#STEM club were mesmerised by the @raspberry_pi @CambridgeJam EduKit 2 this afternoon

The High School STEM club have been meeting since early October. To begin with we built the Kano kits. This was an easy, but impressive starting task which allowed students with little to no experience in computer hardware to create their own microcomputer.

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I was always keen to show the students how to create simple electronic circuits but had barely moved beyond LEDs and screaming jelly babies myself. Then I spotted the CamJam EduKits and purchased enough to allow each Kano computer its own set of LEDs, buzzer and sensors.

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Today the students began working toward building an alarm system. We know this is going to take a little while but this afternoon managed to create the first section of the breadboard – the flashing LEDs and the buzzer! The students were extremely pleased when they managed to get the circuit working with their Python program (quick tip – the + / – wiring diagram for the buzzer appears to be wrong).

I’m already looking forward to next week and seeing how they cope with temperature and PIR sensors.

Full STEAM ahead!

Full STEAM ahead!

It’s late. I’ll not apologise for that title.


After rediscovering the missing Raspberry Pi SD cards (lets put their reappearance down to pixies) I was back on track to start the STEAM club in my High School today. My colleague had already successfully started his club with younger students a few weeks before and the Kano kits, Lego Mindstorms and drones were going down a storm.


Our space is a reclaimed dormitory in the top floor of the school. It currently has five desks, four Kano kits and lots of my imported Raspberry Pi goodies. The students spent today setting up their Kanos and exploring the gamified Kano OS. I did wonder if the High School students would consider the system a bit young for them, but I had no reason to worry, they loved it and spent a long time extending the python Snake Game and then coding different objects in Minecraft.

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In the coming weeks we will begin to use TinkerCad to learn about 3D modelling and design with the intention of creating prototypes on the wonderful Ultimaker 2 3D printer and (if possible) importing some of their models into Minecraft. We are also going to visit the new Makerspace at Museo Scienza to gain inspiration for customising our own workspace. I’d like to explore WeMake too…

We would love to link with other school Makerspaces or STEAM / STEM clubs around the world. Please post your details in the comments and we’ll be in touch!

Rebuilding the PiLab

Rebuilding the PiLab

We moved into the new Science and Technology Building at our school just a few weeks ago. Since then, classes have been taught, exams have come and gone and boxes have been unpacked in between.

Over the past few days some students from my Makers and Breakers lunchtime club and I began to set up the Raspberry Pi devices in their new classroom. As we were lucky enough to have HDMI monitors in the new rooms, with on-screen controls to switch between inputs, I wanted the Pis to become permanent fixtures rather than devices hidden away in a cupboard outside of club time. We decided on two per semi circle (of three or four machines) which would always allow for at least one Windows machine for Internet access in case of troubleshooting.


I used small Velcro coins to attach the Raspberry Pi to the top of the PC base units and then added the HDMI cable to the very tidy bundle feeding into the monitors. Numbering each case with a Sharpie to match its SD card means that students can continue their Pi experiments from lesson to lesson.

Each Pi has been given its own cat 5 cable and I intend to use a collection of recycled BT Homehubs to set up mini wired networks as and when required. The holy grail is to be granted access to the guest wifi but Python and minecraft tasks will work just as well for the moment.

The new setup removes the need for students to spend most of their club time assembling and disassembling the devices – now we can (almost) get straight to the fun!

Monitor multiple Raspberry Pi logins using PHP and MySQL

As you can see I recently bought a domain name in order to host a more customisable WordPress blog as well as build a few experiments. One of which is a quick and easy system for logging each of the Raspberry Pi devices that run my custom boot script.

I’d previously created something similar when I got my daughter’s Raspberry Pi to send a tweet whenever it booted up. That was fun but it didn’t scale easily when used with multiple devices. I wanted a central list where all devices were displayed in boot order.

I decided to create a simple MySQL database that could be queried via PHP. The database would contain information sent to it by each Raspberry Pi as it connected to the Internet. I decided initially that I only required device name, username and a timestamp.

I had thought that each Raspberry Pi could run a Python program that opened a connection to the MySQLi database but this appears to be the wrong approach. It seemed much easier to create PHP code that wrote a line to the database using values pulled from the URL (using the $_GET command).

In case it helps, here is some of the PHP to add information to the database:

$sql = "INSERT INTO pilogin (piname, timestamp, username) VALUES ('" . $_GET['piname']."', now(), '" . $_GET['username']."')";

if ($conn->query($sql) === TRUE) {
echo "New record created successfully";
} else {
echo "Error: " . $sql . "
" . $conn->error;

The final step was to edit /etc/rc.local so that it ran cURL with the appropriate web address and values. I wanted to delay the command until the network connection setup was complete and found that this forum post had a great suggestion for doing this while also allowing other programs to continue running.

I won’t post the actual line for obvious reasons but a similar solution. I’ve also included code that extracts the current Raspberry Pi hostname and user and encodes it into the URL.

Here is an extract from my /etc/rc.local file:

u="$USER" # system variable for user
h=hostname #note the backticks
(sleep 30s; curl "http://webaddress/page.php?hostname=$h&user=$u") &

Happy to hear of any improvements or alternatives!

#CASAberdeen Raspberry Pi computers


It has been a while since I’ve written here, but I feel like I’ve never stopped writing emails recently! I’m currently leading Computing at School’s Aberdeen hub and we’ve recently taken delivery of 15 Raspberry Pi computers courtesy of a grant from Google Giving. I wanted to publish my email to existing members of the hub in the hope that other educators in the local area (Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Angus) might pass this information on to Computing teachers in their establishment. Thanks to those folk in advance!

Dear CAS Aberdeen members,

Schools around the UK have been given free Raspberry Pi computers, to help create a new generation of computer scientists. Funded by a grant from Google Giving, both CAS and the Raspberry Pi Foundation hope that these devices will help children to take up coding.

The CAS Aberdeen hub have been given 15 sets to distribute to students or extra-curricular groups in the hub area.

The sets include the following:
– Raspberry Pi in clear perspex case
– 4GB SD card with NOOBS Raspberry Pi image
– Power adapter
– Getting started with your Raspberry Pi guide
– Issue 9 of MagPi magazine

I propose to loan out each set from September to December in the first instance. Preference will be given to bids from schools which do not currently have access to a Raspberry Pi device, but all education establishments which support primary or secondary school aged children are welcome to apply.

I am now looking for members of CAS Aberdeen to form a small group which will approve bids for the 15 sets as well as take responsibility for liaising with 2 or 3 successful bidders per group member during the loan duration.

If you would be interested in being part of this bidding group please let me know by return. I will send out a follow up email giving details of the bid process once I have four or five volunteers. My aim is to have this group up and running before the summer holidays so that we can have the Raspberry Pi sets in the hands of successful bidders at the next CAS Aberdeen meeting in September (which will be dedicated to Raspberry Pi CPD, thanks Matthew!).

Why teaching ICT cannot be abandoned

By Photos public domain.com [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As Russel Tarr’s recent response to a high-profile attack on his methods of teaching the history of the Weimar Republic (1918-33) gathers deservedly increasing views across the Internet, other parts of Michael Gove’s “Mr. Men” speech align with my concerns about the move away from teaching of ICT in schools and its replacement with (the far more high-brow sounding) Computing Science.

“As long as there are people in education making excuses for failure, cursing future generations with a culture of low expectations, denying children access to the best that has been thought and written, because Nemo and the Mister Men are more relevant, the battle needs to be joined.” (Michael Gove, 2013)

Contrast with one of the recommendations from the Next Gen. report mentioned by Michael Gove:

“Recommendation 3: Use video games and visual effects at school to draw greater numbers of young
people into STEM and computer science.” (Next Gen., Ian Livingstone & Alex Hope, 2011)

The draw of the shiny and new! As scenarios go I would far rather create video games or animations related to Finding Nemo or the Mr. Men than Of Mice and Men and Henry V and I’m pretty sure my students would too, given the choice. Seriously though, creating video games and visual effects using industry-standard software applications requires advanced problem solving skills, application of mathematics and physics and understanding of how a computer system can turn instructions into actions on the screen. It also involves management skills, teamwork, design and creativity. My concern is that a large number of schools are using the headline “games design”, “app design” or “computer animation” to try and reverse declining numbers taking the subject, then use the same teaching methods as they did with package skills…

“What has been wrong with education and IT is that it has been very much focused on the clerical aspect of IT – Microsoft Word, Powerpoint – and that has gone into every remit of the curriculum. It is about giving students access and inspiration so when they go into the wider world of work they are part of the technological advances of the country.” (Depute Principal of St Matthew Academy, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-16186705)

“It was a boring set of documents that encouraged boring teaching of boring tasks in a field which should be one of the most exciting in education. The ICT curriculum we inherited was a tedious run-through the use of applications which were becoming obsolete even as the curriculum was being written.” (Michael Gove again, 2013)

But look at this: Lucasfilm want Interns! A quick glance at the essential and desired skills required for a role in Singapore – riding high in a recent index of cognitive skills and educational attainment – the  show a need for:

Education, Experience and Skills:

  • Interest in film production, digital games and media arts preferred
  • Workplace professionalism
  • Multitasking skills – Working on multiple projects with strict deadlines
  • Ability to work well in a multi-cultural team environment with diverse personalities
  • Strong verbal and written communication skills
  • Computer skills: Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook. FileMaker Pro experience a plus.

So an interest in digital media would be desired but most important are: social skills, time management, presentation skills and ICT skills to aid communication (wouldn’t that be classed as clerical skills?). The only other nod to multimedia computing on the page is a request to “link to your online/downloadable reel or portfolio (if you have these)”. Yes this is just one example but highlights the need for continued teaching of ICT. Perhaps just in a different way?

As a programmer I’m glad the focus has been shifted back to using computer systems to create software or link to hardware devices such as the Raspberry Pi or Arduino but without ICT skills linked to the essential processes involved in the world of work and Higher Education, you risk creating skilled coders who are unable to apply for and retain the jobs waiting for them to fill.

“For children who have become digital natives and who speak fluent technology as an additional language, the ICT curriculum was clearly inadequate.” (more from Michael Gove, 2013)

Perhaps rigour in teaching ICT skills and ensuring that the skills they learn are relevant to the rest of the curriculum at the right time would make them more useful. I’m keen on not having ICT on the timetable as it identifies it as a unique entity – unrelated to other subjects the student encounters at school. Tracking progress at primary school and allowing individual students to follow challenging pathways which further develop their skills is tricky to plan and implement, but I think also extremely important.

Here’s why: Children are, in the main, not digital natives. They might wear the badge with honour but, without developing their understanding of what a “digital native” actually is, you may find they are wearing that badge upside down. Students may be confident enough to explore and experiment when faced with a new software application but find it very difficult to recall practical skills when the Computing department see them for around an hour each week (if you’re lucky!).

The solution mooted in Scotland a few years ago was to teach ICT in every subject and leave the programming and multimedia-specific elements to Computing Science teachers. Increased exposure to tasks which relied on students applying their ICT skills to solve problems, create reports or prepare presentations would reinforce practical skills and re-engage disaffected learners. Great idea, poorly planned and implemented due to a stunning lack of staff CPD, limited resources for using ICT in all subjects, corporate filtering and application deployment systems and push-back by subject teachers who felt they had enough to cover already without also including ICT in their remit. It is understandable: staff need to trust that the technology will work consistently enough to be able to teach their subject content. If it is unreliable and the root cause is not remedied, it will be treated as a strategy that does not provide benefit to the student – and abandoned.

The current pedagogy of how ICT lessons are delivered, assessed and reinforced must change to suit the needs of the individual learner.