Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Peterborough CAS Hub Write-Up

The first ever Peterborough CAS meeting was held last Thursday (as I write this). I had pimped this out on twitter, on here and it was on the CAS Community site too. So getting 10 eventbrite replies to say that people were coming was not bad I thought.
Anyway the prep for the first meeting had seemed to be going well, until a hiccup over refreshments for the evening occurred. But with some fancy work from one of our section assistants the refreshments disaster was averted.
9 teachers from 5 local schools turned up in the evening. I knew most of them, some just from brief conversations at our recent STEM Fair, a couple had beaten me up when I was dressed as a bear at a video game show (but that is a story for another day) and one was an ex-student of ours now teaching at a local school. On top of this was myself and my co-hub leader, and two colleagues. So for a first meeting not a bad turn out I thought.
The evening started off with the usual round the table introductions, and then we went straight in to our first presentation of the evening by Joanna Scott from e-skills. I say presentation it was more a round table discussion, with Joanna starting it off by describing who e-skills are and what they can offer teachers. Followed with those round the table giving feedback to Joanna about what e-skills could help them with. Joanna did point out that there were some great resources available for free from e-skills on their website, which it seemed most people are not aware of. There was to be a demonstration of the Big Ambition web site, however there was a problem with it which was down to either our firewall or version of flash. So that wasn't able to be shown. Which is a shame as the site looks like a great resource for students. They answer about 14 questions or so about themselves and then the site suggests IT or IT related careers that they might find of interest.
I think almost everyone got something out of this presentation including the speaker!
After a short break for refreshments, it was my turn to talk about project ideas for students using the Raspberry Pi. This was basically my brain dumping ideas based on stuff I had done with students, and future planned stuff to do. I tied this in with a kind of show and tell of the add on boards I have for the Pi so that people could see what they were like (but not running). Plus I had a large selection from my personal library of Python and Pi books for people to browse through as well.
After my talk we had a brief discussion to get feedback on the evening and to find out what people would like to see at the next one. The overall consensus was that it had been a good evening and folks had got some useful stuff out of it. But next time they wanted a more hands on practical session. So next time there will be two practical sessions being run. The first will be an arduino session being run by one of my colleagues (nicely co-opted into doing, dangers of going to a CAS meet I'm afraid), and I will be running a Raspberry Pi session using an add-on board (most likely the Pibrella).

What I would say is that if you are teaching IT/Computing and you are not part of the CAS Community go sign up here , find out where your nearest hub is and get along to the next meeting. It's a really friendly community of teachers and industry sharing resources and knowledge. It's great CPD (or whatever it is meant to be referred as now). And the face to face of a local hub makes a great networking opportunity and to find people to share ideas with locally.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A brief concern about scratch on the pi


This morning on twitter a tweet is doing the rounds announcing that there is now a version of scratch that supports the Minecraft api.

It's great that there is now a version that now allows programming of Minecraft using the api on the Raspberry Pi (Get here).

However what concerns me is that there are to my counting now three versions of scratch on the Raspberry Pi. The basic original flavour, a version that supports the GPIO, and joining them the Minecraft version. So depending on what a teacher wants to do on the Raspberry Pi they have to make sure they have installed and selected the correct version to use. Let alone how confusing for students.

I hate this sort of splintering, and to stop confusion, and to make sure the versions keep in step with each other (Bug fixes, features etc), these projects need to co-ordinate and merge into a single release for the Raspberry Pi.

It's fantastic that people out there care enough to do this, but please care enough to make things easy for students, teachers, and users in general too.


Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Unity 3d PSM Vita Beta Open to Public


This morning in my twitter feed Shahid tweeted a blogpost from the Unity3d guys about the beta version of Unity3d that's supports Playstation Mobile(PSM) on the Vita is now open to the public and is currently (my use of currently not theirs) also free.

Well this is amazing news. Sony have been really generous already with the Vita and PSM by already giving access to the public to this setup for free with making a dev environment available for free. Which is pretty awesome and cool.

So it was already pretty amazing that you could teach students how to write games in C# and XNA and port them (easily using Monogame) to the Vita and PSM. Yeah we use C# and XNA, so althought the PSM Vita dev kit uses C# I've not had to learn a new engine (although the PhyreEngine looks pretty cool and I really should find sometime to play with it).I think there is real value in students being able to see something they have created on a console like the Vita. It seems to have more of an impact than being on a PC/Mac.

To be able to do this though you need a PSM developer licence which was (not sure if still the case) free. So what we have already from Sony is a free dev setup for the PS Vita that can be used in the classroom. So no need to for a dev kit for the Vita and Sony First (which I've not had much luck with so far). The drawback is that this setup is limited to just writing games for the Vita, and not the other Sony consoles like the PS3 or PS4.

However Unity3d is the darling development environment of the moment, especially amongst indie game devs, and some studios. And from my point of view allows a nice reuse of skills because one of the scripting languages it supports is C#. So being able to use Unity3d to make games for the Vita via PSM is pretty amazing. Although I still find the workflow in Unity3d challenging! That's my problem because I need to use it more regularly, and not just dip in and out of it at irregular intervals when I have a spare moment (and we know how rare they are in education).

But Unity3d does do some of the work for students, ie provide an engine and environment, that once learnt allows students to concentrate on creating a game, and not a game and an engine. So now being able to make use of the wow factor of playing a student created game on a console makes Unity3d an even more attractive proposition.

I do have to say that Unity3d does need to get its act together when it comes to education, and become a bit more education friendly. Especially when it comes to pricing. But that is a subject for a future post.

You can read the full Unity3d blog post here [http://blogs.unity3d.com/2014/04/08/playstationvita-for-all-the-unity-for-playstationmobile-public-preview/]


Friday, 4 April 2014

First Peterborough CAS Meeting

24th April will see the first Peterborough CAS meeting.
If you are in the Peterborough area (or not) and teach ICT/IT/Computing why not come along?

The meet up will be between 5pm and 7pm, and will have a talk by Joanna Scott from e-skills, and a short presentation on project ideas for the Raspberry Pi.

Apart from the talks, it is also a great chance to network and share ideas.

Get your ticket for the meet up here on Eventbrite

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Ciseco Pi-LITEr

I think this little LED board has been out a little while, but Pimoroni have it as a new product.
But hey let's not get into a discussion when it came out etc and let's concentrate on what amazing value this is.
This little 8 white LED board by Ciseco costs an amazingly cheap £3! Yep that is a super bargain price. Fantastic value and at a price that is affordable to equip a class with them.
The sort of uses suggested for the Pi-LITEr are I/O status indicator, bar graph, light chaser, activity indicator and lighting effects. If you need all the technical specs about power consumption, dimensions and weight have a read of the pdf linked to at the end of this post.

I was hoping to be really lucky and have it happily sitting on a TriBorg along with an XLoBorg and an LedBorg (as shown in the photo below).

Sadly when I ran one of the LedBorg little test python programs it also started to light up some of the LEDs of the Pi-LITEr. Which means the LedBorg and the Pi-LITEr share a GPIO port or two. So my little dream of having a nice handy TriBorg loaded up with three handy little GPIO add-on boards is still a little pipe dream. In this case it either has to have the LedBorg on or the Pi-LITEr. 
Why did I want the setup with three on? Well it would make a nice little plugin that could be used in class by students, that would offer a little bit of variety for the students in what they are interfacing to, but also have minimum setup involved (I'm all about minimum setup, so that teachers/students can use their time productively in the class. Yes I know there is educational value in getting the students to install it etc, but sometimes you just want to plugin and play). 

Using the Pi-LITEr with python doesn't require any installation of any extra libraries etc (assuming that RPi.GPIO is already installed - which I think it is by default in Raspbian). It can be controlled using RPi.GPIO (pins used in the pdf linked to below) or if you are a WiringPi fan that too. I'd imagine that ScratchGPIO might be able to use it too (but I'm not a Scratch person).

You can get the Pi-LITEr from Pimoroni HERE
You can read the technical docs (as a pdf) for the Pi-LITEr for the HERE