Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rasberry Pi Is Launched

The Raspberry Pi is launched and officially on sale... probably. The problem is that the sales website seems to have gone into meltdown with the volume of people hitting it this morning. :-)

QR Code from @RaspberryPi
I've mentioned the Raspberry Pi before (see ET Phone Home!) and, now that it's here, it will be interesting to see what kind of impact it has beyond the already converted - like me for instance.

As far as programming is concerned, I tell my students that sometimes, in an effort to make programming accessible, we end up making it boring. It may not help children to learn programming if we spoon feed them everything. There is a danger that all that happens is we teach children to follow a set of instructions - like we are trying to program them instead of teaching them how to program.

I hope I'm not alone in saying that half the fun of programming is that it is difficult. It is the challenge that makes it exciting or at least engaging. I remember a lecturer I had in first year at university who was trying to introduce us to assembly language programming. Her introduction started with reasons why you would want to use assembly language in the first place. Her final reason, which she revealed with a flourish, was "...because it's fun!". To be honest, at the time I thought she was a brick short of a full load but in retrospect, I understand exactly what she meant. It is worth noting that this is not a phenomenon that applies only to programming. Why do people do crosswords, or jigsaws, or sudoku, or play computer games, or sports, or...? If these activities were too easy, or lacked challenge, people wouldn't do them. You do sudoku because it is difficult. Crosswords are fun because you have to work to beat the crossword compiler.

The trick, and in my opinion, this is the really tricky bit when teaching programming, is to make it challenging without making it discouraging. Get the pupils involved and engaged in problems that are difficult but achievable and you are at least half-way there. I think this is (at least in part) the philosophy behind the Raspberry Pi. Give children something that will challenge but not overwhelm. Don't direct and control the children but let them explore and discover.

Will it work? That's a whole other question. Certainly, the launch today has generated a bucket-load of interest which has already led the Raspberry Pi site to put up a static page with basic information and the volume of traffic has caused at least one of the suppliers to struggle. BBC news has featured the launch (see Raspberry Pi - a rapturous reception for example), and Twitter is all in a flutter (see @Raspberry_Pi and #RaspberryPi - currently number three in the UK trending topics list) but I'm not sure yet if it is only of interest to the already converted. With me, the Raspberry Pi is pushing at an open door. The real test will be if the it reaches beyond the existing nerd herd and ropes in children who might otherwise have no interest in Computing.

I intend to try and acquire one and to that end, I'll be putting a bid in today to see if the university will buy me one to play with ...but if that fails I'll invest some of my own hard-earned.

So what do you think? Will Raspberry Pi create a new generation excited by, and interested in, computers and programming? And more importantly, did anyone I know manage to get one today?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fun On Friday #138: Movie Titles

Thank you to Daughter Number 3 for directing me to this one. Twenty-six clues to twenty-six movies - one for each letter of the alphabet and helpfully in alphabetical order.

ABCinema from Evan Seitz on Vimeo.

I managed a disappointing seventeen out of twenty-six. How did you do?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Twitter, storytelling and serendipity

It's taken me a while to get around to writing about this so, with the ephemeral nature of Twitter, it has not been easy to piece this back together but I thought it was still worth a try.

I mentioned in Say hello to BEd Bloggers that I was working with a group of BEd students and trying to introduce them to social media and creative uses of ICT. In one session I wanted to introduce them to the potential of Twitter as a means of building a Personal Learning Network and, crucially, how it is a source of rapid feedback. One of the things I did was to send a tweet at the start of the session: "Talking to BEd students just now about Twitter. Why do you find Twitter educationally useful? Please let them know."

This worked reasonably well and within a short space of time, I had replies from other students, from teachers, advisers, and a depute rector. So far, so good. My intention was then to move on to creating a "Fortunately/unfortunately" story. This is a consequences style technique where one person begins a story and then people take it in turns to add a sentence. Each additional sentence must alternate between starting with "Fortunately" and "Unfortunately". It is quite a simple idea and I hoped by starting at one end of the class and each person nudging their neighbour when they had added their Tweeted sentence, we would quickly and easily build a story with multiple authors. I hoped it would let the students be creative within the strict confines of the fortunately/unfortunately structure but more importantly, I hoped it would show the easy flow of information on Twitter.

Unfortunately, it did not quite work out that way!

Here's how the story started with a Tweet from me and the next few Tweets that were generated by the students:
I was walking to school yesterday when a tree blew over in front of me. Fortunately, it landed a metre in front of me!

Unfortunately, it hit an old women who was too slow moving out the way.
Fortunately, she had her hard hat on that her husband Bob gave her the previous day.

Fortunately, the students were all arriving for their 9am lectures and one particular student knew exactly how to save the day.
You can see how it goes. I accept that it it not going to win any prizes for literature but a story was being developed. The reason it was not going to plan was nothing to do with the story and everything to do with the lab I was in. The lab was full of old machines, with an old version of Internet Explorer, and frankly they are showing their age! Everything takes forever to do on these machines. Add to that the Internet and/or Twitter was also on a go slow that morning and my idea for a quick, creative, collaborative story-writing exercise went out the window. It took over half an hour to generate the four contributions shown above!

I felt it had all gone wrong. My learning intentions unmet and the students frustrated and scunnered by and exercise that was supposed to excite and inspire. Then something happened, which at the time I didn't fully appreciate but thinking about it later that night, I realised that while not what I expected, it was nonetheless a useful lesson.

What happened? It started with a Tweet from Christine McIntosh asking if she could join in the story telling. I replied that the story generation was intended as a student exercise but that she was welcome to join in as she felt fit.

After the second or third message had been posted by the students, one asked me, "Who's Christine McIntosh?". I explained she was a friend, a retired English teacher and Ewan McIntosh's mum. The reason they asked was that she had started pitching in:
"At the risk of being a pain, I'd say a striking first sentence is as important as a striking conclusion, whatever comes between. Like: 'The tree, when it fell, was shocking in its sheer enormity.'

Two of the first three tweets have changed the first person narrator to a third person.

#BEd2012 students: never write a boring sentence in story!

They've not hashtagged assiduously ..." 
Only four messages... but eventually I realised what a valuable contribution they had made. The story took longer to form than I'd intended but while that hadn't gone to plan, what the students got instead was a lesson in story telling from a skilled English teacher exactly at the point they needed it. In fact, never mind the students I got a lesson on opening sentences! 

So a real and timely demonstration of the value of a good Personal Learning Network. Excellent!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Fun On Friday #137: Keith Harris and Orville

It never occurred to me that I would post something by Keith Harris and Orville and describe it as "fun"... but this is brilliant. (Although, please note the declaration of interest at the bottom of the post.)

Watch and enjoy:

Excellent! Move over Eminem, here comes Kayanoh.

It is an advert for the SIM only, no contract, mobile company. They offer some great deals. For example you can get 250 minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited web for just £10 a month. And unlike some networks, there is no "fair use" clause on the data usage - unlimited really means unlimited.

If you are interested in getting a free SIM with £5 of credit, try the link below but remember to read the declaration of interest before you do.

Get a free giffgaff Sim

Declaration of interest: This amused me so much, I think I would have posted it as a Fun on Friday anyway but I should point out that if you use the link above to order a SIM, I get 500 points when it is activated. And what do points make... well to be honest, I'm not sure but I think I can use them to get a discount on future charges.

So, shameless profiteering or a good Fun on Friday. Let me know what you think.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Fun On Friday #136: Emoji

I encouraging my students to blog but have fallen behind myself. Clearly I need to practice what I preach.

So, I know it's not Friday, but here's something fun I just discovered recently: Emoji - a character set of emoticons that originated in Japan and are beginning to settle down into an Internationally agreed standard.

How did I stumble across this? Well, I've known for some time that my iPad and iPhone can use different keyboard layouts but what I only just discovered is that one of those keyboard layouts is emoji.

This means I can type a range of emoticons directly into anything that can take text. Of course, I'm not sure how it will look outside the iPad. Apparently, it is built into most Japanese handsets, and as a result, many other handsets too including iPhones and Windows phones.

So have a look around in the settings of your devices and email programs to see if you can do emoji too.