The PiStop

I’ve realised that I haven’t yet written a blog post about my favourite bit of kit for the Raspberry Pi, the PiStop by 4Tronix.

So first lets talk about why I like it so much then I’ll talk through a demo of using it. Earlier in this blog, I talked about the CamJam EduKit and how much I liked it, the biggest problem was the wires – for younger and not so dexterous fingers, all that work with fiddly LEDs and resistors and cables is quite a hassle; not to mention just grasping the whole concept of why. When you finally get everything wired up, the next task is to write some code in either Scratch or Python and THEN you get an exciting output of flashing lights. Not so with the PiStop – it neatly slots over 4 of the GPIO pins (three programmable GPIO pins for the LEDs and one ground to complete the circuit) and then you can just load up Scratch and code away. For me, this is ideal for the younger and more easily distracted children as it’s quick and easy to make something actually happen with a few blocks of Scratch code. It’s also easily extendable – once you have one flashing light, can you make the other 2 flash? Can you make a traffic light sequence? Can you now write the same code in Python? Then once all of those activities are complete you can then run the whole activity with cables, breadboards and LEDs, but now the children are excited, they already have an idea of how to get the code working and building the circuit is like moving on to the ‘grown up’ stuff like the CamJam kit.

So, how do you plug in your PiStop? I’m a creature of habit so I tend to always plug the PiStop into the same place – it can actually be placed anywhere on the pins where you have one ground and 3 GPIOs together.

I’ve mentioned before that there are two different numbering systems for the GPIO pins, the picture below shows both number systems for the model A and B Raspberry Pis, which are the older versions with only 26 pins; both the B+, A+ and 2 models have 40 pins, but the first 26 are the same as below. Raspberry-Pi-GPIO-Layout On this diagram, the ground pins are labelled in white, the programmable pins are green and the live, powered pins are red and orange. The most popular labelling system, known as BCM, is listed in the white boxes on the outside, whilst the simpler numerical system is written on the pins. From my experience ScratchGPIO uses the simple numerical system, but it might work for both! My usual spot for mounting the PiStop is from numbers 9-15.

The first thing you’ll need to do is to make sure that Scratch GPIO is installed on your Raspberry Pi – details for how to do this from Scratch GPIO creator Simon Walters can be found here.

Once installed on your Pi, load it up and cross your fingers – you should get a message box pop up telling you that remote sensor connections are enabled – if you don’t you will need to run some updates because it means it’s not working properly (boo hiss). I came across this a few times with the latest version of Rasbian and I’m not going to lie, I had to resort to getting someone more technical than myself involved.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 13.43.01So, let’s assume that you have got Scratch GPIO working fine and your PiStop is plugged in as in the photos below:

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So to make the first light turn on we need to use the control tools on Scratch – our key command is ‘broadcast’ with high being on and low being off.  See the photos below for step by step instructions for turning the first light on and off ten times.Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 16.21.24Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 16.21.31Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 16.21.39

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 16.32.41Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 16.32.27

You’ll notice that I’ve put ‘wait’ blocks in between each of the broadcasts, inevitably the children will miss these out once in a while, which will cause the lights not to work- this is great because you can reiterate both the importance of debugging and that code does exactly what you ask so your instructions need to be clear. IMG_4908

Once I’ve shown the children this step, I usually ask them to figure out how to get the other two lights on (pin 13 and pin 15) then the challenge is to try and make a traffic light sequence. I was fairly impressed when a couple of boys extended themselves by using the CamJam Python code with the PiStop to broadcast what they referred to as a disco, whilst on the screen a selection of messages appeared in their Python window using the print command.

So, basically, this is a very simple, cheap piece of kit which is really easy to use and a great stepping stone to more complex code. I would definitely recommend that any Raspberry Pi teachers get at least one PiStop into their classroom as a starting point for physical computing.

Good luck everyone and enjoy coding!

PS For anyone who’d prefer a real life demo, my next coding evening will be on Tuesday 5th May in Twickenham

Coding Evening Part 2

Just a quick post…

I’ve met with so many lovely people in the last few weeks and I’ve mentioned my coding evening to them so I thought it was worth writing a quick post to make the event page easy to find. I also want the opportunity to explain a little about how I want the evening to run.

So, way back at the end of January, I hosted my first coding evening, with the goal of getting teachers, Code Club volunteers and Raspberry Pi enthusiasts into one room just to see how everyone is getting on.

It turned out to be a lovely evening with lots of great chat about ideas for teaching the new computing curriculum and lots of enthusiasm to repeat the event.

For next Friday I’ve once again booked the lovely function room of the Stokes and Moncreiff pub in Twickenham. I hope to have three Raspberry Pis set up for people to try out or demonstrate on. I also plan to bring loads of resources and print outs from Code Club, Code Kingdoms etc. There’s an added bonus of the pub downstairs serving beer, wine, spirits (and soft drinks) as well as pleasant food which they will deliver to the function room. There will be Code Club volunteers, technicians, Raspberry Pi fans and an iPad specialist on hand to answer your questions. It would be lovely if people are willing to stand up and talk for two minutes on a subject of their chosing, but I’m certainly not going to enforce this.

So, if you’re still interested in coming, click the link below, sign up (it’s free) and we’ll see you there for a burger, beer and a great conversation about the computing curriculum:

Picademy – Why Apply?

As you may have noticed, I’m a bit of a Raspberry Pi fangirl, which came from attending Picademy last July. I did what many primary schools did – heard about Raspberry Pi and bought some Maplin kits which then sat on the shelf because I didn’t really know what I was doing. I had a look on the internet, but I just wasn’t really confident enough to give them a go – I did manage to set them up once or twice and desperately tried to use LXTerminal to make a jelly baby scream, but I really didn’t know what I was doing. One day, while checking twitter I happened to see a post about Picademy and started doing some research – at that point they had hosted one Picademy and were advertising for two more in June and July – luckily for me the July course coincided with the end of term and so I made a video and sent off my application; once my place was confirmed, my school agreed to pay for my expenses and I was all set for two days in Cambridge.

The first thing I really loved about Picademy were the emails that started flying back and forth beforehand. Within an hour of being offered a place, Christine, a teacher in Bradford, had agreed with me via twitter to try to get everyone staying in the same hotel. Within a few days about 80% of us were booked into the same Travelodge on the outskirts of Cambridge and we were getting excited about meeting each other.

I was the second person to arrive and I headed down to meet Tom Sale in the hotel bar for a quick meal. As we sat there more and more people arrived, some people recognising each other, others of us being strangers to everyone – people were offering to collect other members of our group at the train station, we were starting twitter hashtags around our jokes and, much to Carrie Anne‘s dismay, the beers were flowing freely. It was a fantastic bonding experience and as the evening drew to a close, we booked our taxis to PiTowers for the morning.

The first day of Picademy we arrived and had to chose one of 4 tables – the tables were labelled with the names of 4 ‘master teachers’ from our group – much to our surprise, several of our new friends were already making a mark in the world of computing. I chose to sit with Matthew Parry, a robotics specialist working in a special school and our adventure began.

Most excitingly, we were starting Picademy on the day that Raspberry Pi B+ was launched and so everyone one of us had a brand new B+ in our goodie bags – we were the first people in the world to start using one – a huge honour!

IMG_4902     IMG_4905

After a brief intro from Carrie Anne Philbin, we were taken into another room to look at some Scratch GPIO and Minecraft coding in Python – both of which were new and interesting to me. After a lovely lunch we were then shown how to set up a PiCamera and then spent some time with Sonic Pi – Unfortunately for us, we were the only cohort to not have the experience of Sam Aaron showing us how to live code music, but I have since seen him perform and can honestly say that he is amazing!

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The lovely people at The Raspberry Pi Foundation took us out for a meal in Cambridge and then we headed to a nearby pub to start discussing our independent project ideas for the next day – there were some really cool ideas flying around like coding a Minecraft version of Portal or using plates and tin foil to make a dance mat and everyone was really excited for the next day to come around. Back in the hotel bar, more ideas were bouncing around the table, some ludicrous and some perfectly feasible.

When we sat down the next day, Matthew revealed to us his idea – while the other tables in the room split off into pairs or small groups, we stuck together and planned our Tweeting Babbage Bear.


The idea was to use the Raspberry Pi mascot Babbage Bear and make a twitter bot which photographed you and sent it to twitter; the only difficulty was getting permission to pull apart the beloved bear!

We split into teams with different task – Matthew and Hannah worked on the code for photographing, whilst Eve and I set about finding out how to tweet from the push of a button attached to the Pi with various other members of our team working on other ways to make Babbage interesting, from sounds to LED vests. All credit to Ben Nuttall of the Foundation who very patiently guided us through the set up, using GitHub and finding the right commands for Twitter API and apologies to everyone else for the massive scream of delight from Eve and myself when we finally got the code to work. We were so proud of our tweeting Babbage and particularly so when a few months later Ben turned the project into a resources on the Raspberry Pi Website.

After receiving our badges our adventure at PiTowers came to an end; however, that wasn’t the end of the story at all.

Since Picademy, not only have I kept in touch with my cohort, I’ve come in contact with members of the other cohorts via Google, Twitter and through meeting them in person at events. I’ve also made contacts with people wanting to join Picademy who want to ask my advice or just to find out about what it’s like. I’ve become part of the Pi community, making dozens of new friends, some of whom I’m finally met this weekend at the Pi Birthday party. I know that if I have a teaching or Pi problem, dozens of helpful people are simply a tweet away. Through my contacts I’ve ended up speaking at BETT and organising coding evenings and, most importantly, I’ve gained the confidence to affectively teach the children in my care as well as to share my ideas with my fellow teachers.

Picademy was one of the best experiences of my life and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone else.

PS Here are some pics of the destruction of Babbage – not for the faint hearted!

IMG_4914 IMG_4915 IMG_4916 IMG_4917 IMG_4920 IMG_4921

PPS – this photo was captioned ‘Certifiable’ and was taken just after we became RCEs – I’m meeting these two lovely ladies for some cocktails in a few weeks so not only have I made amazing professional contacts, but I’ve also made a great bunch of friends!


Astro Pi Competition

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend the Raspberry Pi third birthday party event in Cambridge. While I was there I took the opportunity to talk to the lovely Dave Honess about the competition he is helping to run for Raspberry Pi in collaboration with the UK Space Agency, Astro Pi.

The competition was launched a month ago at BETT, and I will readily admit that I wasn’t particularly fussed about getting involved. I wasn’t inspired and didn’t think I had the time to take part; however, after a long chat with Dave, I now feel really enthusiastic and excited about it as well as being full of ideas.

So what is the idea? One of the astronauts heading to the International Space Station, Tim Peake, has agreed to take a special Raspberry Pi into space with him. They’d like schools and Code Clubs to think up ideas for using the Pi and it’s sensors in space so that they can send their code into space!

Dave pitched the idea to me by suggesting that the Pi would be like a device at home on the shelf. What would you like it to do? What do you think an astronaut might like to have it do? Perhaps it could tell a joke whenever the motion sensor detected the astronaut go past or else display the flag of the country the station is above. The KS3 and 4 competition seems more geared towards recording data and results, but for primary, there seems to be a push towards a more fun app being planned and designed. Also, in a primary school the children just need to come up with an idea and then the guys at Raspberry Pi will create the code.

So, here is the Astro Pi board:


There are a number of sensors on the board as well as a basic LED matrix to display simple designs on. Here is the listed hardware:

  • Gyroscope
  • Accelerometer
  • Magnetometer
  • Temperature sensor
  • Barometric pressure sensor
  • Humidity sensor
  • 8×8 RGB LED matrix display
  • Visible light or Infra-red (Pi NoIR) Cameras
  • 5 button joystick
  • Additional functional push buttons
  • Real time clock with backup battery

I’d like to find a video showing what conditions are like in the Space Station with zero gravity etc. and use this as a discussion point for what you might need if you were there. From this you could move on to what you would miss most if you were space for a bit of cross curricular PSHCE. Finally, this would lead on to what could you use the Raspberry Pi for in space- what do you think the astronauts might want or need that the Pi can provide?

<edit> A video of a ‘fly through’ of the space station can be found here which features an astronaut floating from one end of the station to the other and could be used as a starting point for discussion.</edit>

The children could then work in small groups and develop their ideas for a useful app in the space station – I’d also spend a little bit of time looking at the experiments theme ideas on the Astro Pi website (Spacecraft Sensors, Satelite Imaging and Remote Sensors, Space Measurements, Data Fusion, Space Radiation), but I think from a primary perspective it would be simpler to focus on ways to entertain the astronauts while they’re away from home.

I’m quite excited to get involved – entry seems very easy and I think it could be done in a single afternoon rather than spending too long fitting it in. I think you could get children really excited about science and space and bring in some PSHCE too so it’s got some good cross curricular links. What more could you want? With a few more resources in place it should be an excellent and fun competition for everyone to be involved in.

So, very simply, I’d like to encourage more of you to take part in this competition – the more people who get involved, the more likely this competition will run again and I think it would be a great idea to get children interested in coding – a real time application for code and the Raspberry P. The competition closes on 3rd April, so you still have a month to get your ideas together.

<edit>Raspberry Pi have now created a worksheet for the Astro Pi competition which can be found here </edit>

<edit 2>We received results from the first stage of the competition last week-I’m so proud to be able to say that one of our teams was highly commended by the judges! Well done boys <edit 2>

A Mac Geek’s guide to VNC on the Pi

Do the following in order to get VNC working on your Pi, advertised over Bonjour.

  • Plug Pi in to network and power
  • ssh into your Pi after finding out its IP address by looking at your DHCP server’s leases or scanning for the Pi using nmap (

    $ sudo nmap -p22 --open

Nmap scan report for
Host is up (0.0039s latency).
Not shown: 98 closed ports
22/tcp   open  ssh
MAC Address: B8:27:EB:4C:3D:1C (Raspberry Pi Foundation)

$ ssh pi@
pi@pi ~ $ sudo raspi-config
  • Enable the Pi to boot to desktop rather than stop at the CLI
    Set hostname to something unique from the advanced menu option
  • define http proxy if required. Either edit .bashrc or use your preferred method.
  • Update stuff and install required packages
    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get install avahi-daemon
    sudo apt-get install x11vnc
  • Copy the supplied avahi service file
    sudo cp /etc/avahi/services/udisks.service /etc/avahi/services/rfb.service
  • Edit the file and change udisks-ssh to rfb and 22 to 5900. Save.
    sudo service avahi-daemon restart
  • Set a vnc password using
    x11vnc -storepasswd
  • Insert the following into ~/.config/autostart/x11vnc.desktop
[Desktop Entry]
Exec=x11vnc -forever -usepw -display :0 -ultrafilexfer
  • Reboot Pi. Once booted the Pi should appear in your Mac’s network browser and you should have VNC access via Screen Sharing.
  • If necessary, edit /boot/config.txt to change screen resolution. I use the following settings:



Remote control your Pi using your Mac

This is the first of what will hopefully be a series of posts by me. There will be an emphasis on the more technical side of things but, with any luck, things will be explained in plain English. I like to think that even though I am a geek by day I can still see things from the perspective of a ‘normal’ person 🙂

I have been asked by a couple of schools to give them guidance and/or training on how best to use their Pis without having to beg, borrow or steal monitors, keyboards etc when they already have a perfectly (good?) functioning suite of computers. As I tinker with Apple kit all day long, a lot of these posts will be weighted towards making a Pi work with Macs.
Continue reading “Remote control your Pi using your Mac”

Hour of Code – Frozen

In December there was a lot of press about Hour of Code; they managed to get Barack Obama to write some code (and David Cameron, but does anyone really care?). The site was also really lucky to strike a deal with Disney to be able to use Elsa and Anna from Frozen. As any primary school teacher knows, Frozen is a sure fire way to get the interest of nearly any KS2 girl!

So, what’s it all about and is it any use? I set my year 5 and 6 kids to have a go and work through the exercises, needless to say the girls enjoyed it more than the boys and were quite chuffed with their certificates (even the hardened Year 6 girls who like to pretend they’re too cool for Frozen), whereas my boys scrolled down the site and found the Angry Birds game and gave that a go.

I’m really impressed with the Frozen resource not least because it works on iPads as well as on a laptop.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 15.13.56

The first thing you see when you go to the site is a video explaining why computer science is important – the first minute or so includes Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg and the guys who created Dropbox and Instagram as well as programmers from Google and Microsoft. We are also introduced to two models, one of whom is a complete beginner at coding and one who studied computer science as well as theatre at college – it is through the latter of these, Lyndsey that we learn about the the Frozen code – we will be guiding the characters through various ice skating tasks using Blockly (similar to Scratch), which is a block based language of code. The remainder of the video features Lyndsey explaining how Blockly words, although anyone familiar with Scratch should be able to pick it up quite quickly.

So how does it all look:

Each puzzle begins with a splash page explaining what to do

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 15.24.11
Then you are taken to the main coding window – like other block based languages, it’s just a drag and drop activity.

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You will notice that the goal for this task is repeated in the bottom left of the window.

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So here you can see my first line of code – its useful to note that the instruction video doesn’t mention the “when run” block that your code needs to be attached to – presumably this was added after the video was made.

You also get a nice little congratulations window at the end of each puzzle:

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So puzzle two just adds a simple right hand turn – I asked a teacher to have a go at this task and she managed to completely forget to add a forward block after the turn, which is also a common mistake children make so be prepared for this!

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There are aScreen Shot 2015-02-20 at 15.24.52 couple of other nice features as you work through – firstly, when you run your code your animated Elsa walks through what you’ve asked her to do, flinging snowflakes as she goes and this can be quite irritating after a while, so you can speed up the code using the hare and tortoise icon below the ‘run’ button.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 15.25.16Secondly, after you’ve completed the level you can click on the ‘Show code’ button and it will show you what your code looks like in JavaScript, which is a feature that really appeals to the older children I teach.

After lesson 3, we’re introduced to Paola, who works for microsoft and explains loops to us ready for Anna’s task, which requires loops and a bit more thinking to figure out.

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Anna’s first task simply involves putting our first loop in, but the second involves reading the instructions carefully! The code is pre-written and all the user needs to do is change a couple of variables.

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Now we’re starting to get a bit trickier with our activities, but we’re still presented with the code first and asked to make alterations to the variables:

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Puzzle 8, unfortunately, expects our children to know how many Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 15.44.58degrees are in a full turn and then use that to calculate that Elsa needs to turn 36 degrees each time to make a star pattern that has ten points, but I guess with trial and error the children could get it since there are only a few options on the drop down menu.

Then we’re asked to do it 90 times, but with a subtle hint as to what angle we need (the options are 4, 45, 60, 90, 180 and 360, so it is kind of obvious).

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We’re also rather casually introduced to a change colour variable here, which is lovely, but a bit unexpected!

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 15.52.30I’m not going to lie, the maths teacher in me got a little overexcited when it saw the next activity was all about drawing parallelograms, until I got really frustrated by drawing rhombuses that had been labelled as paralleograms – I mean seriously, the amount of time I spend explaining that if a parallelogram has 4 sides of the same length then it’s a rhombus – I suppose it could have been worse, they could’ve called it a diamond. But in all seriousness, it’s great that the children are being encourage to think about shapes and angles in this much detail!

Interestingly, for all of the activities after they randomly dropped it in, the set colour block has been in your toolkit and there is a block space for you to drop it in should you desire, but it still hasn’t been explained – I’m assuming this is some kind of bonus for the able kids who will figure out what it does and feel pleased with themselves for self-extending.

After coding Anna to skate in a circle, we are given another video where Chris, an NBA star and coder uses basketball as a metaphor for functions – I’m not going to lie, it’s a lovely idea, but the concepts of functions are not an easy one to understand – I’m still a bit bewildered even after a year or more of trying! In the video, Jess (CEO of a company I’ve never heard of), shows uScreen Shot 2015-02-20 at 16.02.37s that we can call our earlier code to draw a square ‘square’ and define that as a function so that whenever we call ‘square’ that piece of code is run – this concept is very clearly shown by the diagram embedded in the video, but I still feel like it may be a bit too difficult for a child to understand.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 16.04.37Fortunately, we don’t actually need to understand the concept of a function, we just need to understand that we can now simply drop the ‘create a circle’ function into the code and it does the circle drawing code for us!

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 16.05.10 You’ll notice that the ‘set color’ option is still being snuck into every activity.

The next few activities really needs us to start thinking:Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 16.08.28Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 16.11.25

The clues are there for what angles you need, but it’s not as explicit as it was in the beginning. Still, I’m making some pretty pictures, and I’ve become slightly obsessed with putting the random colour block in…

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 16.14.29So, finally, I’ve managed to get onto the final task and earn my certificate! The final activity is a freeform drawing page and I just left mine blank and still got a well done. Hooray for me! I even managed to publish my certificate to twitter.

 Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 16.14.34  Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 16.14.41 Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 16.15.09

So, some conclusions – the Frozen activity at is a fantastic way to get kids interested in coding, especially girls. It gets tricky, but it’s not impossible with a little patience, especially as all of the tools are there and the drop down menus don’t give you too many options – even with trial and error you’d get it right in the end. I also liked that it gets adults more enthusiastic about code too – I showed this too my Year 3 teacher, who previously just didn’t get the point of coding and we ended up with several members of staff around the table getting invovled and asking questions – including “how is this coding?” which of course meant I had the opportunity to jump in and explain that block based coding teaches algorithmic thinking and just basically doing things in order. Year 3 are going to try this out next term because she enjoyed herself so much, although I am concerned that some of the angle work later on might be a bit too tough for them…

Overall this is a great activity and I can’t wait to try out some of the other resources on the site.

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!!

Google Classrooms

<edit 18/01/2015> So, I can’t help but wonder if Google have been reading my blog – I think that all of the issues I had with Google Classroom have now been corrected in the October update </edit>

About two or three years ago I managed to persuade our network manager to set us up with Google Apps for Education (with the bribe that I would manage the accounts if he did the initial setup). Over the last two years we have successfully integrated the use of email across KS2 (in fact, today I have been inundated with emails from Year 3 who are just getting to grips with sending mail to class groups). As a school, most of the staff and children really appreciate the fact that you can send an email to someone which is safe and secure, in a closed network, but you can discuss something that you might not be confident enough to talk about in person. So far, we’ve only had two or three bullying issues and they were very quickly dealt with by the simple means of checking inboxes, outboxes and deleted items (it is amazing how terrifying it can be to a 9 year old to realise that a teacher can see their emails). We have also used google drive with varying success, which has proven to be popular with upper KS2, in particular the idea of having a multi-authored document goes down really well.

So, this term we decided to try the new google classrooms setup, to coincide with a new BYOD (bring your own device) arrangement in Year 5.

The school had made the decision to use myHomework as a way of communicating with parents as it allows simple communication between staff and anyone who signs up to the ‘class’, but we also decided not to share work via this platform since the children were taught in sets for maths and English and, since anyone can sign up to any class, we didn’t want them to be comparing work. This meant there wasn’t a simple way of distributing e-copies of homework except for by emailing them out and so, along with one of the literacy teachers, I decided to give Google Classrooms a go.

My first impression was that it was a nice looking interface – setting up classes was easy to do and you could only invite children from your own domain, which is a nice touch, but meant I couldn’t use my personal account as a test and instead had to create a test user in our Google Apps domain- no big deal of course, but useful to note.

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The next step was to populate the class, which can be done by searching through all of the users in the domain – I had already sorted all of the children into class ‘groups’ in the admin panel of google apps so I was disappointed not to be able to bulk import a whole class or group at a time, instead having to add them all individually.

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 17.33.19  Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 17.33.32Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 17.34.15You will see from the above picture that until a child accepts their invite they are shown as ‘invited’ and greyed out so you can see if your class are members of the classroom or not.

I assumed that each child would receive an email inviting to join the classroom, but that was not the case and instead I had to send them all a link to join Google Classrooms at which point they were informed that they could join my class – this seems a little roundabout and it would be a significant improvement if a link could be sent out as soon as a child is added to a class, without the need for them to separately log in to Google Classrooms.

So when a child is invited to a Google Classroom and then log in to their classrooms account they will see the following:

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When your class is all set up and the children have added themselves you can then start to set them assignments – for my maths classes, generally this is just a case of uploading a worksheet that they can download a copy of if they need to, but there are two other ways of uploading documents too. The first is that you upload a document and ‘make a copy for each student’

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Which is a rather clever idea, especially as it is fully integrated with Google Drive. What it means is that in the teacher’s Drive, a folder is created called “Classroom” with sub folders for each class, when an assignment is uploaded it is placed in the appropriate folder. What is particularly nice about the ‘make a copy for each student’ option is that it creates a copy in the students Google Drive and when they submit it, you get a copy of their version in your drive with their name appended; THEN, even better, you can make some adjustments or highlight some changes or just add a few comments and then send it back to them for further corrections. You can also grade the paper or give it a mark out of whatever you choose before returning it. One of our literacy teachers used this to great effect as a starter for a lesson – he sent the children an un-punctuated piece of text, asked them to quickly alter it on their iPads and submit it to him there and then. He then sent it back with a few comments and adjustments and asked them to make these as homework. Instant, constructive feedback for him and for the children.

So, when the teacher creates an assignment, the pupils get a message in their screen (one of my children described it as being a bit like Facebook for homework). The pupil then accesses the document, makes their changes and submits it to the teacher.

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The teacher can see on their live feed how many children have submitted their work or not.

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If they then access the submitted files they can grade and comment on the work:

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 17.41.44 Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 17.42.33

You will see that I have changed the out of grade to twenty and given a score of 3 out of 20 as well as writing a private comment. I can then return the work with feedback:

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Here is what the pupil then receives (you will notice there is an option to add a comment and resubmit the work):

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I’ve also included some shots of my Drive so you can see how the files appear in your drive:

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Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 09.25.15         Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 09.25.32

You will see in the third picture that the submitted file is in the teacher’s folder with their name both in the ‘created by’ column and on the end of the title of the document.

So, overall I am really impressed with Google Classrooms, it’s proven itself to be a useful classroom tool for a range of subjects – I could imagine it being used in literacy lessons and I know that one of our teachers has used it to do some Geography work using Google Sheets. The children really like using it because it is a bit like Facebook and they can write comments in the stream. It is also an attractive and free way to store e-copies of worksheets so that you can eliminate the classic homework excuse “I left my homework in my desk” and, more importantly, I really love the integration with drive that means that work is effortlessly stored and saved.

Considering the ease of use and the fact that so many schools already use Google Apps for Education instead of a VLE, this project is a natural progression and I would definitely recommend using it.