved with digital making – she is fun, exciting, innovative and inspiring and she certainly succeeded in getting me excited about what I could do and why.

Originally a secondary school teacher, Carrie Anne is now Director of Education at the Raspberry Pi Foundation where she continues to inspire us all with her empassioned talks on inclusion, digital making and EdTech. She has published a book, has her own YouTube channel, GeekGurlDiaries and is the face of the Computer Science course for US YouTube big hitter, Crash Course. Add to that that she’s a genuinely nice person and you can easily see why Carrie Anne should be considered as a modern day Role Model for Women in Tech!

Tanya Fish

Tanya is an ex-teacher who works for Pimoroni involved in making their incredible range of products even more awesome and education-ready.

For me, Tanya is a role model for a number of reasons – she’s not just an awesome, multi-coloured hair, giant flashing boots-wearing bundle of energy and fun, she’s also a proud ‘Aspergirl’ having recently received a diagnosis of ASD after years of wondering. Tanya loves to make feel-good and fun makes that demonstrate that anyone can be a digital maker. One of my favourite projects that she has worked on are NFC nails which flash when they go near any NFC reader – Tanya even went so far as to take a nail technician course to combine some of her favourite hobbies!

Tanya’s project demonstrate that she’s both a maker and an engineer determined to make things that appeal to anyone and everyone which make it easy to get started and even easier to be inspired for your next digital making projects.

Iseult Mangan


There is often a perception that once a woman has a few children, they’ll stop working and stop pushing boundaries for success. Iseult proves that this is definitely not that case – not only does she have four incredible children (one of whom, Aoibheann, won European Digital Girl of the Year in Brussels last year because of her volunteer work for Coder Dojo runnning workshops for coding in her local community), she also teaches, runs workshops, advises the Irish Government on steps towards establishing a Computing curriculum and attends events aroud the UK sharing her passion and love for coding and EdTech.

Whenever I spend time with Iseult, I leave feeling inspired to push myself more – she is such a lovely person to spend time with and has an amazing ability to make everyone around her feel positive about themselves and for me she an incredible role model for women as she proves that it is possible to have a fantastic family and still be a fabulous digital maker.

Rachel Wong


People often associate coding, electronics and digital making with a slightly masculine image, but Rachel certainly goes out of her way to disprove that idea. She is best described as all things pink, fluffy and feminine and she’s proud to be a very girlie girl. Her making projects combine fashion with glitter, LEDs and even robotics. She is a real 21st century girl whilst also being an enthusiastic and fun maker who isn’t afraid to try new things.

On top of all of this, Rachel is also a scientist by profession and is also open about her struggles with anxiety and depression, making her a role model in so many different ways. You can’t help but be infused with her infectious enthusiasm when you meet her at events and she’s a fabulous role model for girls around the world.


How many 10 year olds do you know that spend their weekends running robotics workshops for strangers? That’s exactly what ten year old Avye does and she’s really determined to make her mark on the maker world. Avye began learning to code at the age of seven and is familiar with a variety of programming languages as she attends regular workshops in her spare time. She has begun delivering workshops at her local Coder Dojo and was one of 12 young people selected to take part in the Young Coders Conference at the Tate Modern. Inspired by the courses she helped develop, Avye is now running more and more frequent workshops and has recently successfully raised funds to run a Girls Only Coding Event at Wimbledon Library – she wanted to be able to give all of the attendees some coding kit to take home and so she has raised over £1000 to be able to give them all micro:bits and other accessories.

What I really like about Avye is that she is independent and determined, whilst still being a really lovely young lady to spend time with. She feels passionately about promoting coding and support young women like herself to feel comfortable and supported so that they will be willing to give it a go. Avye is a real role model for girls and I suspect we’ll see more of her as time goes on as she’s a real little star in the making.

So, I’ve told you about some of the ladies I think we should be highlighting to draw attention to women in tech, but I’m sure you’ve all got plenty of ideas for other people who should be on this list too. I know I could’ve easily made the list at least three times as long based on people I’ve met at events and spoken to on social media. Why not let me know in the comments section what you think – I’d love to hear who else could have been included and why!

2017 in review

I was going to write a Facebook post or a brief tweet about all of the things I’ve been up to this year, but then I realised that professionally, 2017 has been one of the most exciting and varied years of my life – so much has happened that, looking back, I can’t believe it’s my life. Two years ago I was a respectable, happy primary school teacher and now, in the space of one year, I’ve been to Argentina, Brazil, Texas and Orlando for work as well as NYC for holiday and various parts of the UK and Brussels for an award nomination! What a rollercoaster.

TL;DR : I’ve had an AMAZING year


By January, I finally felt settled into my role at pi-top, I’d begun working on some pi-top events for a couple of charities BECSlink and IntoUniversity and having lots of fun with the ever-growing staff. I managed to squeeze in visiting the London Python Dojo at Sohonet where I finally met Drew Buddie IRL and the two of us chatted to all the attendees about the teaching of coding as well as getting a better understanding of how a Python Dojo works.

I attended BETT for the first time as an exhibitor, which was kind of exciting – I got to meet so many people IRL and, because everyone knew where to find me, I probably met more people than I would’ve had I just been visiting the show. I was expecting to be exhausted by the end of the week and, although I was pretty tired by Saturday, I was also still super-excited to see so many lovely people in attendance and I can’t wait for this year. I also attended the BETT awards with pi-top where we won the ‘start-up of the year award’ – I was really pleased with this as I had been involved in writing the application and so it was great fun getting all dressed-up with the company founders and getting up on stage to accept the award. pi-top are shortlisted for another two awards this year so fingers crossed we get to win again!!



February saw my first Coding Evening of 2017 – we’ve managed to host one per half term since I started running them in 2014 and I’m still having lots of fun and meeting new people each time!

At pi-top, February also saw the first Champions weekend – I got to take most of the lovely people that I’d selected to be pi-topCHAMPIONS to Bletchley Park and the National Museum of Computing for a two-day bonding and training session. Not only did we get great feedback, we also had an amazing time. It proved to be a great weekend all around and I was reminded once again how lucky I am to have so many wonderful people in my life.

On a personal note, February saw me taking up running properly for the first time in my life – I’ve just checked and have managed to clock up just shy of 300km this year which is pretty impressive for someone who has always hated running!



March began with the pi-birthday, what a fabulous event that was – from unicorn face paints, to pi-brewed beers, it was great fun. I managed a talk and panel at the event in spite of a nightmare cold and got to meet a host of wonderful people – from the young up and coming coders in the pi-youth community to some wonderful adults organising events and supporting children around the world (I’m looking at you Mr Provenzano). It was also great fun catching up with the Pimoroni pirates and long-time community members like Alex Eames again and we managed to squeeze in a giant meal at a local restaurant after one of the nights.March

March also saw another Coding Evening and I also got to visit one of the schools in the group I used to work for as a teacher to deliver a workshop as part of their STEM day. As part of my work for Crossover Solutions, I visited a school in Amesbury to run a Physical Computing workshop and had lots of fun!


I’m really lucky that I know so many wonderful people in the Raspberry Pi community and so I was really pleased to be invited to help out at PiWars 2017 in Cambridge – I was invited to help judge the event and so I headed up for a weekend of fun. I have to admit that PiWars was a HUGE highlight for me in 2017 – I always burble about how great the Raspberry pi community is, but this is the event that really shows this off. Lots of fans coming together to compete, but with no malice or anger, just lots of support and fun. Even the people who did badly left smiling and so I’m really exciting this year to have bullied some of my colleagues at pi-top to help me enter a team! I can’t wait to see how we get along!

April also saw me attending a lovely little event in Malvern called ATI and running pi-top workshops in schools in Eastbourne. Albert Hickey and I also managed to squeeze in a third Wimbledon Raspberry Jam which was a hugely successful event including talks by students, teachers and community members as well as workshops run by young people and involving LOTS of glitter.

I also started some work for Crossover Solutions teaching for half a day every other week in a local school in Wandsworth which has been great for keeping my finger on the pulse of CS teaching!

No surprises that it was another busy month.


In May, I built my Pimoroni Mood Lamp and really honed my soldering skills- turns out, I’m quite good at soldering!


I met with Alasdair Davies and Francisco Coutinho Gouveia at London Zoo so we could talk about the amazing coding and conservation activities they’re getting up to on the island of Principe – in the last few weeks, Alasdair has been receiving footage from the turtles that are currently ‘wearing’ Raspberry Pi cameras and it’s hypnotic stuff.

May saw me visit Cornwall again to do some work for the National STEM Centre as a roving Scratch roadshow as well as visiting Bank of America to help them run an amazing pi-top workshop for children of their staff!


June was a whirlwind month – I managed to fit in performing in an amateur performance of Blithe Spirit as Edith the maid, a Coding Evening at the Library Pot in Richmond AND a trip to San Antonio, Texas for ISTE (the US equivalent of BETT).


I’m still not sure how I survived July – I was meant to be going to Brazil for two weeks to run some coding workshops for teachers, but somehow, before I knew it, I was booked to spend the week before in Argentina for pi-top!! I got to attend the first Code Club festival in Horsham but had to leave at lunch time so I could head back to Heathrow for my flights to Buenos Aires.


I can’t get over how much of an amazing three weeks I had in South America and I’m very excited about heading back to São Paulo in two weeks for some more training with Maple Bear!


I spent my birthday in Brazil so it was a great relief to finally come home and relax a bit in August.


On the first of August, pi-top moved offices from a very ‘start-up’ office in Bethnal Green, to a much more professional looking office in Old Street – it was a very exciting move for all of us and has been great fun! The only problem with the new office is that it’s much too close to too many lovely eating places!

At the beginning of August, Stuart, Kirk and I managed to build my Google AIY (or ‘Boxy’ as Kirk renamed it), which was great fun!


On a personal note, in August, we managed to sneak away for a few days with my nieces (aged 7 and 4 at the time) and had a little escape to the country visiting both Longleat and Stourhead House and I directed a rehearsed reading of a play, which I’m now going to be directing in April in Kew!

At the end of August, I decided to see if any of my pi-top colleagues fancied playing a few board games after work and thus ‘board games nights’ were launched at pi-top with a games night occurring every couple of weeks (and occasionally twice in one week). I have to admit to being really pleased with how this has worked out as there seems to be at least 6 people each time and occasionally as many as 12 and, while there are a few ‘core’ gamers, the attendance has been quite varied, allowing a greater variety of people to hang out and spend time together – great team building!


Having missed the first pi-top social in July as I was in Brazil, I was pretty excited to organise a second one – karaoke night in the local pub… unfortunately, I’m not sure my colleagues would appreciate me sharing details of the event on social media, but let’s just say that it was a FABULOUS night and I hadn’t realised that I worked with such an amazingly ‘talented’ bunch of people 🙂

I’d love to pretend that September was a peaceful month, but with everything building up for October, there was nothing quiet about it – between a Code Club event at Monzo, beginning our PiWars project, organising a Coding Evening and attending the ArtsRichmond Swan Awards for drama and musicals, it was another crazy, but exciting month.

Also in September, I had an article published in issue three of Hello World magazine – thanks to my earlier meeting with Francisco, I had developed an interest in teaching coding to pupils who don’t speak English as their first language so, while I was in Brazil, I wrote a piece for the magazine and was really excited to see it published.

I finally put all of my running practice to the test in September by running my first 10km in Kew Gardens, finishing in just over one hour and 8 minutes.


At the beginning of October, I finally took a real holiday and Stuart and I headed off to NYC for a week – we got back just in time for pi-top to launch the new pi-top with Inventor’s Kit, which had kept me busy for most of September. It was an amazing achievement to have been involved in such a great product and I really feel proud to have been part of the team.

This month also saw me being featured in the MagPi magazine on their community profile – thank you for writing lovely things about me Alex, it was a real honour.

October also saw me ‘popping’ over to Orlando for a few days to attend an event called Project Lead the Way, but, more importantly, to spend some time with John Sperry, my US counterpart along with pi-top‘s new education guru, Graham Brown-Martin.

When I landed back in the UK, I had to immediately jump in my car and drive to Cardiff as I’d been invited by the RPF to help out at Picademy as part of PyconUK. PyconUK was a really wonderful event this year and I’d like to thank everyone who was so supportive of my talk about mental health – this was a bold new step for me and I really hope I get the opportunity to talk more about it in 2018.

Also at Pycon, I was presented with a John Pinner award for service to the Python community which was overwhelming and amazing and I was so honoured to be one of the first recipients (along with quite a few familiar faces including both Tim Golden and Josh Lowe!)

I got to catch up with some many amazing people at Pycon – you read my write up here.


I thought that November had brought an end to my travels, so it was surprising to learn that I’d been shortlisted for an Ada Award for European Digital Woman of the year, meaning I had to go to Brussels for an overnight stay. Although I didn’t win, it was an incredible honour to be shortlisted and to spend some time with some wonderful people, especially Danny and Helena, as well as one of my favourites, Iseult and her wonderful daughter Aoibheann – what a fab couple of days!

November saw another Coding Evening and a trip to the V3 Tech Awards, which pi-top were shortlisted for as well as a visit to Merton Council to talk about ways to support the local community and youth clubs with pi-top.


December has been a wonderful month with Christmas parties, event planning and meetings about some exciting stuff next year. Thankfully there were no trips abroad, just to visit family in Cornwall and Lincoln and I’ve finally been able to relax a little bit.

Next year is already looking exciting with trips to Brazil, Dubai and Chicago already in the diary – I’m directing a play with auditions in 10 days and a house-move may even be on the cards later in the year (fingers crossed – five years in a one bedroom flat is my limit when the pair of us have so much stuff).

I’m really looking forward to attending BETT with pi-top as we have some great things planned and I’m confident that 2018 is going to be another amazing year. I still can’t get over how much my life has changed in the last 18 months.


Computational Thinking in Brazil

I’ve been fairly quiet recently, but at least I have a decent excuse.

Way back in November, I was asked to help write a computational thinking scheme of work for some Canadian schools called Maple Bear – confusingly, I was told that the scheme would be deployed in Brazil, but I had great fun working with David Wall on 16 simple activities to promote computational thinking and computer science. David had seen me on Twitter and wanted to work with me and I really enjoyed writing the lesson plans with him.

Fast forward to May this year and David sent me another email to see if I’d be able to travel to Brazil for two weeks of training with Maple Bear. Every year the Brazilian teachers are invited to Central training in July and January (winter and summer break) to learn pedagogical skills for maths, English and science as well as school leadership training and they’d decided that this year they wanted to include computational thinking as one of their core training sessions. David had done a two-day session in the summer (January) with some specially selected participants, but they wanted to open it up to the rest of the teachers for their winter training which meant that I was invited to São Paulo to help out.


Maple Bear is a really interesting school group – they follow the Canadian curriculum, but don’t have any schools in Canada. From what I could see, they pride themselves on having some of the best and most well-trained staff that they can and the teachers’ passion for their students came across clearly in my sessions. I think that the schools operate as a franchise around the world, but with the majority of them being in Brazil, where they have a reputation for being some of the best schools in the country. To us Brits, it may seem peculiar, but the Portuguese speaking pupils are taught exclusively in English until they reach the age of 7 when some of the teachers deliver their lessons in English, while others deliver in Portuguese. I have to admit to being really impressed with their commitment to delivering top-quality education.

Anyway, my training was planned to be two, two-day sessions in week one at the central training in São Paulo and then two, two-day sessions in individual Maple Bear schools, one in the city of Belo Horizonte, just north of Rio and one way-up in the north-west of Brazil in João Pessoa, a tropical beach-town where winter is characterised by hot weather and torrential rain.

Needless to say, heading out to teach these teachers about Computational Thinking really got me thinking about what we mean by it. I thought about those four key-words that just trip of any CS teachers tongue – Decomposition, Abstraction, Pattern Recognition, Algorithm.

Image credit: BBC Bitesize

We call these the cornerstones of computational thinking, but how do we put into words what they actually mean? It’s actually quite difficult to get your head around how to explain abstraction, even when you know what it means, so introducing it to people that are completely unfamiliar with the terms can be quite difficult. For me, I learn best by example and so I immediately thought of activities and examples that would describe these skills, for example, tidying your room is an overwhelming task, but folding your clothes is much less intimidating, or planning to revise for examples over the summer can see terrifying until you break it down into a revision timetable and plan carefully what topic to revise and when.

One of my favourite activities during the training was one I found on – ask the group to add up the numbers 1 to 200 in their heads as quickly as possible, put pressure on them and make them feel stressed. Obviously no one is going to do it, especially if you only give them a few seconds to think about it. Now ask the attendees/students whether anyone actually tried it or whether people gave up – make it clear that it’s ok to have given up.

Now, explain that we are going to decompose the problem by breaking it down a bit. You need to write on the board:

1 + 2 + 3 + .... + 198 + 199 + 200

The next thing we want our users to do is to recognise any patterns in the sum we’ve written up – someone will eventually point out that either you can add 200 + 1 to make 201 repeatedly, or you can add 199 + 1 to make 200 repeatedly.

Now we use abstraction to calculate how many times we’ll need to repeat the sum – depending on whether you’re using 200 or 201, you either need to repeat it 100 times or repeat it 100 times and add 100 one at the end – either way you get 20100 and you’re able to write an algorithm for your sum.


What you’ve done is apply computational thinking to a fairly complex sum in order to calculate it quickly and understand that actually, adding all of the numbers up to 200 is pretty easy.

In fact, on the final set of training in João Pessoa, I started thinking about how you could make the problem more complex and it occurred to me that you could apply the exact same method to adding all of the numbers up to 400, which would then give you the sum 401 x 200, or all of the numbers up to 600 (601 x 300). As you can see, my maths brain got really excited by the application of this puzzle.

For the first day of the training, I wanted to separate the ideas of computer science from computational thinking and so we focused on unplugged computing; I spent weeks searching through the excellent resources on CS Unplugged and Barefoot Computing as well as using the ideas we’d written into our scheme of work. I wanted to focus the training on the teachers having fun as I know that from my experience of Picademy, I was much more enthusiastic about applying what I’d learnt because I’d had time to try it out and play with it myself.

In the second half of the first day, I had planned on demonstrating how you can apply computational thinking to a music lesson by asking students to compose a piece of music and then write a pictorial algorithm for playing it back. As it happened, I’d seen some street performers in São Paulo that really impressed me by playing incredible sounds just using every day objects like bottles and pipes so and so I used this as inspiration for the teachers on the course and asked them to use items in the classroom to create pieces of music.

At each of the four sessions, I was continuously amazed with the musical talent of the teachers, but what I liked even more was how much fun they were clearly all having. It felt like a mask dropping down as the teachers realised that it was ok to relax and enjoy the activity.

At the end of the first day, I was really pleased to be able to talk about some of the people who inspire me and I ended up with three whole pages full of inspiring people from Carrie Anne Philbin to Cerys Lock! I also talked about great software and hardware like Code Club and Raspberry Pi. Check out my slides from the session here.

On the second day of training, the focus was more on software, I spent the morning introducing the teachers to Scratch and the afternoon looking at Active Lit and the amazing Sonic Pi – once again, I focused on keeping the training as fun and as interactive as possible and I love the fact that every single time I introduced Scratch, it was hard work trying to convince the teachers to go on their coffee break because they were having too much fun!! Interestingly, in all four of my sessions, only around 5 teachers in total had ever used Scratch so for most attendees, it was completely new.

I had such an amazing time meeting a diverse range of people in Brazil and I’m grateful to Maple Bear for inviting me over – I hope I get to go back as I was so impressed with how well all of the people on the training absorbed information and demonstrated eagerness to use what they learnt in their schools. I’d be really keen to hear about what lessons they have taught using unplugged suggestions or else introducing Scratch, Sonic Pi or Active Lit. I loved that each teacher seemed to take something different away with them, with some immediately planning unplugged activities, while others were thinking carefully about how to integrate Scratch into their lessons.


One of the things that really stood out for me whilst doing this training is that most teachers naturally understand computational thinking, in fact, when you think about the day to day life of a teacher, we are using CT skills on a daily basis without even recognising it. This can be a bit of a trap because we may find ourselves thinkings “oh but I do that already” because the point is that we’re all good teachers because we use computational thinking without thinking. It is a skill that we have developed to become successful, but that doesn’t mean that our students know how to use it; it’s time that we made those implicit skills that make us good teachers explicit for our students’ benefit. We need to make it clear how to use decomposition to make a problem easier to solve or pattern recognition in order to spot how to predict outcomes. We need to make sure that children aren’t growing up with the resilience and toolkit needed to solve the most basic problems.

Our students are not mindless machines, they need to be guided and shown how to help themselves – we can no longer just learn by rote because, as we often quote (or misquote) Richard Riley, the former US director of Education “Education should prepare young people for jobs that do not yet exist, using technology that has not yet been invented, to solve problems of which we are not yet aware”.  How can we confidently prepare our learners for both jobs and technology that does not exist – it’s simple, we can’t, but what we can do is prepare them to be able to cope and to develop the critical thinking skills to manage when a situation is new or unfamiliar. As teachers, we must understand that we are no longer omnipotent and all knowing, there will be pupils, even in the primary school classroom, who know more than we do and that’s ok, because what we do know is how to guide and nurture those students to achieve and become the best that they can… and who knows, maybe one of those pupils will be the one who discovers a cure for cancer, or invents a flying car. Isn’t it nice to know that we were part of that journey?

Travelling to Brazil was an amazing experience and, as a country without any computer science curriculum, I felt honoured to be able to introduce a vision of computer science and computational thinking to around 75 teachers over the course of two weeks; I hope I get to back. Talking to all of the teachers that I met in Brazil really reminded me of why I’m doing all of this and why I love computer science as much as I do. I feel clearer in my own mind about what this journey means to me and what an impact we can make on teachers and students by simply talking about computer science and computational thinking. Thank you Maple Bear for giving me such a wonderful opportunity.

Google AIY…

Ok, before I get started, I wanted to offer a huge thank you to Jamie at The Pi Hut for sorting me out with a copy of the MagPi with the AIY kit. You are a star!

Back in May, the Internet exploded with the news that the MagPi magazine was offering a free Google AIY kit to use with Raspberry Pi. Copies sold out in minutes and people hunted across branches of WHSmiths to try and get their hand on one. Shops got new stock that sold out instantly.

The concept? Google, working with Raspberry Pi, have created a simple voice-interaction module so that you can use your Pi like an Amazon Alexa (but powered by Google).

Naturally, the makersphere exploded with excitement and projects began surfacing across the Internet. Copies of the MagPi were selling on eBay for extortionate prices and people were chattering about what they would create.

I’ve had my copy of the Magpi for a few months, but I wanted to wait until my friend Kirk was visiting as I knew he’d enjoy himself helping us with the making.


We pulled the kit out of the box, and being the methodical cool kid that I am, I quickly checked the components against the kit I had. This is where we hit the first hurdle – according to the instructions, we had a ’40-pin header’ that was pre-soldered, but the picture showed the 40 single pins that most definitely weren’t pre-soldered. To further add to the confusion, all of the photos of the accessory board within the tutorial appeared to show the 40 single pins soldered on to the board, but the first line of instructions stated that no soldering was necessary – so which was it? Did we need to solder or not?

Further exploration and a brief skim of the instructions made us realise that we didn’t actually need to solder the extra pins on, but we were pretty confused for a while there. Why show them soldered on if we don’t need them!?

Kirk decided to boot up a pi and start writing the code and it was at this point that we realised that we need a special version of OS. Stuart got pretty grumpy at this point because he only knew how to flash SD cards using a command line and he claimed the image file could only be read using a Linux machine – fortunately, I explained about Etcher and we were back on track.IMG_2127.JPG

Before we got any further, we decided to stop for dinner – it had been an hour already and all we’d managed to do was flash an image and get confused about the components.


After dinner, Kirk checked the SD card – success!

We knew we had the right image when the AIY background popped up so Kirk made a start on setting up the AIY API (supposedly the hardest part of the task).

This is where we hit on yet another issue – the new OS image was convinced that we were time travellers and that it was actually January 2018 – Kirk spent quite a bit of time fighting with the date and even tried to just ignore it, but Chrome clearly had other ideas.

I’m not sure what Kirk did, but he managed to get it working eventually, however, the pi was renamed as ‘TimePi’ to represent it’s time-travelling capabilities.

While Kirk got on with the software, I was in charge of building the hardware, while Stuart caused problems by putting things together ahead of the instructions! (Kirk also decided that we need to have a paintbrush in all pictures…each to their own).


The next instruction that made Stuart cross involved using Scotch tape to hold the microphone in place – firstly the microphone didn’t sit flush unless you really rammed it into the cardboard and secondly, Scotch tape did not stick to the cardboard properly and so I had to go and find some masking tape instead.

Meanwhile, Kirk had successfully managed to set up the Google AIY API so that it worked with one of my Gmail accounts – both boys said it was surprisingly easy, considering this was the part that people had warned me about going wrong. Having said that, both Kirk and Stuart are hugely experienced using Google products so they didn’t use the instructions particularly, it was something they already knew how to do.

Kirk wanted me to point out that he found the software set up quite confusing as there were instructions in the magazine as well as completely different instructions online, but he managed to get everything working eventually and when i came in from loading up the dishwasher, the two boys were arguing over whether they were on instruction 9 or 12 depending on whether they were using the online instructions or the magazine instructions.

At this point I realised that there was absolutely no way that I would have been able to get the software side working without the boys and I became confident that this was not a beginners’ project.

I took this opportunity to make some cocktails, while Stuart got excited about there being a slot in the cardboard to easily add the SD card… simple things 😉

We got the light to turn on, but hit on some problems


Stuart dialled in using SSH and we realised that the speaker wasn’t working – on closer inspection, one of the cables that I had previously screwed in had come loose and so we had to pull it apart to refit the cable – personally, I think Stuart knocked it out when he was putting things together in the wrong order, but he claims it was my shoddy building skills!

So, we got the AIY working but were slightly disappointed

Without another add on, we weren’t able to ask the AIY to play music – in fact, it didn’t seem to do much, but the boys got excited and started trying to find out what to do next.IMG_2157.JPG

A bit of hunting and I found a great post on the Raspberry Pi forum which explained how to get the AIY to interact with YouTube. Thanks for posting MikeRR


It took a while, but Stuart and Kirk were successful and managed to get techno music playing…

The next step was that Stuart wanted to get Radio 6 music playing through the AIY…Things did not quite go as planned, with the AIY mis-hearing Stuart’s instructions a little bit…


At this point, I was completely oblivious as to what the boys were doing, which once again affirmed that this wasn’t really a project for me, but rather it was better suited to makers and people with greater understanding of both software and hardware. At least they were having fun.

So, in conclusion, I’m not convinced this Raspberry Pi project is one for schools, but in defence of the MagPi, it was never advertised as an educational project, it’s definitely one that’s more for the makers than the educators. The instructions could have done with a bit of polishing, but I suspect most makers wouldn’t have got as confused as I did by something as simple as a pre-soldered header. Basically, this particularly piece was a bit beyond my ability, but the boys had fun, particularly when they got beyond the most basic stage – it was around 11pm when I eventually kicked Kirk out so they must’ve been really enjoying themselves.

The thing is… now what? We have a built AIY unit, but what do we do with it now, other then get it to play Techno Music…

A busy few months

I know you guys love hearing about what I’m up to so here are a few fantastic events that I’ll be appearing it either running workshops or giving talks – it’d be great if you could come along and join in the fun!

Firstly, this weekend I’m taking the pi-top Champions to The National Museum of Computing and Bletchley Park museum for a weekend of training and fun – the most exciting thing about it is that on Sunday 19th the Champions will be running workshops in the National Museum of Computing, showing off exactly why we chose them – I’m so excited about this weekend and hope some of you can join and bring your kids along to what will be an incredible day of opportunities. Let us know you’re coming by signing up here!


I’m really excited about the Champions day as I feel like we’re bringing together some of the best of the best when it comes to running workshops, training and all things Raspberry Pi – we’ve picked an amazing team of people for our Champions and I can’t wait to share further details with you all!

I’m looking forward to joining Nic Hughes at the London CAS conference on Saturday 25th February. Nic and I are working together with him leading a Crumble workshop and me leading a Physical Computing Raspberry Pi workshop. It’s always good fun working with Nic and we’re looking forward to inspiring some teachers to innovate their computer science classrooms.

Raspberry Pi is celebrating it’s 5th year at the Junction in Cambridge on 4th and 5th of March and I’ll be there both days and doing a talk on the importance of teaching children to code on Saturday 4th at 1.30. The birthday party is always a great fun community event and tickets can be bought here.

Throughout March and April, I’m running workshops through pi-top for a number of great charitable groups such as STEMSussex, BECSLink and London CLC which will be great fun and I’m hoping to be able to do something for International Women’s Day on 8th March.

</edit> I forgot to mention my own event – Coding Evening for Teachers, in Twickenham on Friday 24th March – tickets are here.</edit>

At the end of March, I’m VERY excited to be attending three incredible events – first up, the NAACE conference in Leicester (28th-29th March), where I’m running not one, but TWO break out sessions – one for pi-top and one talking about the amazing Active Lit as a tool for writing text adventures. Looking at the speaker list, I have a feeling this is going to be a very exciting event and it seems that the people at NAACE are really determined to make it a very successful couple of days.

Next up is PiWars in Cambridge – I’ve always been a big fan of Mike Horne and Tim Richardson, especially their really helpful CamJam EduKits for teaching physical computing with Raspberry Pi so I was incredibly honoured to be asked by them to be a judge at PiWars, an event so popular it’s had to extend to cover two days instead of just one! The blurb for the event describes it as:


Pi Wars is a challenge-based robotics competition in which Raspberry Pi-controlled robots are created by teams and then compete in various non-destructive challenges to earn points. There are prizes awarded at the end of the day. Last year, we had teams from schools, families and groups of hobbyists and 30 of these teams competed for a full day of robot fun and games! Pi Wars takes place in Cambridge, UK and is open to anyone from around the world. It is run by the same team that organises the Cambridge Raspberry Jam.

How much fun does that sound? There are still spectator tickets available if you want to bring your children or even your class up to inspire them to create their own robots and one of the two days is dedicated entirely to schools and youth groups!

Following on the heels of PiWars is ATI 2017 in Malvern. Primarily an Apple event, this year ATI has extended to include some more general computer science skills, particularly Raspberry Pi and the lovely Joe Moretti asked me to suggest some workshops. I feel like a bit of an interloper seeing my name surrounded by some of the big names in Apple Education, but I’m really excited about offering some Physical computing and Minecraft hacking information for some teachers, most of whom will be completely new to Raspberry Pi and then entire Pi ecosystem. ATI looks like n exciting event and I know that the other presenters are all incredibly inspiring so I’m really glad to be part of the team – there are still tickets available and it’s worth going along just to meet people like Joe, Mark Anderson, Catherine Jessey and Jon Neale, all of whom I’ve seen present before and know are incredibly inspiring!

Photo credit – Mark Anderson @ICTEvangelist/ATI event page

You’d think that’d be enough events, but no… in May, I’ve been invited by the STEM Centre in York to run a ‘Scratch Roadshow‘ taking sessions to Truro, Bristol, Swindon and Reading. This will be an intro to Scratch for primary school teachers who want to build their confidence a little – the best thing about it is that there is a bursary which makes the training completely free so it’s well worth letting your local primary school know if you think they could do with a boost!

Anyway, there are more events later in the year, but that will do for now! I hope you can come along to some of these events and please do come over and say hi – I love meeting you all ‘IRL’. And remember – if you can’t come to any of these events but are still interested in the type of training I can do, please drop me an email – I offer workshops and CPD training bespoke to your school or group’s needs!


Shakey Sense Hat Cat

[edit] As of June 2017, there is a version of Scratch 2.0 on Raspbian which makes this worksheet obsolete [/edit]

After Sunday’s coding session, I set the boys the task of making our Scratch Sense Hat Cat Shake, just like Carrie Anne’s Interactive Pixel Pet.

The first thing the boys did was to figure out how to use some of the sensors on the SenseHat – remember how in my other post, I said it was good practice to run the basic broadcast command before you do anything.


We had found some code from Albert’s GitHub page, however, when we tried to select the sensor value for accelerometer, we only had a few choices as shown below.



Luckily, after trying a few things, I suggested that we hit the green flag to check that the GPIO pins were on and that Scratch knew we had a SenseHat attached. When we next checked the sensing options a while heap of new options appeared, including the accelerometer (sorry, I forgot to screenshot it).

The boys had great fun playing with the sensors, but couldn’t quite figure out how to get the ‘shake’ function working so they went back to the original code for Interactive Pixel Pet.

x, y, z = sense.get_accelerometer_raw().values()

while x<2 and y<2 and z<2:      
    x, y, z = sense.get_accelerometer_raw().values()

This is what they come up with:


A job well done, if I do say so!

Now, I’m sure some of you have spotted that I could neaten up my code by removing the ‘ledbackground’ line and that ‘clearleds’ would be better suited to the end of the repeat loop as that would leave me with a completely blank neopixel array at the end of the animation sequence, but otherwise I’m pleased with our work in recreating the pixel pet for Scratch.

I look forward to trying out some of the other sensors using Scratch in the future!