Astro Pi Mission Zero 2022/23 is open for young people

Inspire young people about coding and space science with Astro Pi Mission Zero. Mission Zero offers young people the chance to write code that will run in space! It opens for participants today.

A young person takes part in Astro Pi Mission Zero.

What is Mission Zero?

In Mission Zero, young people write a simple computer program to run on an Astro Pi computer on board the International Space Station (ISS).

Logo of Mission Zero, part of the European Astro Pi Challenge.

Following step-by-step instructions, they write code to take a reading from an Astro Pi sensor and display a colourful image for the ISS astronauts to see as they go about their daily tasks. This is a great, one-hour activity for beginners to programming.

The mark 2 Astro Pi units spin in microgravity on the International Space Station.
The Astro Pi computers in microgravity on the International Space Station

Participation is free and open for young people up to age 19 in ESA Member States (eligibility details). Everything can be done in a web browser, on any computer with internet access. No special hardware or prior coding skills are needed.

Participants will receive a piece of space science history to keep: a personalised certificate they can download, which shows their Mission Zero program’s exact start and end time, and the position of the ISS when their program ran.

All young people’s entries that meet the eligibility criteria and follow the official Mission Zero guidelines will have their program run in space for up to 30 seconds.

Mission Zero 2022/23 is open until 17 March 2023.

New this year for Mission Zero participants

If you’ve been involved in Mission Zero before, you will notice lots of things have changed. This year’s Mission Zero participants will be the first to use our brand-new online code editor, a tool that makes it super easy to write their program using the Python language.

Astro Pi Mission Zero coding interface.
The new code editor where young people will write their Mission Zero programs using the Python language

Thanks to the new Astro Pi computers that we sent to the ISS in 2021, there’s a brand-new colour and luminosity sensor, which has never been available to Mission Zero programmers before:

Finally, this year we’re challenging coders to create a colourful image to show on the Astro Pi’s LED display, and to use the data from the colour sensor to determine the image’s background colour.

The theme to inspire images for Mission Zero 2022/23 is ‘flora and fauna’. The images participants design can represent any aspect of this theme, such as flowers, trees, animals, or insects. Young people could even choose to program a series of images to show a short animation during the 30 seconds their program will run.

Here are some examples of images created by last year’s Mission Zero participants. What will you create?

Sign up for Astro Pi news

The European Astro Pi Challenge is an ESA Education project run in collaboration with us here at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Young people can also take part in Astro Pi Mission Space Lab, where they will work to design a real scientific experiment to run on the Astro Pi computers.

You can keep updated with all of the latest Astro Pi news by following the Astro Pi Twitter account or signing up to the newsletter at astro-pi.org.

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Take part in Moonhack 2022: Community, culture, coding

In 2016, Code Club Australia launched the Moonhack online coding event and broke the world record for the most children coding in one day. Then in 2017 they broke the record again. By now, more than 150,000 young learners from 70 countries have participated in Moonhack.

A girl with a laptop in a space station replica.
Moonhack inspires young people to celebrate humans’ technological achievements through fun coding projects.

Moonhack is an online coding challenge for young learners and celebrates humans’ technological achievements. The 2022 event takes place from 10 to 23 October to coincide with World Space Week, and it features six brand-new projects that show how satellites can help us live more sustainably. We caught up with Kaye North, Community and Engagement Manager at Code Club Australia, to find out more.

What will this year’s Moonhack bring? 

Kaye developed this year’s projects across Scratch, micro:bit, and Python to cater for learners with all levels of coding experience. One project was designed in collaboration with astrophysicist Dr Brad Tucker from the Australian National University. Another project highlights that objects in the sky have been meaningful for humans since way before the advent of modern satellites. Kaye developed this project together with a community in the Torres Strait.

The earth seen from space, with a satellite in view.
By coding a project in this year’s Moonhack, young people will learn about satellites.

“The Torres Strait is a unique part of Australia off the tip of Queensland,” Kaye told us. “It’s this amazing group of islands. As a teacher I taught there for three years and learned a lot about the community’s culture.” When a colleague suggested a project about Tagai — a constellation central to Torres Strait Islander culture — Kaye jumped at the chance to work with the island community again.

The Tagai constellation of Torres Strait Islander culture.
One of this year’s Moonhack projects teaches about Tagai, a constellation central to Torres Strait Islander culture.

Kaye initially intended to work with a Torres Strait elder, “but that really snowballed. I had two days at a Tagai school, where the cultural teacher shared his story about the Tagai constellation. I worked with a Year 6 class, coding and putting ideas together, creating this one amazing project. And as we were pulling it together, one of the girls said ‘We need to put our language into it, we should be able to speak in it.’ And that’s where the idea of having the kids’ voices in the project came from.”

What will young learners gain from taking part in Moonhack?

Moonhack 2021 had over 25,000 participants, and Kaye wants to share the Tagai project with as many people in 2022. When we asked her what else she hopes young people take away from Moonhack this year, she said:

“I hope that people really get the connection to satellites in space and how these are going to influence us fulfilling the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. I really hope that comes through. Big picture though? That the kids have fun.”

Moonhack 2022 runs from 10 to 23 October and is free and open to any young coder, whether they are part of a Code Club or not. The projects are already available in English, French, Dutch, and Greek. Arabic and Latin American Spanish versions are in preparation.

To take part with your young people, register on the Moonhack website.

Code Club Australia is powered by Telstra Foundation as part of a strategic partnership with the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

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Join the UK Bebras Challenge 2022 for schools

The UK Bebras Challenge is back and ready to accept entries from schools for its annual event from 7 to 18 November.

UK Bebras 2022 logo.

More than 3 million students from 54 countries took part in the Bebras Challenge in 2021. Read on to find out how you can get your school involved.

What is Bebras?

Bebras a free, annual challenge that helps schools introduce computational thinking to their students. No programming is involved, and it’s completely free for schools to take part. All Bebras questions are self-marking. Schools can enter students from age 6 to 18 and know they’ll get interesting and challenging (but not too challenging) activities.

“This has been a really positive experience. Thank you. Shared results with head and Head of KS3. Really useful for me when assessing KS4 options.” – Secondary teacher, North Yorkshire

We’re making Bebras accessible by offering age-appropriate challenges for different school levels, and a challenge tailored for visually impaired students.

What is the idea behind Bebras?

We want young people to get excited about computing. Through Bebras, they will learn about computational and logical thinking by answering questions and solving puzzles.

Bebras questions are based on classic computing problems and presented in friendly, age-appropriate contexts. For example, an algorithm-based puzzle for learners aged 6 to 8 is presented in terms of a hungry tortoise find an efficient eating path across a lawn; for 16- to 18-year-olds, a difficult question based on graph theory asks students to sort out some quiz teams by linking quizzers who know each other.

Can you solve the example puzzle?

Here’s a question from the 2021 challenge for the Junior category (ages 10 to 12). You’ll find the correct answer at the bottom of this blog post. 

Science Fair

  • Bebras High School is having a science fair.
  • All the events in the fair need to follow a specific order, and only one event can be held at a time.
  • The diagram below shows all the events that must be included in the flow of the science fair.
A flow chart.
  • The arrows between events indicate that the event the arrow is drawn from has to occur before the event the arrow points to. For example, ‘Social Interaction’ can only happen after both ‘Opening Speeches’ and ‘Project Presentations’ have finished.

Question: What is the correct order of events for the science fair?

How do I get my school involved?

The Bebras challenge for UK schools takes place from 7 to 18 November. Register at bebras.uk/admin to get full access to the challenge.

By registering, you also get access to the back catalogue of questions, from which you can build your own quizzes to use in your school at any time during the year. All the quizzes are self-marking, and you can download your students’ results for your mark book. Schools have reported using the back catalogue of questions for end-of-term activities, lesson starters, and schemes of lessons about computational thinking.

You can also see more of our free resources for Computing and Computer Science teachers, and find out about our newest research project, which you can get involved in if you teach primary Computing.


There are actually two possible answers to the example puzzle:

Option 1 Option 2
Chorus Performance
Preparation of Stands
Opening Speeches
Project Presentations
Social Interaction
Referee Reviews
Awarding Prizes
Preparation of Stands
Chorus Performance
Opening Speeches
Project Presentations
Social Interaction
Referee Reviews
Awarding Prizes

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The European Astro Pi Challenge is back for 2022/23

The European Astro Pi Challenge is back for another year. This is young people’s chance to write computer programs that run on board the International Space Station.

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.
ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti with one of the upgraded Astro Pi computers on which young people’s programs will run.

Young people can take part in two Astro Pi challenges: Mission Zero and Mission Space Lab. Participation is free and open for young people up to age 19 in ESA Member States (see more details about eligibility on the Astro Pi website). Young people can participate in one or both of the challenges.

Their programs will run on the two new upgraded Astro Pi computers, which launched into space in December 2021. The Astro Pis were named after the two inspirational European scientists Nikola Tesla and Marie Skłodowska-Curie by Mission Zero participants. For the 2021/22 European Astro Pi Challenge, these new computers ran over 17,000 programs written by young people from 26 countries. 

Here is ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer getting the new Astro Pis ready for young people’s experiments.

You can register for Mission Space Lab from today

In Mission Space Lab, teams of young people work together with a mentor who supports them, as they design a scientific experiment to be run on the Astro Pis in space.

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Teams write programs that use an Astro Pi’s sensors and camera to collect data from the International Space Station, which the teams then analyse. This video has more information about the Astro Pi computers and how teams can choose an experiment idea:

Registration for Mission Space Lab is now open, and participation takes place over eight months. Mentors need to register their team and submit the team’s experiment idea by 28 October 2022. For more details on how to register, visit the Mission Space Lab webpages. 

For inspiration, you can read the reports written by the winning teams for Mission Space Lab 2021/22. What will your team’s experiment idea be? We can’t wait to hear about it.

Mission Zero is starting soon

Mission Zero is the beginners’ challenge where young people write a simple program and get a taste of space science.

Logo of Mission Zero, part of the European Astro Pi Challenge.

All eligible programs that follow the official guidelines will run in space for up to 30 seconds. The young people who participate receive a certificate they can download which shows their program’s exact start and end time, and the position of the ISS when their program ran — a piece of space science history to keep!

Mission Zero opens on 22 September 2022. Watch this space for more details on launch day.

Stay up to date

The European Astro Pi Challenge is an ESA Education project run in collaboration with us here at the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

You can stay up to date with all of the latest Astro Pi news by following the Astro Pi Twitter account or signing up to the newsletter at astro-pi.org

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Back to school 2022: Our support for teachers

The summer months are an exciting time at the Foundation: you can feel the buzz of activity as we prepare for the start of a new school year in many parts of the world. Across our range of fantastic (and free) programmes, everyone works hard to create new and improved resources that help teachers and students worldwide. 

We’ve asked some of our programme leads to tell you what’s new in their respective areas. We hope that you’ll come away with a good idea of the breadth and depth of teacher support that’s on offer. Is there something we aren’t doing yet that we should be? Tell us in the comments below.

A waving person.

Sway Grantham has been at the forefront of writing resources for our Teach Computing Curriculum over the last three years. The Curriculum is part of the wider National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE) and provides hundreds of free classroom resources for teachers, from Key Stage 1 to 4. Each resource includes lesson plans, slides, activity sheets, homework, and assessments. Since we published the Curriculum in 2020, all lessons have been reviewed and updated at least once. Managing the process of continuously improving these resources is a key part of Sway’s work.

Hi Sway, what updates have you been making to the Teach Computing Curriculum to help teachers this year? 

We make changes to the Teach Computing Curriculum all the time! However, specific things we are excited about ahead of the new school year are updates to how our content is presented on the website so that it’s really easy to see which unit you should be teaching in each half term. We’ve also renamed some of the units to make it clearer what they cover. And to help Key Stage 3 teachers launch Computing in secondary school with skills that are foundational for progress through the requirements of the Key Stage 3 curriculum, we’ve updated the first Year 7 unit, now called Clear messaging in digital media.

You recently asked for teachers’ feedback as part of an annual impact survey. What did you find out?

We are still in the process of looking through the feedback in detail, but I can share some high-level insights. 96% of teachers who responded to the survey gave a score between 7 and 10 for recommending that other teachers use the Teach Computing Curriculum. Over 80% reported that the Teach Computing Curriculum has improved their confidence, subject knowledge, and the quality of their teaching ‘a little’ or ‘a lot’. Finally, over 90% of respondents said the Curriculum is effective at supporting teachers, developing teachers’ subject knowledge, and saving teachers’ time.

We are grateful to the 907 people who took part in the survey! You have all helped us to ensure the Curriculum has a positive impact on teachers and learners throughout England and beyond.

A waving person.

James Robinson dedicates his work at the Foundation to creating free pedagogical resources that underpin the classroom practice of computing teachers worldwide. He has led the creation of the Pedagogy Quick Reads and the Research Bytes newsletter for the NCCE, and the development of our 12 principles of computing pedagogy, available as a handy poster. He also works on our Hello World magazine, produces the associated Hello World podcast, and curates Hello World’s special issues, such as The Big Book of Computing Pedagogy.

James, why is it so important for teachers to underpin their classroom practice with best-practice pedagogical approaches? 

In order to teach any area of the curriculum effectively, educators need to understand both the content they are teaching and the most effective ways to deliver that content. Computing is a broad discipline made up of lots of inter-connected knowledge. Different areas of the subject benefit from different approaches, and this may vary depending on the experience of the learners and the context within which they are learning. Understanding which approaches are best suited to different content helps educators support learners effectively.

Computing education research related to school-aged learners is still in its early stages compared to other subjects, and new approaches and pedagogies are being developed, tested, and evaluated. Staying aware of these developments is important for educators and that’s why it’s something the Foundation is dedicated to supporting.

What do you have in store for teachers this year?  

This year we continue to share best practice and hear from educators applying new ideas in their classroom through Hello World magazine and podcast. Educators should also keep a look out for our second Hello World special edition exploring the breadth and depth of Computing. To get hold of a copy of this later this year, make sure you’re subscribed to Hello World.

A waving person.

Allen Heard and his team have very recently completed a huge project: creating a full curriculum of GCSE topics and associated questions for Isaac Computer Science, our free online learning platform for teachers and students. The new topics cover the entirety of the GCSE exam board specifications for AQA, Edexcel, Eduqas, OCR, and WJEC, and are integrated with our existing A level computer science resources. They are great to pick up and use for classwork, homework, and revision.  

Allen, what has gone into the making of these new GCSE resources?

I think one of the biggest and most important things that’s been evident to me while working on this project is the care and thought that our content creators have put into each and every piece they worked on. To the end user it will simply be material on a web page, but sitting behind each page are countless discussions involving the whole team around how to present certain facts, concepts, or processes. Sometimes these discussions have even caused us to reevaluate our own thinking around how we deliver computer science content. We have debated the smallest things such as glossary terms, questioning every word to make sure we are as clear and concise as possible. Hopefully the care, expertise, and dedication of the team shines through in what really is a fantastic source of information for teachers and learners.

What do you have in store for teachers and learners this year?

With 96% of teachers and 88% of students reporting that the content is of high quality and easily accessible, we still need to continue to support them to ultimately enable learners to achieve their potential. Looking ahead, there is still lots of work to do to make sure Isaac offers the best possible user experience. And we plan to add a lot more questions to really bolster the numbers of questions at varying levels of difficulty for learners. This will have the added benefit of being useful for any teachers wanting to up-skill too! A massive strength of the platform is its questions, and we are really keen to give as wide a range of them as possible.

A waving person.

Tamasin Greenough Graham leads the team at Code Club, our global network of free, in-school coding clubs for young people aged 9 to 13. In Code Clubs, participants learn to code while having fun getting creative with their new skills. Clubs can be run by anyone who wants to help young people explore digital technologies — you don’t need coding experience at all. The Code Club team offers everything you need, including coding projects with easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions, and lots of resources to help you support your club members. They are also on hand to answer your questions. 

Tamasin, what kind of support can teachers expect when they decide to set up a Code Club?

Running a Code Club really is simple and a lot of fun! We have free training to suit everyone, including webinars that guide you through getting started, a self-study online course you can take to prepare for running your Code Club, and drop-in online Q&A sessions where you can chat about your questions to our friendly team or to other educators who run clubs. 

Once you have registered your Code Club, you’ll get access to an online dashboard packed with useful resources: from guidance on preparing and delivering your first session, to certificates to celebrate your club members’ successes, and unplugged activities for learners to do away from the screen.

What experience do you need to run a Code Club?

You don’t need to have any coding experience to run a club, as we provide a giant range of fun coding projects and support materials that can be easily followed by educators and young people alike. You just need to support and encourage your young coders, and you can get in touch with the Code Club team if you need any help!

The project paths we offer provide a framework for young coders to develop their skills, whatever their starting point is. Each path starts with three Explore projects, where coders learn new coding concepts and skills. The next two Design projects in the path help them practise these skills through creating fun games, animations, or websites. The final Invent project of the path gives a design brief, and based on this learners have the space to use their new skills and their creativity to code something based on their own ideas. 

Our project paths start with the basics of Scratch, and work through to creating websites in HTML and CSS, and to text-based coding in Python. For more advanced or adventurous coders, we also offer project paths to make physical projects with Raspberry Pi Pico, create 3D models in Blender, or even build 3D worlds in Unity.

Why is it important to teach coding to primary-aged children?

Lots of primary-aged children use digital technology every day, whether that be a TV, a phone, playing video games, or a computer at school. But they don’t have to be just consumers of technology. Through learning to code, young people become able to create their own technology, and our projects are designed to help them see how these new skills allow them to express themselves and solve problems that matter to them.

What young people do with their new skills is up to them – that’s the exciting part! Computing skills open paths to a wide range of projects and work where digital skills are helpful. And while learning coding is fun and useful, it also helps learners develop a many other important skills to do with problem solving, teamwork, and creativity.

A waving person.

Martin O’Hanlon heads the team that produces our free online courses programme. If you’re looking for continued professional development in computer science, look no further than to our more than 35 courses. (For teachers in England, a large number of the courses count towards the NCCE’s Primary, Secondary, or GCSE certificates.) Curated in 13 curated learning pathways, all of our courses provide high-quality training that you can take at home, at a time that suits you.

Martin, what can learners expect from taking one of our online courses?

Our online computing courses are free and have something for everyone who is interested in computing. We offer pathways for learning to program in Python or Scratch, teaching computing in the classroom, getting started with physical computing, and many more. 

We vary the materials and formats used in our courses, including videos, written articles, quizzes, and discussions to help learners get the most out of the experience. You will find a lot of practical activities and opportunities to practice what you learn. There are loads of opportunities to interact with and learn from others who are doing the course at the same time as you. And educators from the Raspberry Pi Foundation join the courses during facilitation periods to give their advice, support, and encouragement.

What is the idea behind the course pathways?

We have a large catalogue of online training courses, and the pathways give learners a starting point. They group the courses into useful collections, offering a recommended path for everyone, whether that’s people who are brand-new to computing or who have identified a gap in their existing computing skills or knowledge.

Our aim is that these pathways help people find the right course at the right point in their computing journey.

Thanks, everyone.

One more thing…

We’re also very excited to work on new research projects this school year, to help deepen the computing education community’s understanding of how to teach the subject in schools. Are you a primary teacher in England who is interested in making computing culturally relevant for your pupils?

Young learners at computers in a classroom.

We’re currently looking for teachers to take part in our research project around primary school culturally adapted resources, running from October 2022 to July 2023. Find out more about what taking part involves.

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Take part in our research study to develop culturally relevant Computing resources for primary schools

We are looking for primary schools in England to get involved in our new research study investigating how to adapt Computing resources to make them culturally relevant for pupils. In a project in 2021, we created guidelines that included ideas about how teachers can modify Computing lessons so they are culturally relevant for their learners. In this new project, we will work closely with primary teachers to explore this adaptation process.

In a computing classroom, a boy looks down at a keyboard.
Designing equitable and authentic learning experiences requires a conscious effort to take into account the characteristics of all learners and their social environments.

This project will help increase the education community’s understanding of ways to widen participation in Computing. The need to do this is demonstrated (as only one example among many) by the fact that in England’s 2017 GCSE Computer Science cohort, Black students were the most underrepresented group. We will investigate how resources adapted to be culturally relevant might influence students’ ideas about computing and contribute to their sense of identity as a “computer person”.

In a computing classroom, two girls concentrate on their programming task.
We need to work to enable a more diverse group of learners to feel that they belong in computing, encouraging them to choose to continue with it as a discipline in qualifications and careers.

This study is funded by the Cognizant Foundation and we are grateful for their generous support. Since 2018, the Cognizant Foundation has worked to ensure that all individuals have equitable opportunities to thrive in the jobs driving the future. Their work aligns with our mission to enable young people to realise their full potential through the power of computing and digital technologies.

What will taking part in the project involve? 

This project about culturally adapted resources will take place between October 2022 and July 2023. It draws from ideas on how to bridge the gap between academic research and classroom teaching, and we are looking for 12 primary teachers to work closely with our researchers and content writers in three phases using a tested co-creation model.

Two children code on laptops while an adult supports them.
We will work closely with a group of teacher so we can learn from each other.

By taking part, you will gain an excellent understanding of culturally relevant pedagogy and develop your knowledge and skills in delivering culturally responsive Computing lessons. We will value your expertise and your insights into what works in your classroom, and we will listen to your ideas.

Phase 1 (November 2022) 

We will kick off the project with a day-long workshop on 2 November at our head office in Cambridge, which will bring all the participating teachers together. (Funding is available for participating schools to cover supply costs and teachers’ travel costs.) In the workshop, we will first explore what culturally relevant and responsive computing means. Then we will work together to look at a half-term unit of work of Computing lessons and identify how it could be adapted. After the workshop day, we will produce an adapted version of the unit of work based on the teachers’ input and ideas.

Phase 2 (February to March 2023)

In the Spring Term, teachers will deliver the adapted unit of work to their class in the second half of the term. Through a survey before and after the set of lessons, students will be asked about their views of computing. Throughout this time, the research team will be available for online support. We may also visit your school to carry out an observation of one of the lessons. 

Phase 3 (April to May 2023) 

During this phase, the research team will ask participating teachers about their experiences, and about whether and how they further adapted the lessons. Teachers will likely spend 2 to 3 hours in either April or May sharing their insights and recommendations. After this phase, we will analyse the findings from the study and share the results both with the participating teachers and the wider computing education community.

Who are we looking for to take part in this study?

For this study, we are looking for primary teachers who teach Computing to Year 4 or Year 5 pupils in a school in England

  • You may be a generalist primary class teacher who teaches all subjects to your year group, or you may be a specialist primary Computing teacher 
  • To take part, your pupils will need access to desktop or laptop computers in the Spring Term, but your school will not need any specialist hardware or software
  • You will need to attend the in-person workshop in Cambridge on Wednesday 2 November and commit to the project for the rest of the 2022/2023 academic year; funding is available for participating schools to cover supply costs and teachers’ travel costs
  • Your headteacher will need to support your participation in the study

We will give preference to: 

  • Schools where more than one teacher can take part 
  • Schools with culturally diverse catchment areas 
  • Teachers who are familiar with our free Teach Computing Curriculum resources for Year 4 or Year 5

Apply today to get involved

If you are an interested teacher, please apply to take part in this project by the closing date of Monday 26 September. If you have any questions, email us at research@raspberrypi.org.

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Astro Pi Mission Space Lab: The journey of two mentors

Sobhy Fouda started his Astro Pi journey in 2019 by helping a group of young people participate in Astro Pi Mission Zero, the beginners’ activity of the annual European Astro Pi Challenge. In Mission Zero, participants write a simple computer program that runs on board the International Space Station (ISS).

A group of young people who participated in the Astro Pi Challenge.
Sobhy with a group of the young people he mentored in the Astro Pi Challenge.

Seeing the wonder on the faces of the young people on the day when their programs were sent to space motivated Sobhy to take the next step: the year after, he became the mentor of a team of young people who wanted to take part in Astro Pi Mission Space Lab 2020/21. Sobhy supported them for 8 months as they designed and wrote a program to conduct their own scientific experiment on the ISS. The team placed among the 10 winners of Mission Space Lab that year.

Logo of the European Astro Pi Challenge.

Among this winning team was Ismail, who joined Sobhy as a mentor for the next round of Astro Pi Mission Space Lab in 2021/22. We spoke to Sobhy and Ismail about their experiences as mentors, about how being involved in Astro Pi changed their life, and about how when you dream big, you can inspire others to do the same.

Finding inspiration in mentoring young people

“I have always loved space and I had big dreams of becoming a pilot,” said Sobhy. After graduating with a mechatronics engineering degree from the German University in Cairo, he moved to the UK to study aircraft maintenance and aerospace engineering. During this time, Sobhy heard about the Astro Pi Challenge and decided to support some young people in his community to take part in Mission Zero. “It was my first experience with the Astro Pi programme, so it was a great first step for me to teach the team some basic Python skills.”

Sobhy Fouda, Astro Pi Mission Space Lab mentor.
Sobhy says about mentoring: “Seeing the team’s reaction was so rewarding.”

Sadly, Sobhy was unable to continue down his chosen career path in the UK due to health issues. He said, “It was a very difficult time for me. It was hard to walk away from a dream I had held for so long. I decided to apply for a scholarship within aerospace in Germany, focusing more on writing code, as well as on R&D [research and development].” Sobhy credited his participation as a mentor in Mission Zero as crucial to his success with this next step: “I thoroughly believe that my mentorship of a Mission Zero team helped me to demonstrate my social commitment, which was a significant requirement for the scholarship.”

When Sobhy was awarded the scholarship, he and his wife moved to Berlin, but it was hard for him to find inspiration. This changed when he decided to be an Astro Pi mentor again. “My wife put the word out about it [Astro Pi Mission Space Lab] in my community, and we had a number of young people come forward.”

Supporting young people to understand the Astro Pi computers

With help from Sobhy, his Mission Space Lab team started thinking through experiment ideas a couple of months in advance of the challenge start. “Once I had got the kids familiarised with the sensors on the Astro Pi computer and the conditions on the ISS, it was the logical next step to start introducing more Python to learn how to control these sensors and discuss what we could analyse.”

Astro Pi computers on the ISS.
On the ISS, the first-generation Astro Pi computers, which Sobhy’s team used, and the new Astro Pi computers (with green displays), which we sent to space last year.

Sobhy’s team successfully submitted an idea for a Mission Space Lab experiment: investigating how the Earth’s magnetic field correlates with its climate, and how this affects near-Earth objects’ behaviour in low-Earth orbit. Next, the team of young people received an Astro Pi hardware kit with which to test the program they wrote in realistic conditions. Sobhy said that “once we received our Astro Pi kit with the sensors, I then used these sensors to make the experiments more relatable to the kids, getting them to measure the humidity in their rooms for example, and I tried to gamify the sessions as much as possible to keep it fun and ignite their imagination.”

A photo of the Maledives taken from the International Space Station by an Astro Pi unit programmed by a Mission Space Lab team.
A photo of the Maledives captured by Sobhy’s team during their experiment for Mission Space Lab 2020/21.

One young person on Sobhy’s Mission Space Lab team was Ismail, who was 17 at the time. Ismail explained, “I had some programming experience, as I had worked in Sobhy’s previous teams for Mission Zero, but taking part in Mission Space Lab really helped me to develop these skills in a practical way.”

Ismail, Astro Pi Mission Space Lab mentor.
Ismail, who went from being an Astro Pi participant to mentoring a team together with Sobhy

Ismail was particularly surprised by how much he loved working with the Astro Pi hardware . “I always thought I would follow a career path in programming, however, working with the Raspberry Pi computer and its sensors made me realise that I liked working with the hardware even more than doing programming,” said Ismail. “I ended up changing my choice of degree to mechatronics, so my Mission Space Lab experience really helped me to find the career path I was meant to be on.”

Making a real impact through mentoring

Taking part in Astro Pi Mission Space Lab wasn’t the only thing that shaped Ismail’s path: he credits Sobhy’s mentorship for helping him achieve his goals. “Sobhy was such a good mentor. His passion for the project radiated from him and infected us all! He explained what we needed to tackle, asked questions, and then gave us small activities to put our programming experience into practice in a practical way. It made the programming so much more interesting.”

Sobhy said that when the team was announced among the winners of Mission Space Lab in the 20/21 Astro Pi Challenge, “seeing the team’s reaction was so rewarding. All our hard work paid off, and I was so happy and proud of the team and what they had achieved.” Ismail added, “I still have to pinch myself that we actually won. I’m constantly asking myself if it actually happened, as it was so unbelievable. It was incredible.”

The river Nile in Egypt shown from space by an Astro Pi computer on the International Space Station.
The river Nile in Egypt, photographed by Sobhy’s team during their experiment for Mission Space Lab 2020/21.

Sobhy has stayed in contact with the young people he mentored in the Astro Pi Challenge and their bond remains strong. Ismail said, “He has really become a friend. He was always so helpful and knowledgeable. I just loved working with him, so when he asked if I wanted to become an assistant Astro Pi mentor, I took the opportunity despite having other commitments.”

Mentoring and the skills it teaches

Moving on to become a mentor alongside Sobhy in the 2021/22 Astro Pi Challenge was an eye-opening experience for Ismail. “I had to learn a new set of skills,” said Ismail. “In particular, I realised I needed to improve my presentation skills. To start with I was really uncomfortable speaking in front of a group, but now I’m not, and this confidence transferred over to my university studies. That’s been a really great benefit I’ve taken from the experience.”

“[My] Mission Space Lab experience really helped me to find the career path I was meant to be on.”

Ismail, Mission Space Lab participant and mentor

For us it was wonderful to hear about these lasting friendships and connections that have formed  among the people participating in Mission Space Lab. Both Sobhy and Ismail felt that while mentoring a Mission Space Lab team can be challenging at times, the rewards are worth it. Watching their team develop and seeing the young people connect made the experience extremely rewarding. 

Ismail concluded by saying: “Astro Pi has been one of the best experiences I have had in my life. I have so much to be thankful for, and I owe this to Astro Pi, but even more to my mentor Sobhy. He has encouraged me to have this incredible experience, helped me find my path in life, and guided me every step of the way. I will remember him and be thankful to him for the rest of my life. It’s been life-changing.”

Get involved in Astro Pi Mission Space Lab

In only a few days, you’ll be able to register as a team mentor for Astro Pi Mission Space Lab 2022/23.

Logo of Mission Space Lab, part of the European Astro Pi Challenge.

The European Astro Pi Challenge, an ESA education programme in collaboration with us at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, starts again from 12 September. Sign up to the newsletter at astro-pi.org to be the first to hear news about the programme.

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Repair cafés in computing education | Hello World #19

Many technology items are disposed of each year, either because they are broken, are no longer needed, or have been upgraded. Researchers from Germany have identified this as an opportunity to develop a scheme of work for Computing, while at the same time highlighting the importance of sustainability in hardware and software use. They hypothesised that by repairing defective devices, students would come to understand better how these devices work, and therefore meet some of the goals of their curriculum.

A smartphone with the back cover taken off so it can be repaired.

The research team visited three schools in Germany to deliver Computing lessons based around the concept of a repair café, where defective items are repaired or restored rather than thrown away. This idea was translated into a series of lessons about using and repairing smartphones. Learners first of all explored the materials used in smartphones and reflected on their personal use of these devices. They then spent time moving around three repair workstations, examining broken smartphones and looking at how they could be repaired or repurposed. Finally, learners reflected on their own ecological footprint and what they had learnt about digital hardware and software.

An educational repair café

In the classroom, repair workstations were set up for three different categories of activity: fixing cable breaks, fixing display breaks, and tinkering to upcycle devices. Each workstation had a mentor to support learners in investigating faults themselves by using the question prompt, “Why isn’t this feature or device working?” At the display breaks and cable breaks workstations, a mentor was on hand to provide guidance with further questions about the hardware and software used to make the smartphone work. On the other hand, the tinkering workstation offered a more open-ended approach, asking learners to think about how a smartphone could be upcycled to be used for a different purpose, such as a bicycle computer. It was interesting to note that students visited each of the three workstations equally.

Two girls solder physical computing components in a workshop.
Getting hands-on with hardware through physical computing activities can be very engaging for learners.

The feedback from the participants showed there had been a positive impact in prompting learners to think about the sustainability of their smartphone use. Working with items that were already broken also gave them confidence to explore how to repair the technology. This is a different type of experience from other Computing lessons, in which devices such as laptops or tablets are provided and are expected to be carefully looked after. The researchers also asked learners to complete a questionnaire two weeks after the lessons, and this showed that 10 of the 67 participants had gone on to repair another smartphone after taking part in the lessons.

Links to computing education

The project drew on a theory called duality reconstruction that has been developed by a researcher called Carsten Schulte. This theory argues that in computing education, it is equally important to teach learners about the function of a digital device as about the structure. For example, in the repair café lessons, learners discovered more about the role that smartphones play in society, as well as experimenting with broken smartphones to find out how they work. This brought a socio-technical perspective to the lessons that helped make the interaction between the technology and society more visible.

A young girl solders something at a worktop while a man looks over her shoulder.
It’s important to make sure young people know how to work safely with electronic and physical computing components.

Using this approach in the Computing classroom may seem counter-intuitive when compared to the approach of splitting the curriculum into topics and teaching each topic sequentially. However, the findings from this project suggest that learners understand better how smartphones work when they also think about how they are manufactured and used. Including societal implications of computing can provide learners with useful contexts about how computing is used in real-world problem-solving, and can also help to increase learners’ motivation for studying the subject.

Working together

The final aspect of this research project looked at collaborative problem-solving. The lessons were structured to include time for group work and group discussion, to acknowledge and leverage the range of experiences among learners. At the workstations, learners formed small groups to carry out repairs. The paper doesn’t mention whether these groups were self-selecting or assigned, but the researchers did carry out observations of group behaviours in order to evaluate whether the collaboration was effective. In the findings, the ideal group size for the repair workstation activity was either two or three learners working together. The researchers noticed that in groups of four or more learners, at least one learner would become disinterested and disengaged. Some groups were also observed taking part in work that wasn’t related to the task, and although no further details are given about the nature of this, it is possible that the groups became distracted.

The findings from this project suggest that learners understand better how smartphones work when they also think about how they are manufactured and used.

Further investigation into effective pedagogies to set group size expectations and maintain task focus would be helpful to make sure the lessons met their learning objectives. This research was conducted as a case study in a small number of schools, and the results indicate that this approach may be more widely helpful. Details about the study can be found in the researchers’ paper (in German).

Repair café start-up tips

If you’re thinking about setting up a repair café in your school to promote sustainable computing, either as a formal or informal learning activity, here are ideas on where to begin:

  • Connect with a network of repair cafés in your region; a great place to start is repaircafe.org
  • Ask for volunteers from your local community to act as mentors
  • Use video tutorials to learn about common faults and how to fix them
  • Value upcycling as much as repair — both lead to more sustainable uses of digital devices
  • Look for opportunities to solve problems in groups and promote teamwork

Discover more in Hello World

This article is from our free computing education magazine Hello World. Every issue is written by educators for educators and packed with resources, ideas, and insights to inspire your learners and your own classroom practice.

Cover of issue 19 of Hello World magazine.

For more about computing education in the context of sustainability, climate change, and environmental impact, download issue 19 of Hello World, which focuses on these topics.

You can subscribe to Hello World for free to never miss a digital issue, and if you’re an educator in the UK, a print subscription will get you free print copies in the post.

PS If you’re interested in facilitating productive classroom discussions with your learners about ethical, legal, cultural, and environmental concerns surrounding computer science, take a look at our free online course ‘Impacts of Technology: How To Lead Classroom Discussions’.

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A peer instruction approach for engaging girls in the Computing classroom: Study results

Today, we are publishing the third report of our findings from our Gender Balance in Computing research programme. This report shares the outcomes from the Peer Instruction project, which is the last in our set of three interventions that has explored teaching approaches to engage more girls in computing.

In a computing classroom, a smiling girl raises her hand.

The premise of the teaching approach research is that the way Computing is taught may not always match the teaching approaches to which girls are most likely to respond positively [1]. As with the Storytelling project and the Pair Programming project, this project aimed to find new contexts and approaches to help increase the number of girls choosing to study and work in computing. 

What is peer instruction? 

Peer instruction is a structured, collaborative teaching approach. It has been shown to be an effective pedagogy for novice programmers and those studying computer science at a university level because the interactive, cooperative activities help learners to perceive the topics as less stressful and less difficult [2]. 

Multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and peer conversations about the question answers are at the core of the peer instruction approach. Through talking to each other about MCQs, pupils can deepen their understanding about why a particular concept or fact is correct, and correct any misconceptions.

A diagram showing The five stages of the peer instruction teaching approach covered in a computing lesson: based on a misconception focused multiple-choice question, stage 1 is solo response, stage 2 is peer discussion, stage 3 is peer response, stage 4 is sharing results, stage 5 is class discussion. Optional steps are pre-instruction and follow-up multiple-choice question.
The five stages of the peer instruction teaching approach covered in a Computing lesson.

In England, the Computing curriculum at Key Stage 3 (ages 11–14) introduces learners to some new concepts, such as data representation, and moves learners to text-based programming languages. Towards the end of this Key Stage, learners will make choices about the subjects that they go onto study for GCSEs. These choices are influenced by learners’ attitudes towards the subject, and so we decided to trial whether the peer instruction teaching approach might lead to more positive attitudes towards Computing among girls.

The Peer Instruction intervention

The initial pilot of this trial ran from January to March 2020 with 15 secondary schools. We then used teacher feedback to develop resources to use in a full randomised controlled trial which ran from October 2021 to February 2022 in more than 60 secondary schools in England. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we changed our original plan to run face-to-face training and instead developed an online course to train teachers in the peer instruction approach. After taking part in the training, the teachers delivered 12 weeks of Computing lessons in data representation and Python programming. The two six-week units of work covered computing concepts for Key Stage 3 learners such as: 

  • Understanding how numbers can be represented in binary format
  • Understanding how data of various types can be represented and manipulated digitally in the form of binary digits
  • Using a text-based programming language to solve a variety of computational problems 

The study was run as a randomised controlled trial where participating schools were randomly divided into two groups. Schools in the treatment group used the peer instruction resources, and schools in the control group taught their normal Computing lessons. The independent evaluators from the Behavioural Insights Team used pupil surveys to measure the impact of the resources and supported this with lesson observations and teacher interviews to better understand the  themes emerging from the data. 

“I think peer instruction lessons are actually better than the normal lessons because you can ask other people around you to help more.”

– Female pupil who took part in the peer instruction lessons (report, p. 45)

Findings from the evaluation

The outcome measures of the peer instruction approach evaluation were quantitative data obtained from Year 8 pupils (aged 12 to 13) via pre- and post-surveys about the pupils’ stated intent to select Computer Science as a GCSE subject, and attitudes towards Computing as captured by the Student Computer Science Attitude Survey (SCSAS). When compared with the control group, the treatment group did not show a statistically significant increase in stated intent or positive attitudes towards Computing. This is a really valuable finding to help us build our understanding of what works in computing education. 

The evaluation report contains some useful suggestions on how peer instruction methods could be improved in the secondary classroom: 

  • Emphasise the importance of the stages of the peer instruction approach throughout the supporting materials. Our support for teachers changed from an in-person training day in stage one to an online course in stage two, and this impacted how much we could model the peer instruction steps that involve pupil discussion. This teaching approach differs from the traditional approach of asking learners to put their hands up to answer questions, and we believe that face-to-face training for teachers would be the best way to explore stage two of peer instruction. The importance of the discussion steps in peer instruction were further emphasised in the report: “The interviewed girls similarly reported that they preferred working in a group (as opposed to answering questions individually) as they were able to hear from people who had different ideas to them and check their answers.” So the discussion steps in peer instruction need careful thought when being delivered.
  • It may be useful to combine the peer instruction approach with other strategies. Although only a small number of girls taking part were interviewed, their feedback about the peer instruction lessons was very positive. The evaluation suggests that a multi-faceted approach to addressing gender balance is needed, given that the lack of girls in computing is indicative of a substantive societal issue, which decades of initiatives and research have attempted to address. The evaluators suggested that combining this pedagogy with other strategies, such as linking Computing to real-world problem-solving (another topic we explored in the Gender Balance in Computing programme), may have a cumulatively positive effect. 

“Year 8 is too late” 

At the start of both the Pair Programming and Peer Instruction projects, pupils were asked the same set of questions about their attitudes towards Computing via the Student Computer Science Attitude Survey (SCSAS). The mean scores from the survey results suggest that there is a small gender gap in attitudes at primary school. Boys feel slightly more confident and interested in Computing than girls. By secondary school, this gap has widened, as shown in the graph below:

Graph of the SCSAS scores to show the differences between boys’ and girls’ mean scores (out of 4) when asked about their attitudes towards computing at Year 4/6 and at year 8. Boys state a more positive attitude on average, and the difference between girls' and boys' attitudes in larger in Year 8.
Graph of the SCSAS scores to show the differences between boys’ and girls’ mean scores (out of 4) when asked about their attitudes towards Computing at Year 4/6 and at year 8.

In both projects, pupils were also asked about their intentions to continue studying Computing. In the Pair Programming project, the participating pupils (in Year 4/6) were asked whether they wanted to study Computing in the future, whereas the Year 8 pupils taking part in the Peer Instruction project were asked whether they intended to choose Computer Science as a GCSE subject. We cannot compare these two sets of answers directly, but there is general indication that as girls progress through stages of education, they begin to decide that Computing is not a subject for them. The independent evaluators commented that “it is striking that the gap between genders widens to such an extent over this 2- to 4-year time period, and that the overall proportions of pupils intending to continue to study Computing decreases to such an extent” (p. 15 of the report).  

“These findings show a clear difference in attitudes towards learning Computing between primary and secondary learners. It really makes the adage ‘Year 8 is too late’ very true, and it is important to think carefully about what happens between Year 6 and Year 8 to make sure that Computing is a subject which engages all learners.”

– Sue Sentance, Chief Learning Officer, Raspberry Pi Foundation

Want to find out more about peer instruction?  

  • Download our Big Book of Computing Pedagogy (available as a free online download) and find out more about peer instruction on pages 56 and 57.
  • Read the evaluation report of the peer instruction intervention.
  • Try the free training course on peer instruction used in this project. This course links to our research materials used by teachers as part of the intervention. 

We are very grateful to all the schools, pupils, and teachers who took part in this project. If you would like to stay up-to-date with the Gender Balance in Computing programme, you can sign up to our newsletter. We will also share reports on the other projects within the programme that have explored: 

  • Pupils’ sense of belonging in Computing 
  • The links between non-formal and formal Computing 
  • The impact of using Computing to solve real-world problems

[1] Goode, J., Estrella, R., & Margolis, J. (2008). Lost in Translation: Gender and High School Computer Science. In Cohoon, J, & Aspray, W. (Eds.) Women and Information Technology. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/7272.003.0005

[2] Herman, G. L., & Azad, S. (2020, February). A comparison of peer instruction and collaborative problem solving in a computer architecture course. In Proceedings of the 51st ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education. Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA. pp. 461–467. https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3328778.3366819

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Say “aye” to Code Club in Scotland

Since joining the Raspberry Pi Foundation as a Code Club Community Manager for Scotland earlier this year, I have seen first-hand the passion, dedication, and commitment of the Scottish community to support the digital, personal, and social skills of young people.

A group of smiling children hold up large cardboard Code Club logos.

Code Club launched in schools in 2012 to give opportunities to children to share and develop their love of coding through free after-school clubs. Now we have clubs across the world connecting learners in having fun with digital technologies. 

Meeting Scotland’s inspiring Code Club community

One of my first visits was to St. Mark’s Primary School in East Renfrewshire, where I met an amazing Code Club leader called Ashley Guy. Ashley only got involved in Code Club this year, but has already launched three clubs at her school!

St Mark's Primary celebrate Code Club's tenth birthday.

I went to visit her Primary 2 and 3’s club, where the children were working on creating animations in Scratch to celebrate Code Club’s tenth birthday. It was a real joy to see the young children so engaged with our projects. The young coders worked both independently and together to create their own animations.

One of the girls I spoke to made a small error while coding her project, but she smiled and said, “I made a mistake, but that’s okay because that’s how we learn!” She showed just the kind of positive, problem-solving mindset that Code Club helps to cultivate.

Another school doing something incredible at their Code Club, led by Primary 7 teacher Fiona Lindsay, is Hillside School in Aberdeenshire. I love seeing the fun things they get up to, including celebrating Code Club’s 10th birthday in style with an impressive Code Club cake.

Hillside School's cake to celebrate ten years of Code Club.

Fiona and her club are using the Code Club projects and resources to create their own exciting and challenging games. They’ve taken part in several of our online codealongs, and they also held an event at the school to showcase their great work — which even got the children’s parents coding! 

Some of the young people who attend Code Club at Hillside School sent us videos about their experiences, why they come to Code Club, and what it means to them. Young coder Abisola describes Code Club in one word:

Young coder Crystal said, “We can experiment with what we know and make actual projects… At Code Club we learn about new blocks in Scratch and what blocks and patterns go together to make something.” Here is Crystal sharing her favourite part of Code Club:

Obuma also attends the Code Club at Hillside School. She shared what she gains from attending the sessions and why she thinks other young people should join a Code Club too: 

“At Code Club we improve our teamwork skills, because there’s a lot of people in Code Club and most of the time you work together to create different things… Join [Code Club] 100%. It is so fun. It might not be something everyone would want to try, but if you did try it, then you would enjoy it.”

Obuma, young coder at Hillside School’s Code Club

Two young people at a Code Club.
Crystal and Abisola celebrate ten years of Code Club

Coding with the community 

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most as part of the Code Club team has been running an UK-wide online codealong to celebrate STEM Clubs Week. The theme was outer space, so our ‘Lost in space’ project in Scratch was the ideal fit.

Young people from St Philip Evans Primary School participating in Code Club's 'Lost in space' codealong.

During this practical coding session, classes across Scotland, England, and Wales had great fun coding the project together to animate rockets that move around space. We were thrilled by the feedback from teachers.

“The children really enjoyed the session. They are very proud of their animations and some children went on to extend their programs. All [the] children said they would love to do more codealongs!”

Teacher who took part in an online Code Club codealong

Young people from Oaklands Primary School participating in Code Club's 'Lost in space' codealong.

Thank you to everyone who got involved in the codealong. See you again at the next one.

What Scotland — and everyone in the community — can look forward to in the new term

To help you start your Code Club year with ease and fun, we will be launching new free resources for you and your club members. There’ll be a special pack filled with step-by-step instructions and engaging activities to kickstart your first session back, and a fun sticker chart to help young coders mark their progress. 

We would love to see you at our practical and interactive online workshopTen reasons why coding is fun for everyone’ on Thursday 15 September at 16:00–17:00 BST, which will get you ready for National Coding Week (19–23 September). Come along to the workshop to get useful guidance and tips on how to engage everyone with coding.

The Code Club team.

We will also be holding lots of other exciting activities and sessions throughout the upcoming school term, including for World Space Week (4–10 October), the Moonhack coding challenge in October, and World Hello Day in November. So keep an eye on our Twitter @CodeClubUK for live updates. 

Whether you’re interested in learning more about Code Club in Scotland, you have a specific question, or you just want to say hi, I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me at scotland@codeclub.org, or @CodeClubSco on Twitter. I’ll also be attending the Scottish Education Expo on 21 and 22 September along with other Code Club team members, so come along and say hello.

Get involved in Code Club today

With the new school term approaching, now is a great time to register and start a Code Club at your school. You can find out more on our website, codeclub.org, or contact us directly at support@codeclub.org 

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Classroom activities to discuss machine learning accuracy and ethics | Hello World #18

In Hello World issue 18, available as a free PDF download, teacher Michael Jones shares how to use Teachable Machine with learners aged 13–14 in your classroom to investigate issues of accuracy and ethics in machine learning models.

Machine learning: Accuracy and ethics

The landscape for working with machine learning/AI/deep learning has grown considerably over the last couple of years. Students are now able to develop their understanding from the hard-coded end via resources such as Machine Learning for Kids, get their hands dirty using relatively inexpensive hardware such as the Nvidia Jetson Nano, and build a classification machine using the Google-driven Teachable Machine resources. I have used all three of the above with my students, and this article focuses on Teachable Machine.

For this module, I’m more concerned with the fuzzy end of AI, including how credible AI decisions are, and the elephant-in-the-room aspect of bias and potential for harm.

Michael Jones

For the worried, there is absolutely no coding involved in this resource; the ‘machine’ behind the portal does the hard work for you. For my Year 9 classes (students aged 13 to 14) undertaking a short, three-week module, this was ideal. The coding is important, but was not my focus. For this module, I’m more concerned with the fuzzy end of AI, including how credible AI decisions are, and the elephant-in-the-room aspect of bias and potential for harm.

Getting started with Teachable Machine activities

There are three possible routes to use in Teachable Machine, and my focus is the ‘Image Project’, and within this, the ‘Standard image model’. From there, you are presented with a basic training scenario template — see Hello World issue 16 (pages 84–86) for a step-by-step set-up and training guide. For this part of the project, my students trained the machine to recognise different breeds of dog, with border collie, labrador, saluki, and so on as classes. Any AI system devoted to recognition requires a substantial set of training data. Fortunately, there are a number of freely available data sets online (for example, download a folder of dog photos separated by breed by accessing helloworld.cc/dogdata). Be warned, these can be large, consisting of thousands of images. If you have more time, you may want to set students off to collect data to upload using a camera (just be aware that this can present safeguarding considerations). This is a key learning point with your students and an opportunity to discuss the time it takes to gather such data, and variations in the data (for example, images of dogs from the front, side, or top).

Drawing of a machine learning ars rover trying to decide whether it is seeing an alien or a rock.
Image recognition is a common application of machine learning technology.

Once you have downloaded your folders, upload the images to your Teachable Machine project. It is unlikely that you will be able to upload a whole subfolder at once — my students have found that the optimum number of images seems to be twelve. Remember to build this time for downloading and uploading into your lesson plan. This is a good opportunity to discuss the need for balance in the training data. Ask questions such as, “How likely would the model be to identify a saluki if the training set contained 10 salukis and 30 of the other dogs?” This is a left-field way of dropping the idea of bias into the exploration of AI — more on that later!

Accuracy issues in machine learning models

If you have got this far, the heavy lifting is complete and Google’s training engine will now do the work for you. Once you have set your model on its training, leave the system to complete its work — it takes seconds, even on large sets of data. Once it’s done, you should be ready to test you model. If all has gone well and a webcam is attached to your computer, the Output window will give a prediction of what is being viewed. Again, the article in Hello World issue 16 takes you through the exact steps of this process. Make sure you have several images ready to test. See Figure 1a for the response to an image of a saluki presented to the model. As you might expect, it is showing as a 100 percent prediction.

Screenshots from Teachable Machine showing photos of dogs classified as specific breeds with different degrees of confidence by a machine learning model.
Figure 1: Outputs of a Teachable Machine model classifying photos of dog breeds. 1a (left): Photo of a saluki. 1b (right): Photo of a Samoyed and two people.

It will spark an interesting discussion if you now try the same operation with an image with items other than the one you’re testing in it. For example see Figure 1b, in which two people are in the image along with the Samoyed dog. The model is undecided, as the people are affecting the outcome. This raises the question of accuracy. Which features are being used to identify the dogs as border collie and saluki? Why are the humans in the image throwing the model off the scent?

Getting closer to home, training a model on human faces provides an opportunity to explore AI accuracy through the question of what might differentiate a female from a male face. You can find a model at helloworld.cc/maleorfemale that contains 5418 images almost evenly spread across male and female faces (see Figure 2). Note that this model will take a little longer to train.

Screenshot from Teachable Machine showing two datasets of photos of faces labeled either male or female.
Figure 2: Two photo sets of faces labeled either male or female, uploaded to Teachable Machine.

Once trained, try the model out. Props really help — a top hat, wig, and beard give the model a testing time (pun intended). In this test (see Figure 3), I presented myself to the model face-on and, unsurprisingly, I came out as 100 percent male. However, adding a judge’s wig forces the model into a rethink, and a beard produces a variety of results, but leaves the model unsure. It might be reasonable to assume that our model uses hair length as a strong feature. Adding a top hat to the ensemble brings the model back to a 100 percent prediction that the image is of a male.

Screenshots from Teachable Machine showing two datasets of a model classifying photos of the same face as either male or female with different degrees of confidence, based on the face is wearing a wig, a fake beard, or a tophat.
Figure 3: Outputs of a Teachable Machine model classifying photos of the author’s face as male or female with different degrees of confidence. Click to enlarge.

Machine learning uses a best-fit principle. The outputs, in this case whether I am male or female, have a greater certainty of male (65 percent) versus a lesser certainty of female (35 percent) if I wear a beard (Figure 3, second image from the right). Remove the beard and the likelihood of me being female increases by 2 percent (Figure 3, second image from the left).

Bias in machine learning models

Within a fairly small set of parameters, most human faces are similar. However, when you start digging, the research points to there being bias in AI (whether this is conscious or unconscious is a debate for another day!). You can exemplify this by firstly creating classes with labels such as ‘young smart’, ‘old smart’, ‘young not smart’, and ‘old not smart’. Select images that you think would fit the classes, and train them in Teachable Machine. You can then test the model by asking your students to find images they think fit each category. Run them against the model and ask students to debate whether the AI is acting fairly, and if not, why they think that is. Who is training these models? What images are they receiving? Similarly, you could create classes of images of known past criminals and heroes. Train the model before putting yourself in front of it. How far up the percentage scale are you towards being a criminal? It soon becomes frighteningly worrying that unless you are white and seemingly middle class, AI may prove problematic to you, from decisions on financial products such as mortgages through to mistaken arrest and identification.

It soon becomes frighteningly worrying that unless you are white and seemingly middle class, AI may prove problematic to you, from decisions on financial products such as mortgages through to mistaken arrest and identification.

Michael Jones

Encourage your students to discuss how they could influence this issue of race, class, and gender bias — for example, what rules would they use for identifying suitable images for a data set? There are some interesting articles on this issue that you can share with your students at helloworld.cc/aibias1 and helloworld.cc/aibias2.

Where next with your learners?

In the classroom, you could then follow the route of building models that identify letters for words, for example. One of my students built a model that could identify a range of spoons and forks. You may notice that Teachable Machine can also be run on Arduino boards, which adds an extra dimension. Why not get your students to create their own AI assistant that responds to commands? The possibilities are there to be explored. If you’re using webcams to collect photos yourself, why not create a system that will identify students? If you are lucky enough to have a set of identical twins in your class, that adds just a little more flavour! Teachable Machine offers a hands-on way to demonstrate the issues of AI accuracy and bias, and gives students a healthy opportunity for debate.

Michael Jones is director of Computer Science at Northfleet Technology College in the UK. He is a Specialist Leader of Education and a CS Champion for the National Centre for Computing Education.

More resources for AI and data science education

At the Foundation, AI education is one of our focus areas. Here is how we are supporting you and your learners in this area already:

An image demonstrating that AI systems for object recognition do not distinguish between a real banana on a desk and the photo of a banana on a laptop screen.
  • Computing education researchers are working to answer the many open questions about what good AI and data science education looks like for young people. To learn more, you can watch the recordings from our research seminar series focused on this. We ourselves are working on research projects in this area and will share the results freely with the computing education community.
  • You can find a list of free educational resources about these topics that we’ve collated based on our research seminars, seminar participants’ recommendations, and our own work.

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Source: Raspberry Pi – Classroom activities to discuss machine learning accuracy and ethics | Hello World #18

Astro Pi Mission Space Lab 2021/22: The Results

It’s been an incredible year for the European Astro Pi Challenge. We’ve sent new hardware into space, seen record numbers of young people participate in the Challenge, and received lots of fantastic programs. Before we say goodbye to the 2021/22 European Astro Pi Challenge, the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the European Space Agency are thrilled to announce this year’s winning and highly commended Mission Space Lab teams. 

What is Mission Space Lab?

In Mission Space Lab, teams of young people aged up to 19 work together to create scientific experiments to be carried out on the International Space Station. Their mission is to design and create a program to run on the two Astro Pi computers — space-adapted Raspberry Pis with cameras and a range of sensors.  

Samantha Cristoforetti.
ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti with the new Astro Pi computers on the ISS
Credit: ESA/NASA

This year, 799 teams of young people designed experiments and entered Mission Space Lab and 502 of these teams were invited to Phase 2, which is 25% more than last year! The teams each received an Astro Pi kit to write and test their programs on and 299 teams submitted programs that passed rigorous testing at Astro Pi Mission Control and achieved ‘flight status’.

After their program collected data during the experiment’s three-hour runtime on the ISS, each team analysed the results and wrote a short report to describe their experiment.  

We were especially excited to see what experiments young people would investigate this year, as their programs would be the first to run on the brand-new Astro Pi units, which were named after Nikola Tesla and Marie Curie by participants in this year’s Mission Zero.

Astro Pi computers on the ISS.
The two original Astro Pis with the new upgraded Astro Pis, together on the ISS
Credit: ESA/NASA

Let’s take a look at the teams’ investigations for Mission Space Lab 2021/22!

Clouds, volcanos, and seaweed rafts

In this year’s Challenge, the environment and climate change was a strong theme among the 205 team experiment reports. Several teams investigated topics such as changing water levels, wildfires, and the effect of different clouds and aeroplane contrails on global warming. 

Team Seekers from Itis Delpozzo Cuneo in Italy and Team Adastra from St Paul’s Girls’ School in the UK made observations about reduction of water levels in the Aral Sea, located between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

The Aral Sea photographed from the ISS by team Adastra.
Team Adastra compared their image of the Aral Sea with data from Google Earth to show the significant decrease in water coverage

“We have gained skills with data research and machine learning, in relation to scientific experiments, which will hopefully give us a basis to move into more complex projects with machine learning.”

Team Adastra

Team St Marks from Saint Marks Church of England School in the UK calculated NDVI (normalised difference vegetation index) for images they had captured to look for macroplastics in the ocean. This is a technique for identifying vegetation from images. The team used it to search for the rafts of sargassum seaweed that form around plastics floating on the water. They were lucky enough to successfully photograph and identify several seaweed rafts during their three hour experiment time. 

Seaweed rafts photographed on the ISS by team St Marks.
Two seaweed rafts (circled in red) off the coast of Brazil captured by Team St Marks

Team Nanokids from the UK used the Coral machine learning accelerator to analyse images of clouds in real time. Collecting this data could be used to warn aircraft of the risk of turbulence, predict weather, and detect pollution. The team reported that they “learned a lot about the various different cloud types, their characteristics and their different effects, as well as how to create a simple ML model with Teachable Machine, which will help us in future projects.”

Cumulonimbus cloud photographed on the ISS by team Nanokids.
Cumulonimbus cloud analysed by Team Nanokids

Team Centauri from Diverbot in Spain were inspired by the influence of high altitude cloud vapour on the Greenhouse Effect to calculate the height of clouds from images taken by the Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera. They identified the potential to scale-up their experiment, in order to analyse hundreds or thousands of images of clouds and calculate their impact on the temperature of the Earth. 

Cloud formations photographed on the ISS by team Centauri.
Some examples of the cloud formations analysed by Team Centauri

We also saw lots of experiment reports about volcanoes. Team Six Sense from Escola Secundária Inês de Castro in Portugal ran an experiment inspired by the La Palma volcano, which erupted in September 2021. The team’s experiment captured images of a volcano in Fogo Island, Cape Verde. 

Team LandISS from Liceo Scientifico “A. Landi” in Italy captured an extraordinary image of emissions from the Popocatépetl volcano in Mexico, which reactivated in 1994 and has been producing powerful explosions at irregular intervals ever since.

Popocatépetl Volcano photographed from the ISS by team LandISS.
Popocatépetl volcano in the Iztaccíhuatl–Popocatépetl National Park by Team LandISS

Team DuoDo from Liceul Teoretic Tudor Vianu in Romania investigated if there had been changes to vegetation health on the Earth since the pandemic, by comparing NDVI calculations from their data. The judges were especially impressed with how they reported their analysis and results.

NDVI processing by team DoDuo.
NDVI processing by Team DoDuo

Team Atlantes from Niubit in Spain wanted to build a bridge between the real and virtual world by visualising their NDVI calculations as a three dimensional Minecraft video game. Check out how they did this and some of their results in their video.

From ISS 🛰️ to Minecraft 🧱 : Astro Pi Mission Space Lab 2021-22 by Team Atlantes

Team Rocha21, from IES José Frugoni Pérez in the Canary Islands, also explored different ways to communicate and share their data. They used sonoUno (software originally developed to sonify astronomical data) and online Braille translators to design tactile diagrams in order to explore their Life on Earth photographs and NDVI data, working in collaboration with six visually-impaired students.

Up in space

Some of this year’s Mission Space Lab teams chose to conduct their experiments about life on the ISS. We saw experiments to investigate the possibility for growing fungi as space crops (Team NGC224 from CoderDojo Perugia in Italy) and the effect of temperature and pressure on the human body on Earth and in space (Team CDV-CDI2 from CoderDojo Votanikos in Greece, in collaboration with CoderDojo Iraq).

Team Hyperion from JVS Hyperion in Belgium investigated the effect of the sun on the Earth’s magnetic field, comparing data collected during daytime and nighttime as the ISS orbited Earth.

Not only did we get to see this year’s experiments, but we also had a chance to hear them! Sound and music was very popular among the Mission Space Lab teams. 

Team Cuza3 from Colegiul National ”Alexandru Ioan Cuza” in Romania, made “The Ballad of Pressure” by attributing notes to pressure data from the ISS. Team Alessi Pi from Liceo Scientifico “G.Alessi” in Italy made a melody by mapping data to a music scale with other sensor readings mapped to additional instruments. 

Team Gubbins, from Hyvinkään Lukio in Finland, measured magnetic flux density to determine the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field, using the Astro Pi magnetometer, which they sonified and used to make a music video. 

Sonification of the Earth’s magnetic field by Team Gubbins

And the winning teams are…

The judges from ESA and the Raspberry Pi Foundation took on the huge task of reviewing all the reports to consider scientific merit, experiment design and methodology, data analysis, report quality, and innovative use of the Astro Pi hardware. 

The ten winning teams come from coding clubs and schools from France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Romania, and the United Kingdom and will each receive cool space swag. 

Winning teams

Team Project Organisation Country
AdAstra Life on Earth St Paul’s Girls’ School United Kingdom
Asterix Life on Earth Household France
Atlantes Life on Earth Niubit Spain
BetFrac Life on Earth Escoles Betlem Spain
Centauri Life on Earth Diverbot Spain
DoDuo Life on Earth Liceul Teoretic Tudor Vianu Romania
DSpi Life on Earth PEKTPE Grevenon Greece
GreenPi Life in Space IESS European High School Italy
NanoKids Life on Earth Household United Kingdom
RedsTeam Life in Space Household Italy

Highly commended teams

Team Project Organisation Country
CDV-CDI Life on Earth CoderDojo Votanikos and
CoderDojo Iraq
Greece
CorMat Life on Earth Sint-Jan Berchmanscollege Belgium
ISF Life in Space Luxembourg Tech School Luxembourg
LAZOS22 Life on Earth Aux Lazaristes La Salle France
Pithons Life on Earth The Perse School United Kingdom
Rocha21 Life on Earth IES José Frugoni Pérez Spain

Click each team name to read their experiment report. 

Every Astro Pi team that reached Phase 3 of Mission Space Lab will receive a certificate signed by ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti to show family and friends that they have had a scientific experiment run on the ISS! 

The winning and highly commended teams will be invited to an online Q&A with an ESA astronaut in the autumn. Look out for more information about this soon!  

Congratulations Mission Space Lab teams 2021/22

Everyone from the Raspberry Pi Foundation and ESA Education teams congratulates this year’s Mission Space Lab participants — we hope you found it as fun and inspiring as we did! 

Thank you to everyone who has been involved in Mission Zero and Mission Space Lab as part of this year’s Challenge. It has been incredible to have 28,126 young people from 26 countries run their programs in space! We can’t wait to do it all again. 

When will the 2022/23 European Astro Pi Challenge lift off?

Mission Zero and Mission Space Lab relaunch in September 2022!

If you know a young person who would be interested in the Challenge, sign up for the newsletter on astro-pi.org and follow the Astro Pi Twitter account for all the latest announcements.

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Source: Raspberry Pi – Astro Pi Mission Space Lab 2021/22: The Results

Using e-textiles to deliver equitable computing lessons and broaden participation

In our current series of research seminars, we are exploring how computing can be connected to other subjects using cross-disciplinary approaches. In July 2022, our speakers were Professor Yasmin Kafai from the University of Pennsylvania and Elaine Griggs, an award-winning teacher from Pembroke High School, Massachusetts, and we heard about their use of e-textiles to engage learners and broaden participation in computing. 

Professor Yasmin Kafai illustrated her research with a wonderful background made up of young people’s e-textile projects

Building new clubhouses

The spaces where young people learn about computing have sometimes been referred to as clubhouses to relate them to the places where sports or social clubs meet. A computing clubhouse can be a place where learners come together to take part in computing activities and gain a sense of community. However, as Yasmin pointed out, research has found that computing clubhouses have also often been dominated by electronics and robotics activities. This has led to clubhouses being perceived as exclusive spaces for only the young people who share those interests.

Yasmin’s work is motivated by the idea of building new clubhouses that include a wide range of computing interests, with a specific focus on spaces for e-textile activities, to show that diverse uses of computing are valued. 

At Coolest Projects, a group of people explore a coding project.
A group of young people share their projects at Coolest Projects

Yasmin’s research into learning through e-textiles has taken place in formal computing lessons in high schools in America, by developing and using a unit from the Exploring Computer Science curriculum called “Stitching the Loop”. In the seminar, we were fortunate to be joined by Elaine, a computer science and robotics teacher who has used the scheme of work in her classroom. Elaine’s learners have designed wearable electronic textile projects with microcontrollers, sensors, LEDs, and conductive thread. With these materials, learners have made items such as paper circuits, wristbands, and collaborative banners, as shown in the examples below. 

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 Items created by learners in the e-textile units of work

Teaching approaches for equity-oriented learning

The hands-on, project-based approach in the e-textile unit has many similarities with the principles underpinning the work we do at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. However, there were also two specific teaching approaches that were embedded in Elaine’s teaching in order to promote equitable learning in the computing classroom: 

  1. Prioritising time for learners to design their artefacts at the start of the activity.
  2. Reflecting on learning through the use of a digital portfolio.  

Making time for design

As teachers with a set of learning outcomes to deliver, we can often feel a certain pressure to structure lessons so that our learners spend the most time on activities that we feel will deliver those outcomes. I was very interested to hear how in these e-textile projects, there was a deliberate choice to foreground the aesthetics. When learners spent time designing their artefacts and could link it to their own interests, they had a sense of personal ownership over what they were making, which encouraged them to persevere and overcome any difficulties with sewing, code, or electronics. 

Title: Process of making your project.   Learner's reflection: One main challenge that I faced while making this project was setting up my circuit diagram. I had trouble setting up where all my lights were gonna be placed at, and I had trouble color coding where the negatives and positives would be at. I sketched about 6 different papers and the 6th page was the one that came out fine because all of the other ones had negative and positive crossings which was not gonna help the program work, so I was finally able to get my diagram correct.
Spending time on design helped this learner to persevere with problem-solving

My personal reflection was that creating a digital textiles project based on a set template could be considered the equivalent of teaching programming by copying code. Both approaches would increase the chances of a successful output, but wouldn’t necessarily increase learners’ understanding of computing concepts, nor encourage learners to perceive computing as a subject where everyone belongs. I was inspired by the insights shared at the seminar about how prioritising design time can lead to more diverse representations of making. 

Reflecting on learning using a digital portfolio

Elaine told us that learners were encouraged to create a digital portfolio which included photographs of the different stages of their project, examples of their code, and reflections on the problems that they had solved during the project. In the picture below, the learner has shared both the ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ versions of their code, along with an explanation of how they debugged the error. 

A student portfolio with the title 'Coding Challenge'. The wrong code is on the left-hand side and the right code is on the right. The student has included an explanation beneath the wrong code: This is the wrong code. The problem I had was that I was putting the semicolon outside of the bracket. But the revision I needed was putting the semicolon inside of the bracket. That problem was a hard one to see because it is a very minor problem and most people wouldn't have caught it.
A learner’s example of debugging code from their portfolio

Yasmin explained the equity-oriented theories underpinning the digital portfolio teaching approach. The learners’ reflections allowed deeper understanding of the computing and electronics concepts involved and helped to balance the personalised nature of their artefacts with the need to meet learning goals.

Yasmin also emphasised how important it was for learners to take part in a series of projects so that they encountered computing and electronics concepts more than once. In this way, reflective journalling can be seen as an equitable teaching approach because it helps to move learners on from their initial engagement into more complex projects. Thinking back to the clubhouse model, it is equally important for learners to be valued for their complex e-textile projects as it is for their complex robotics projects, and so portfolios of a series of e-textile projects show that a diverse range of learners can be successful in computing at the highest levels. 

Try e-textiles with your learners

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Science and nature models made with an RPF project

If you’re thinking about ways of introducing e-textile activities to your learners, there are some useful resources here: 

  • The Exploring Computer Science page contains all the information and resources relating to the “Stitching the Loop” electronic textiles unit. You can also find the video that Yasmin and Elaine shared during the seminar. 
  • For e-textiles in a non-formal learning space, the StitchFest webpage has lots of information about an e-textile hackathon that took place in 2014, designed to broaden participation and perceptions in computing. 
  • 3D LED science display with Scratch” is a project that combines using LEDs with science and nature to create a 3D installation. This project is from the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s “Physical computing with Scratch and the Raspberry Pi” projects pathway.

Looking forward to our next free seminar

We’re having a short break in the seminar series but will be back in September when we’ll be continuing to find out more about cross-disciplinary approaches to computing.

In our next seminar on Tuesday 6 September 2022 at 17:00–18:30 BST / 12:00–13:30 EST / 9:00–10:30 PST / 18:00–19:30 CEST, we’ll be hearing all about the links between computing and dance, with our speaker Genevieve Smith-Nunes (University of Cambridge). Genevieve will be speaking about data ethics for the computing classroom through biometrics, ballet, and augmented reality (AR) which promises to be a fascinating perspective on bringing computing to new audiences.

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Source: Raspberry Pi – Using e-textiles to deliver equitable computing lessons and broaden participation

What we learnt from the CSTA 2022 Annual Conference

From experience, being connected to a community of fellow computing educators is really important, especially given that some members of the community may be the only computing educator in their school, district, or country. These professional connections enable educators to share and learn from each other, develop their practice, and importantly reduce any feelings of isolation.

It was great to see the return of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) Annual Conference to an in-person event this year, and I was really excited to be able to attend.

A teacher attending Picademy laughs as she works through an activity

Our small Raspberry Pi Foundation team headed to Chicago for four and a half days of meetups, professional development, and conversations with educators from all across the US and around the world. Over the week our team ran workshops, delivered a keynote talk, gave away copies of Hello World magazine, and signed up many new subscribers. You too can subscribe to Hello World magazine for free at helloworld.cc/subscribe.

We spoke to so many educators about all parts of the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s work, with a particular focus on the Hello World magazine and podcast, and of course The Big Book of Computing Pedagogy. In collaboration with CSTA, we were really proud to be able to provide all attendees with their own physical copy of this very special edition. 

It was genuinely exciting to see how pleased attendees were to receive their copy of The Big Book of Computing Pedagogy. So many came to talk to us about how they’d used the digital copy already and their plans for using the book for training and development initiatives in their schools and districts. We gave away every last spare copy we had to teachers who wanted to share the book with their colleagues who couldn’t attend.

Don’t worry if you couldn’t make it to the conference, The Big Book of Computing Pedagogy is available as a free PDF, which due to its Creative Commons licence you are welcome to print for yourself.

Another goal for us at CSTA was to support and encourage new authors to the magazine in order to ensure that Hello World continues to be the magazine for computing educators, by computing educators. Anyone can propose an article idea for Hello World by completing this form. We’re confident that every computing educator out there has at least one story to tell, lessons or learnings to share, or perhaps a cautionary tale of something that failed.

We’ll review any and all ideas and will support you to craft your idea into a finished article. This is exactly what we began to do at the conference with our workshop for writers led by Gemma Coleman, our fantastic Hello World Editor. We’re really excited to see these ideas flourish into full-blown articles over the coming weeks and months.

Our week culminated in a keynote talk delivered by Sue, Jane, and James, exploring how we developed our 12 pedagogy principles that underpin The Big Book of Computing Pedagogy, as well as much of the content we create at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. These principles are designed to describe a set of approaches that educators can add to their toolkit, giving them a shared language and the agency to select when and how they employ each approach. This was something we explored with teachers in our final breakout session where teachers applied these principles to describe a lesson or activity of their own.

We found the experience extremely valuable and relished the opportunity to talk about teaching and learning with educators and share our work. We are incredibly grateful to the entire CSTA team for organising a fantastic conference and inviting us to participate.

Discover more with Hello World — for free

Cover of issue 19 of Hello World magazine.

Subscribe now to get each new Hello World straight to your digital inbox, for free! And if you’re based in the UK and do paid or unpaid work in education, you can subscribe for free print issues.

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Source: Raspberry Pi – What we learnt from the CSTA 2022 Annual Conference

Young people’s projects for a sustainable future

This post has been adapted from issue 19 of Hello World magazine, which explored the interaction between technology and sustainability.

We may have had the Coolest Projects livestream, but we are still in awe of the 2092 projects that young people sent in for this year’s online technology showcase! To continue the Coolest Projects Global 2022 celebrations, we’re shining a light on some of the participants and the topics that inspired their projects.    

Coolest Projects team and participants at an in-person event.

In this year’s showcase, the themes of sustainability and the environment were extremely popular. We received over 300 projects related to the environment from young people all over the world. Games, apps, websites, hardware — we’ve seen so many creative projects that demonstrate how important the environment is to young people. 

Here are some of these projects and a glimpse into how kids and teens across the world are using technology to look after their environment.      

Using tech to make one simple change 

Has anyone ever told you that a small change can lead to a big impact? Check out these two Coolest Projects entries that put this idea into practice with clever inventions to make positive changes to the environment.

Arik (15) from the UK wanted to make something to reduce the waste he noticed at home. Whenever lots of people visited Arik’s house, getting the right drink for everyone was a challenge and often resulted in wasted, spilled drinks. This problem was the inspiration behind Arik’s ‘Liquid Dispenser’ project, which can hold two litres of any desired liquid and has an outer body made from reused cardboard. As Arik says, “You don’t need a plastic bottle, you just need a cup!”

A young person's home-made project to help people get a drink at the press of a button.
Arik’s project helps you easily select a drink with the press of a button

Amrit (13), Kingston (12), and Henry (12) from Canada were also inspired to make a project to reduce waste. ‘Eco Light’ is a light that automatically turns off when someone leaves their house to avoid wasted electricity. For the project, the team used a micro:bit to detect the signal strength and decide whether the LED should be on (if someone is in the house) or off (if the house is empty).

“We wanted to create something that hopefully would create a meaningful impact on the world.”

Amrit, Kingston, and Henry

Projects for local and global positive change 

We love to see young people invent things to have positive changes in the community, on a local and global level.

This year, Sashrika (11) from the US shared her ‘Gas Leak Detector’ project, which she designed to help people who heat their homes with diesel. On the east coast of America, many people store their gas tanks in the basement. This means they may not realise if the gas is leaking. To solve this problem, Sashrika has combined programming with physical computing to make a device that can detect if there is a gas leak and send a notification to your phone. 

A young person and their home-made gas leak detector.
Sashrika and her gas leak detector

Sashrika’s project has the power to help lots of people and she has even thought about how she would make more changes to her project in the name of sustainability: 

“I would probably add a solar panel because there are lots of houses that have outdoor oil tanks. Solar panel[s] will reduce electricity consumption and reduce CO2 emission[s].”

Sashrika

Amr in Syria was also thinking about renewable energy sources when he created his own ‘Smart Wind Turbine’.  

The ‘Smart Wind Turbine’ is connected to a micro:bit to measure the electricity generated by a fan. Amr conducted tests that recorded that more electricity was generated when the turbine faced in the direction of the wind. So Amr made a wind vane to determine the wind’s direction and added another micro:bit to communicate the results to the turbine. 

Creating projects for the future  

We’ve also seen projects created by young people to make the world a better place for future generations. 

Naira and Rhythm from India have designed houses that are suited for people and the planet. They carried out a survey and from their results they created the ‘Net Zero Home’. Naira and Rhythm’s project offers an idea for homes that are comfortable for people of all abilities and ages, while also being sustainable.

“Our future cities will require a lot of homes, this means we will require a lot of materials, energy, water and we will also produce a lot of waste. So we have designed this net zero home as a solution.”

Naira and Rhythm

Andrea (9) and Yuliana (10) from the US have also made something to benefit future generations. The ‘Bee Counter’ project uses sensors and a micro:bit to record bees’ activity around a hive. Through monitoring the bees, the team hope they can see (and then fix) any problems with the hive. Andrea and Yuliana want to maintain the bees’ home to help them continue to have a positive influence on our environment.

Knowledge is power: projects to educate and inspire 

Some young creators use Coolest Projects as an opportunity to educate and inspire people to make environmental changes in their own lives.

Sabrina (13) from the UK created her own website, ‘A Guide to Climate Change’. It includes images, text, graphics of the Earth’s temperature change, and suggestions for people to minimise their waste.  Sabrina also received the Broadcom Coding with Commitment award for using her skills to provide vital information about the effects of climate change.

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Sabrina’s project

Kushal (12) from India wanted to use tech to encourage people to help save the environment. Kushal had no experience of app development before making his ‘Green Steps’ app. He says, “I have created a mobile app to connect like-minded people who want to do something about [the] environment.” 

A young person's app to help people connect over a shared interest in the environment.
Kushal’s app helps people to upload and save pictures, like content from other users, and access helpful resources

These projects are just some of the incredible ideas we’ve seen young people enter for Coolest Projects this year. It’s clear from the projects submitted that the context of the environment and protecting our planet resonates with so many students, summarised by Sabrina, “Some of us don’t understand how important the earth is to us. And I hope we don’t have to wait until it is gone to realise.” 

Check out the Coolest Projects showcase for even more projects about the environment, alongside other topics that have inspired young creators.

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Source: Raspberry Pi – Young people’s projects for a sustainable future

Learn how to teach computing to 5- to 11-year-olds

Introducing children to computing concepts from a young age can help develop their interest and attachment to the subject. While parents might wonder what the best tools and resources are for this, primary and K1–5 educators also need to know what approaches work with their learners.

Girls writing programs on their computers.

‘Teaching computing to 5- to 11-year-olds’ is one of the new course pathways we’ve designed to help educators spark young people’s interest in the subject. Our online courses are made by a team of writers, videographers, illustrators, animators, copy editors, presenters, and subject matter experts. They work together over months of production to create high-quality educational video content for participants all over the world.

This course pathway offers advice and practical activities to: 

  • Support young people to create and solve problems with technology
  • Promote the relevance of computing in young people’s lives
  • Create inclusive learning experiences   

Our new course pathway for primary educators  

The nine courses included give you a comprehensive understanding of teaching computing to younger learners (5- to 11-year-olds). All the courses have been written by a team of subject matter experts, education professionals, and teachers. Some of the courses cover a specific topic, such as programming or physical computing, while others help educators reflect on their teaching practice

Child using Scratch on a laptop.
With Scratch, young people can learn how to program their own games, animations, stories, and more!

All of the courses include a range of ideas to use in your own programming sessions. The activities will help you to introduce concepts like computer networks and the internet to young learners in a relatable way. There are also activities to help learners progress within a topic, such as moving from a block-based programming language like Scratch to a text-based one like Python.      

What will I gain from the courses? 

The courses are an opportunity to: 

  • Discover new computing activities
  • Get support from our team of course facilitators
  • Meet other educators from around the world!  

Do I need any previous experience with computing?

These courses will give you everything you need to teach computing to young learners. No computing experience is required. 

There is also no specific order in which you need to complete the courses. We want educators to complete the courses in an order that makes sense to them.

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If you are new to teaching computing, ‘Get started teaching computing in primary schools’ is the place to start. The four-week course will encourage you to think about why it’s important for your learners to build their understanding around computing. You’ll discover how to support learners to become digital makers who can use technology to solve problems. Everyone who registers on the course will have access to an action plan to help implement what they have learnt into their teaching practice.            

Who is the pathway for? 

These are free courses for anyone, anywhere, who is interested in teaching young people about computing. 

A teacher aids children in the classroom

How much time will I spend on each course? 

All of the courses take between two and four weeks to complete, based on participants spending two hours a week on a course. You will have free access to each course for the length of time it takes to complete it. For example, if it’s a two week course, like ‘Creating an inclusive classroom: approaches to supporting learners with SEND in computing’, you will have two weeks of free access to the course. 

Discover what you could learn with ‘Teaching computing to 5- to 11-year-olds’ today.

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Source: Raspberry Pi – Learn how to teach computing to 5- to 11-year-olds

How to create great educational video content for computing and beyond

Over the past five years, we’ve made lots of online educational video content for our online courses, for our Isaac Computer Science platform for GCSE and A level, and for our remote lessons based on our Teach Computing Curriculum hosted on Oak National Academy.

We have learned a lot from experience and from learner feedback, and we want to share this knowledge with others. We’re also aware there’s always more to learn from people across the computing education community. That’s one reason we’re continually working to broaden the range of educators we work with. Another is that we want all learners to see themselves represented in our educational materials, because everyone belongs in computer science.

Facilitators and participants involved in the Teach Online programme.
RPF staff and the Teach Online participants

To make progress with all these goals, we ran a pilot programme for educators called Teach Online at the end of 2021 and the start of 2022. Through Teach Online, we provided twelve educators with training, opportunities, and financial and material support to help them with creating online educational content, particularly videos.

Over five online sessions and a final in-person day, we trained them in not only the production of educational videos, but also some of the pedagogy behind it. The pilot programme has now finished, and we thought we’d share some of the key points from the sessions with you in the wider community.

Learning to create a great online learning experience

When you learn new skills and knowledge, it’s important to think about how you apply these. For this reason, a useful question you can use throughout the learning process is “Why?”. So as you think about how to create the best online learning experience, ask yourself in different contexts throughout the content design and production:

  • Why am I using this style of video to illustrate this topic?
  • Why am I presenting these ideas in this order?
  • Why am I using this choice of words?

For example, it’s easy to default to creating ‘talking head’ videos featuring one person talking directly to the camera. But you should always ask why — what are the reasons for using a ‘talking head’ style. Instead, or in addition, you can make videos more engaging and support the learning experience by:

  • Turning the video into an interview
  • Adding other camera angles or screencasts to focus on demonstrations
  • Cutting away to B-roll footage (additional video that can provide context or related action, while the voiceover continues) or to still images that help connect a concept to concrete examples
Teach Computing programme participant.
Teach Online participants explored different ways to make their videos engaging

Planning is key

By planning your content carefully instead of jumping into production right away, you can:

  • Better visualise what your video should look like by creating a storyboard
  • Keep learners engaged by deliberately splitting learning up into smaller chunks while still keeping a narrative flow between them
  • Develop your learners’ understanding of key computing concepts by using semantic waves to unpack and repack concepts

The Teach Online participants told us that they particularly enjoyed learning more about planning videos:

“I now understand that a little planning can make the difference between a mediocre online learning experience and a professional-looking valuable learning experience.” – Educator who participated in our Teach Online programme

“Planning the session using a storyboard is so helpful to visualise the actual recording.” – Educator who participated in our Teach Online programme

Storyboard from a Teach Computing participant.
Storyboards are a great option to plan online learning experiences

Considering equity, diversity, and inclusion

We are committed to making computing and computer science accessible and engaging, so we embed measures to improve equity, diversity, and inclusion throughout our free learning and teaching resources, including the Teach Online programme. It’s important not to leave this aspect of creating educational content as an afterthought: you can only make sure that your content is truly as equitable and inclusive as you can make it if you address this at every stage of your process. As an added bonus, many ways of making your content more accessible not only benefit learners with specific needs, but support and engage all of your audience so everyone can learn more easily.

Best practices that you can use while creating online content include:

Connecting with your learner audience

One of video’s key advantages is the ability to immediately connect with the audience. To help with that, you can try to talk directly to a single viewer, using “you” and “I” rather than “we”. You can also show off your personality in the presentation slides you use and the backgrounds of your videos.

“[I will use my learning from the programme] by adapting teaching and learning to actively engage learners.” – Educator who participated in our Teach Online programme

It’s important to find your own personal presenting style. There is not one perfect way to present, and you should experiment to find how you are best able to communicate with your viewers. How formal or informal will you be? Is your delivery calm or energetic? Whatever you decide, you may want to edit your script to better fit your style. A practical tip for doing this is to read your video scripts aloud while you are writing them to spot any language that feels awkward to you when spoken. 

“It was really great to try the presenting skills, and I learned a lot about my style.” – Educator who participated in our Teach Online programme

A videographer preparing to film a course presenter.

Connecting with each other

Throughout the Teach Online programme, we helped participants create a community with each other. Finding your own community can give you the support that you need to create, and help you continue to develop your knowledge and skills. Working together is great, whether that’s collaborating in-person locally, or online via for example the CAS forums or social media.

“I very much liked the diverse group of educators in this programme, and appreciated everyone sharing their experiences and tips.” – Educator who participated in our Teach Online programme

The Teach Online graduate have told us about the positive impact the programme has had on their teaching in their own contexts. So far we’ve worked with graduates to create Isaac Computer Science videos covering data structures, high- and low-level languages, and string handling.

What do you want to know about creating online educational content?

There is a growing need for online educational content, particularly videos — not only to improve access to education, but also to support in-person teaching. By investing in training educators, we help diversify the pool of people working in this area, improve the confidence of those who would like to start, and provide them with the skills and knowledge to successfully create great content for their learners.

In the future we’d also like to support the wider community of educators with creating online educational content. What resources would you find useful? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Source: Raspberry Pi – How to create great educational video content for computing and beyond

How do I start my child coding?

You may have heard a lot about coding and how important it is for children to start learning about coding as early as possible. Computers have become part of our lives, and we’re not just talking about the laptop or desktop computer you might have in your home or on your desk at work. Your phone, your microwave, and your car are all controlled by computers, and those computers need instructions to tell them what to do. Coding, or computer programming, involves writing those instructions.

A boy types code at a CoderDojo coding club.

If children discover a love for coding, they will have an avenue to make the things they want to make; to write programs and build projects that they find useful, fun, or interesting. So how do you give your child the opportunity to learn about coding? We’ve listed some free resources and suggested activities below.

Scratch Junior 

If you have a young child under about 7 years of age, then a great place to begin is with ScratchJr. This is an app available on Android and iOS phones and tablets, that lets children learn the basics of programming, without having to worry about making mistakes.

ScratchJr programming interface.

Code Club World

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has developed a series of activities for young learners, on their journey to developing their computing skills. Code Club World provides a platform for children to play with code to design their own avatar, make it dance, and play music. Plus they can share their creations with other learners. 

“You could have a go too and discover Scratch together. The platform is designed for complete beginners and it is great fun to play with.”

Carol Thornhill, Engineering Science MA, Mathematics teacher

Scratch

For 7- to 11-year-old children, Scratch is a good way to begin their journey in coding, or to progress from ScratchJr. Like ScratchJr, Scratch is a block-based language, allowing children to assemble code to produce games, animations, stories, or even use some of the add-ons to interact with electronic devices and explore physical computing.

A girl with her Scratch project
A girl with a Scratch project she has coded.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has hundreds of Scratch projects that your child can try out, but the best place to begin is with our Introduction to Scratch path, which will provide your child with the basic skills they need, and then encourage them to build projects that are relevant to them, culminating in their creation of their own interactive ebook.

Your child may never tire of Scratch, and that is absolutely fine — it is a fully functioning programming language that is surprisingly powerful, when you learn to understand everything it can do. Another advantage of Scratch is that it provides easy access to graphics, sounds, and interactivity that can be trickier to achieve in other programming languages.

Python 

If you’re looking for more traditional programming languages for your child to progress on to, especially when they reach 12 years of age or beyond, then we like to direct our young learners to the Python programming language and to the languages that the World Wide Web is built on, particularly HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Animation coded in Python of an archery target disk.
An animation coded using Python.

Our Python resources cover the basics of using the language, and then progress from there. Python is one of the most widely used languages when it comes to the fields of artificial intelligence and data science, and we have resources to support your child in learning about these fascinating aspects of technology. Our projects can even introduce your child to the world of electronics and physical computing with activities that use the inexpensive Raspberry Pi Pico, and a handful of electronic components, enabling your kids to create a wide variety of art installations and useful gadgets.

“Trying Python doesn’t mean you can’t go back to Scratch or switch between Scratch and Python for different purposes. I still use Scratch for some projects myself!”

Tracy Gardner, Computer Science PhD, former IBM Software Architect and currently a project writer at the Raspberry Pi Foundation

A young person codes at a Raspberry Pi computer.
Python is a great text-based programming language for young people to learn.

Coding projects

On our coding tutorials website we have many different projects to help your child learn coding and digital making. These range from beginner resources like the Introduction to Scratch path to more advanced activities such as the Introduction to Unity path, where children can learn how to make 3D worlds and games. 

“Our new project paths can be tackled by young creators on their own, without adult intervention. Paths are structured so that they build skills and confidence in the early stages, and then provide more open-ended tasks and inspirational ideas that creators can adapt or work from.”

Rik Cross, BSc (Hons), PGCE, former teacher and Director of Informal Learning at the Raspberry Pi Foundation

Web development 

The Web is integral to many of our lives, and we believe that it is important for children to have an understanding of the technology that drives it. That is why we have an Introduction to the Web path that allows children to develop their own web pages, focusing on the kinds of webpages that they want to build, be that sending a greeting card, telling a story, or creating a showcase of their projects.

A girl has fun learning to code at home on a tablet sitting on a sofa.
It’s empowering for children to learn to how the websites they visit are created with code.

Coding clubs 

Coding clubs are a great place for children to have fun and become more confident with coding, where they can learn through making and share their creations with each other. The Raspberry Pi Foundation operates the world’s largest network of coding clubs — CoderDojo and Code Club

“I have a new group of creators at my Code Club every year and my favourite part is when they realise they really can let their imagination run wild. You want to make an animation where a talking pineapple chases a snowman — absolutely. You want to make a piece of scalable art out of 1000 pixelated cartoon musical instruments — go right ahead. If you can code it, you can make it ”

Liz Smart, Code Club and CoderDojo mentor, former Solutions Architect and project writer for the Raspberry Pi Foundation

Three teenage girls at a laptop.
At Code Club and CoderDojo, many young people enjoy teaming up to code projects together.

Coding challenges 

Once your child has learnt some of the basics, they may enjoy entering a coding challenge! The European Astro Pi Challenge programme allows young people to write code and actually have it run on the International Space Station, and Coolest Projects gives children a chance to showcase their projects from across the globe.

A Coolest Projects participant
A girl with her coded creation at an in-person Coolest Projects showcase.

Free resources 

No matter what technology your child wants to engage with, there is a wealth of free resources and materials available from organisations such as the Raspberry Pi Foundation and Scratch Foundation, that prepare young people for 21st century life. Whether they want to become professional software engineers, tinker with some electronics, or just have a play around … encourage them to explore some coding projects, and see what they can learn, make, and do!


Author: Marc Scott, BSc (Hons) is a former Science, Computer Science, and Engineering teacher and the Content Lead for Projects at the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

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Are you technocentric? Shifting from technology to people

When we teach children and young people about computing, do we consider how the subject has developed over time, how it relates to our students’ lives, and importantly, what our values are? Professor Pratim Sengupta shared some of the research he and his colleagues have been working on related to these questions in our June 2022 research seminar.

Pratim Sengupta.
Prof. Pratim Sengupta

Pratim revealed a complex landscape where we as educators can be easily trapped by what may seem like good intentions, thereby limiting learning and excluding some students. His presentation, entitled Computational heterogeneity in STEM education, introduced me to the concept of technocentrism and profoundly impacted my thinking about the essence of programming and how I research it. In this blog post, particularly for those unable to attend this stimulating seminar, I give my simplified view of the rich philosophy shared by Pratim, and my fledgling steps to admit to my technocentrism and overcome it.

Our seminars on teaching cross-disciplinary computing

Between May 2022 and November 2022, we are hosting a new series of free research seminars about teaching computing in different ways and in different contexts. This second seminar of the series was well attended with participants from the USA, Asia, Africa, and Europe, including teachers, researchers, and industry professionals, who contributed to a lively and thought-provoking discussion.

Two teachers and a group of learners are gathered around a laptop screen.

Pratim is a learning scientist based in Canada with a long and distinguished career. He has studied how to teach computational modelling in K-12 STEM classrooms and investigates the complexity of learning. Grounded in working with teachers and students, he brings together computing, science, education, and social justice. Based on his work at Northwestern University, Vanderbilt University, and now with the Mind, Matter and Media lab at the University of Calgary, Pratim has published hundreds of academic papers over some 20 years. Pratim and his team challenge how we focus on making technological artefacts — code for code’s sake — in computing education, and refocuses us on the human experience of coding and learning to code.

What is technocentrism?

Pratim started the seminar by giving us an overview of some of the key ideas that underpin the way that computing is usually taught in schools, including technocentrism (Figure 1).

Pratim Sengupta's summary of technocentrism: device-centred approaches for pedagogy and computational design; ignores teaching, social and institutional infrastructures, cultural histories; transparency or universality of code as symbolic power; recursive methods for education research, experience measured by being folded back onto devices; leads to symbolic violence, misrecognition of experience, muting and omission of voices, affect and moral dimensions of experience.
Figure 1: The features of technocentrism, a way of thinking about how we teach computing, particularly programming (Sengupta, 2022). Click to enlarge.

I have come to a simplified understanding of technocentrism. To me, it appears to be a way of looking at how we learn about computer science, where one might:

  • Focus on the finished product (e.g. a computer program), rather than thinking about the people who create, learn about, or use a program
  • Ignore the context and the environment, rather than paying attention to the history, the political situation, and the social context of the task at hand
  • View computing tasks as being implemented (enacted) by writing code, rather than seeing computing activities as rich and complex jumbles of meaning-making and communication that involve people using chatter, images, and lots of gestures
  • Anchor learning in concepts and skills, rather than placing the values and viewpoints of learners at the heart of teaching 

Examples of technocentrism and how to overcome it

Pratim recounted several research activities that he and his team have engaged with. These examples highlight instances of potential technocentrism and investigate how we might overcome it.

In the first example research activity, Pratim explained how in maths and physics lessons, middle school students were asked to develop models to solve time and distance problems. Rather than immediately coding a potential solution, the researcher and teacher supported the learners to spend much time developing a shared perspective to understand and express the problems first. Students grappled with different ways of representing the context, including graphs and diagrams (see Figure 2). Gradually and carefully, teachers shifted students to recognise what was important and what was not, to move them toward a meaningful language to describe and solve the problems.

Research results from Pratim Sengupta showing students' graph designs and how much time they spent on various activities during the graphing task.
Figure 2: Two graphs from students showing different representations of a context, and a researcher’s bar chart representing how students’ shared understanding emerged over time (Sengupta, 2022). Click to enlarge.

In a second example research activity, students were asked to build a machine that draws shapes using sensors, motors, and code. Rather than jumping straight to a solution, the students spent time with authentic users of their machines. Throughout the process, students worked with others, expressing the context through physical movement, clarifying their thoughts by drawing diagrams, and finding the sweet spot between coding, engineering design, and maths (see Figure 3).

Research results from Pratim Sengupta showing images documenting a physical computing design activity and how learners explained their design.
Figure 3:  Students used physical movements and user guides to be with others and publicly share and experience the task with authentic users (Sengupta, 2022). Click to enlarge.

In a third example research activity, racial segregation of US communities was discussed with pre-service teachers. The predominately white teachers found talking about the topic very difficult at the beginning of the activity. To overcome this hesitancy, teachers were first asked to work with a simulation that modelled the process of segregation through abstracted dots (or computational agents), a transitional other. Following this hypothetical representation, the context was then recontextualised through a map of real data points of the ethnicity of residents in an area of the US. This kind of map is called a Racial Dot Map based on US census data. When the teachers were able to interpret the link between the abstracted dot simulation and the real-world data they were able to talk about racism and segregation in a way they could not do before. The initial simulation and the recontextualisation were a pedagogical tool to reveal racism and provide a space where students felt comfortable discussing their values and beliefs that would otherwise have remained implicit.

Pratim Sengupta explains a research activity with predominantly white pre-service teachers who learned to discuss racism and segregation through a transitional othering activity using maps and graphing census data.
Figure 4: To facilitate discussion of racial segregation, a simulation was used that bridges abstracted dots and real people, giving pre-service teachers a space to reflect on discrimination  (Sengupta, 2022). Click to enlarge.

My takeaways

Pratim shared four implications of this research for computing pedagogy (see Figure 5).

Pratim Sengupta presents the pedagogical implications of shifting from technocentrism to perspectival heterogeneity in education: code as utterances and intertext; heterogeneity and tranformation of representational genres, code lives in translation; teachers' voice needs to be centred in system and activity design and classroom work, researchers must listen; uncertainty and ambiguity play central roles, recognition takes time.
Figure 5: Pratim’s four implications for pedagogy. Click to enlarge

As a researcher of pedagogy, these points provide takeaways that I can relate to my own research practice:

  • Code is a voice within an experience rather than symbols at a point in time. For example, when I listen to students predicting what a snippet of code will do, I think of the active nature of each carefully chosen command and how for each student, the code corresponds with them differently.
  • Code lives as a translation bridging many dimensions, such as data representation, algorithms, syntax, and user views. This statement resonates deeply with my liking of Carsten Schultes’s block model [1] but extends to include the people involved.
  • We should listen carefully and attentively to teachers, rather than making assumptions about what happens in classrooms. Teachers create new ideas. This takeaway is very important and reminds me about the trust and relationships built between teachers and researchers and how important it is to listen.
  • Uncertainty and ambiguity exist in learning, and this can take time to recognise. This final point makes me smile. As a developer, teacher, and researcher, I have found dealing with ambiguity hard at various points in my career. Still, over time, I think I am getting better at seeing it and celebrating it. 

Listening to Pratim share his research on the teaching and learning of computing and the pitfalls of technocentrism has made me think deeply about how I view computer science as a subject and do research about it. I have shared some of my reflections in this blog, and I plan to incorporate the underlying theory and ideas in my ongoing research projects.

If you would like to find out more about Pratim’s work, please look over his slides, watch his presentation, read the upcoming chapter in our seminar proceedings, or respond to this blog by leaving a comment so we can discuss!

Join our next seminar

We have another four seminars in our current series on cross-disciplinary computing

At our next seminar on 12 July 2022 at 17:00–18:30 BST / 12:00–13:30 EDT / 9:00–10:30 PDT / 18:00–19:30 CEST, we will welcome Prof. Yasmin Kafai and Elaine Griggs, who are going to present research on introductory equity-oriented computer science with electronic textiles for high school students.

We look forward to meeting you there.


[1] You can learn more in the Hello World article where our Chief Learning Officer Sue Sentance talks about the block model.

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Source: Raspberry Pi – Are you technocentric? Shifting from technology to people

A pair programming approach for engaging girls in the Computing classroom: Study results

Today we share the second report in our series of findings from the Gender Balance in Computing research programme, which we’ve been running as part of the National Centre for Computing Education and with various partners. In this £2.4 million research programme, funded by the Department for Education in England, we aim to identify ways to encourage more female learners to engage with Computing and choose to study it further.

A teacher encourages a learner in the computing classroom.

Previously, we shared the evaluation report about our pilot study of using a storytelling approach with very young computing learners. This new report, again coming from the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) which acts as the programme’s independent evaluator, describes our study of another teaching approach.

Existing research suggests that computing is not always taught in a way that is engaging for girls in particular [1], and that we can improve this. With the intervention at hand, we wanted to explore the effects of using a pair programming teaching approach with primary school learners aged 8 to 11. We have critically and carefully examined the findings, which show mixed outcomes regarding the effectiveness of the approach, and we believe that the research provides insights that increase our shared understanding of how to teach computing effectively to young learners. 

Computing education through a collaborative lens

Many people think that writing computer programs is a task carried out by people working individually. A 2017 study of 8- and 9-year-olds [2] confirms this: when asked to draw a picture of a computer scientist doing work, 90% of the children drew a picture of one person working alone. This stereotype is present in teaching and learning about computing and computer science; many computer programming lessons take place in a way that promotes solitary working, with individual students sitting in front of separate computers, working on their own code and debugging their own errors.

A girl codes at a laptop while a woman looks on during a Code Club session.

Professional software development rarely happens like this. For example, at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, our software engineers work collaboratively on design and often pair up to solve problems. Computing education research also has identified the importance of looking at computer programming through a collaborative lens. This viewpoint allows us to see computing as a subject with scope for collaborative group work in which students create useful applications together and are part of a community where programming has a shared social context [3]. 

Researching collaborative learning in the primary computing classroom 

One teaching approach in computing that promotes collaborative learning is pair programming (a practice also used in industry). This is a structured way of working on programming tasks  where learners are paired up and take turns acting as the driver or the navigator. The driver controls the keyboard and mouse and types the code. The navigator reads the instructions, supports the driver by watching out for errors in the code, and thinks strategically about next steps and solutions to problems. Learners swap roles every 5 to 10 minutes, to ensure that both partners can contribute equally and actively to the collaborative learning.

Two female learners code at a computer together.

As one part of the Gender Balance in Computing programme, we designed a project to explore the effect of pair programming on girls’ attitudes towards computing. This project builds on research from the USA which suggests that solving problems collaboratively increases girls’ persistence when they encounter difficulties in programming tasks [4].

In the Pair Programming project, we worked with teachers of Year 4 (ages 8–9) and Year 6 (ages 10–11) in schools in England. From January to March 2020, we ran a pilot study with 10 schools and used the resulting teacher feedback to finalise the training and teaching materials for a full randomised controlled trial. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we trained teachers in the pair programming approach using an online course instead of face-to-face training.

A tweet from a school about taking part in the pair programming intervention of the Gender Balance in Computing research programme.
A tweet from a school about taking part in the pair programming study.

The randomised controlled trial ran from September to December 2021 with 97 schools. Schools were randomly allocated to either the intervention group and used the pair programming training and the scheme of work we designed, or to the control group and taught Computing in their usual way, not aware that we were investigating the effects of pair programming. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, our training of teachers in the pair programming approach had to take place via an online course instead of face to face.

Teachers in both groups delivered 12 weeks of Computing lessons, in which learners used Scratch programming to draw shapes and create animations. The lessons covered computing concepts from Key Stage 2 (ages 7–11), such as using sequences, selection, and repetition in programs, as well as digital literacy skills such as using technology respectfully.

What can we learn about pair programming from the study? 

The findings about this particular intervention were limited by the amount of data the independent evaluators at BIT were able to collect amongst learners and teachers given the ongoing pandemic. BIT’s evaluation was primarily based on quantitative data collected from learners at the start and the end of the intervention. To collect the data, they used a validated instrument called the Student Computer Science Attitude Survey (SCSAS), which asks learners about their attitudes towards Computing. The evaluators compared the datasets gathered from the intervention group (who took part in pair programming lessons) and the control group (who took part in Computing lessons taught with a ‘business as usual’ model).

A teacher watches two female learners code in Code Club session in the classroom.

The evaluators’ data analysis found no statistically significant evidence that the pair programming approach positively affected girls’ attitudes towards computing or their intention to study computing in the future. The lack of statistically significant results, called a null result in research projects, can appear disappointing at first. But our work involves careful reflection and critical thinking about all outcomes of our research, and the result of this project is no exception. These are factors that may have contributed towards the result: 

  • The independent evaluators suggested that the intervention may lead to different findings if it were implemented again without the disruptions caused by the pandemic. One of their recommendations was to revert to our original planned model of providing face-to-face training to teachers delivering the pair programming approach, and we believe this would embed a deeper understanding of the approach. 
  • Our research built upon a prior study [4] that suggested a connection between pair programming and increased confidence about problem-solving in girls of a similar age. That study took place in a non-formal setting in an all-girls group, whereas our research was situated in formal education in mixed gender groups. It may be that these differences are significant. 
  • It may be that there is no causal link between using the pair programming approach and an increase in girls’ attitudes towards computing, or that the link may only become apparent over a longer time-scale, or that the pair programming approach needs to be combined with other strategies to achieve a positive effect. 

The evaluators also gathered qualitative data by running teacher and learner interviews, and we were pleased that this data provided some rich insights into the benefits of using a pair programming approach in the primary classroom, and gave some promising indications of possible benefits for female learners in particular. 

  1. Teachers spoke positively about the use of paired activities, and felt that having the defined roles of driver and navigator helped both partners to contribute equally to the programming tasks. Learners said that they enjoyed working in pairs, even though there could be some moments of frustration. Some of the teachers were even planning to integrate pair programming into future lessons. This suggests that the approach was effective both in engaging and motivating learners, as well as in facilitating the planned learning outcomes of the lessons,  and that it can be used more widely in primary computing teaching.

“I don’t know why I’ve never thought to do computing like that, actually, because it’s a really good vehicle for the fact that there are two roles, clearly defined. There’s all your conversation, and knowledge comes through that, and then they’re both equally having a turn.” — Primary school teacher (report, p. 38)

“I like working with both [both as a partner and by yourself] because when you do pair programming, you’re collaborating with your partner, making links, and you have to tell them what to do. But if you have a really good idea and then they put the wrong thing in the wrong place, it’s quite annoying.” — Female learner (report, p. 40)

  1. Both teachers and learners felt that having the support of a partner boosted learners’ confidence, which echoes previous research in the field [5, 6]. In computing, boys more accurately assess their capabilities, whereas girls tend to underestimate their performance [7]. When learners feel a positive emotion such as confidence towards a subject, combined with a belief that they can succeed in tasks related to that subject, this shows self-efficacy [8]. Our findings suggest that, through the use of the pair programming approach, both boys and girls improved their sense of self-efficacy towards Computing, which is corroborated by quotes from learners themselves. This is interesting because a sense of self-efficacy in Computing is linked to the decisions to pursue further study in the subject [9]. More research could build on this observation. 

“I do think that having that equal time to have a go at both, thinking of the girls I’ve got, will have helped my girls, because they lack a bit of confidence. They were learning very quickly that, ‘Actually, yes, we are sure. We can do this.’” — Primary teacher (report, p. 44)

“It might be easier to do pair programming [compared to ‘normal’ lessons] because if you’re stuck, your partner can be helpful.” — Female learner (report, p. 43)

Find out more about pair programming 

  • Download our Big Book of Computing Pedagogy a free PDF and read about pair programming on pages 58 and 59.
  • Watch this short video that shows pair programming being used in a primary classroom. 
  • Read the evaluation report of the pair programming intervention, where you’ll also find more quotes from teachers and learners.
  • Try the free training course on pair programming we designed and used for this project. It also includes links to the lesson plans that teachers worked with. 

Collaboration in our research

We will continue to publish evaluation reports and our reflections on the other projects in the Gender Balance in Computing programme. If you would like to stay up-to-date with the programme, you can sign up to the newsletter.

Two learners at a desktop computer doing coding.

The insights gained from this trial will feed forwards into our future work. Through the process of working with schools on this project, we have increased our understanding of the process of research in educational settings in many ways. We are very grateful for the input from teachers who took part in the first stage of the trial, with whom we developed an effective co-production model for developing resources, a model we will use in future research projects. Teachers who took part in the second stage of the project told us that the resources we provided were of good quality, which demonstrates the success of this co-production approach to developing resources. 

In our new Raspberry Pi Computing Education Research Centre, created with the University of Cambridge Department of Computer Science and Technology, we will collaborate closely with teachers and schools when implementing and evaluating research projects. You are invited to the free in-person launch event of the Centre on 20 July in Cambridge, UK, where we hope to meet many teachers, researchers, and other education practitioners to strengthen a collaborative community around computing education research.

References

[1] Goode, J., Estrella, R., & Margolis, J. (2018). Lost in Translation: Gender and High School Computer Science. In Women and Information Technology. https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/7272.003.0005

[2] Alexandria K. Hansen, Hilary A. Dwyer, Ashley Iveland, Mia Talesfore, Lacy Wright, Danielle B. Harlow, and Diana Franklin. 2017. Assessing Children’s Understanding of the Work of Computer Scientists: The Draw-a-Computer-Scientist Test. In Proceedings of the 2017 ACM SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE ’17). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 279–284. https://doi.org/10.1145/3017680.3017769

[3] Yasmin B. Kafai and Quinn Burke. 2013. The social turn in K-12 programming: moving from computational thinking to computational participation. In Proceeding of the 44th ACM technical symposium on Computer science education (SIGCSE ’13). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 603–608. https://doi.org/10.1145/2445196.2445373

[4] Linda Werner & Jill Denning (2009) Pair Programming in Middle School, Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 42:1, 29-49. https://doi.org/10.1080/15391523.2009.10782540

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