Emulating a Raspberry Pi on Microsoft Windows (in school)

I would like to give my students the opportunity to experiment with the Raspberry Pi; for their own interest and to support part of their GCSE qualification (OCR GCSE Computing A452).

Students trying Minecraft Pi in the classroom

Although we have two Raspberry Pi computers in school, this isn’t really enough for a whole class of students to get “up close and personal” with Linux. To make things worse, even if I purchased 28 more Raspberry Pis we don’t have traditional IT suites with keyboards and screens that could be connected; instead our students work from individual laptop computers running Windows 7.

A simple solution is to run a “Raspberry Pi emulator” on student laptops. This is surprisingly easy to do by downloading , unzipping and running the package from this website:


A screenshot of the Raspberry Pi emulator running in Windows 7

My experience with this emulator so far has been very good. It allows the creation of files, folders, users and user groups which are stored between sessions using the emulator. It also appears to have enough Internet access to use the Linux command “apt-get” to install updates and applications from the command line (within a Terminal window).

Posted in Computing | Leave a comment

Moving away from one-day training courses

I am very supportive of the new more technical Computing curriculum introduced to UK schools in September 2014, but I am also very aware that there are a large number of non-technical secondary school teachers who are faced with delivering this new really-quite-technical subject to several classes of children. And of course all primary teachers now have to add “computer programmer” to their never-ending list of skills and talents!

The introduction of the new Computing curriculum has generated a clear need for training (or “Continued Professional Development” as it is called in education circles) to support teachers as they get to grips with (and hopefully appreciate the value of) Computer Science. As a “CAS Master Teacher” (appointed by the Computing At School organisation) I am involved in offering training and support to teachers in my local area.

My anecdotal observation over the past year is that most support for the new Computing curriculum appears to be in the form of “one-off” training courses; quite often expensive one-day mini-conferences. Although this training is clearly better than nothing, I am not convinced that a single day of Python programming is really enough to make a teacher without any programming experience feel competent or confident!

A selection of flyers from one-day Computing training events being offered in 2014

I wanted to do something different, and so this academic year I am working the lead/hub school in my local “teaching school alliance” to provide a six-month long programme of training sessions that aims to cover most elements of the GCSE Computing curriculum. I expect this approach to offer a benefits that one-day events simply do not, such as:

  • A more specific focus for each session (rather than attempting to cover everything in one day)
  • An opportunity for teachers to “try things out” in their own classrooms between sessions
  • The chance for teachers to ask any questions that might have arisen from previous sessions
  • The forming of a small “support community/network” where teachers will meet others in a similar position to themselves.

It remains to be seen if this more sustained approach to supporting the delivery of the new Computing curriculum will be exactly what is needed, but it was of interest to PC Pro magazine and got a mention in their October 2014 issue.

Details of the “LEARN Computing” course (which begins in early October 2014) are available on the LEARN Alliance website.

Posted in Computing, Professional Development | Leave a comment

Teaching networks through LAN gaming

We finally reach the end of the 2013-2014 academic year, and both students and teachers are showing signs of fatigue. I wanted a fun activity that would keep students engaged, would require minimal input from me, and would have educational benefit.

So today I set up a 24-port network switch in my classroom, gave students an ethernet cable each, and told them to set up their own LAN (Local Area Network)! The physical side of this was quite straightforward, particularly with the laptop computers and flexible furniture in use at my school. I liked the fact that almost out of necessity (and completely by accident) the computers were arranged in a “star” formation, with the switch at the centre.

I then invited students to play a game of Teeworlds across the local network, where children can shoot each other in an age-appropriate environment. Students had great fun (and yet somehow managed to keep the noise of excitement to an acceptable level), but not before doing a bit of technical problem solving. The technical and educational challenges faced by students in this activity included:

  • Working out how to plug an ethernet cable into their laptop (surprisingly few students had ever done this),
  • Confirming that they have an IP address on the LAN (using “ipconfig”),
  • “Unzipping” the Teeworlds download file into a folder (again something that students don’t seem to have done before),
  • Running an application from anywhere other than the Start Menu (Windows 7).

Once students had managed to solve these problems (which they did themselves, with some great demonstrations of teamwork and peer support) they were all faced with the “no game servers found” message! With a tiny bit of teacher prompting, some students realised that they could “host” a game server on their laptop, which others could then connect to through the LAN (again, using IP addresses).

A brilliant way to end their first year of the GCSE Computing course, and a practical way to consolidate the recent study of computer networks in theory lessons. We all know that we learn so much more when presented with problems that we are motivated to solve!

I will try this again with another GCSE Computing class tomorrow, and might even push them towards the extension task of creating a config file to change some of the game server settings…

Posted in Computing, Game Based Learning | Leave a comment

Flappy Cat! Recreating Flappy Bird in Scratch.

Over the past week, the mobile game Flappy Bird has become something of a craze amongst students in our school.

Flappy Bird

The popular mobile game "Flappy Bird"

Our Year 8 students are currently following an ICT/Computing project to create their own computer games with Scratch. It struck me that the game mechanic for Flappy Bird was very simple (even if the game itself is not!) – and could easily be recreated in Scratch.

A simple script for "Flappy Cat" in Scratch

I worked with some Year 10 GCSE Computing students to develop a basic game mechanic, and then developed it for demonstration with Year 8 classes. Students have really enjoyed testing my (very limited) version of the game, and the connection with a game they already know (and love) has added another layer of engagement to their game-making project.

Flappy Cat

My version of "Flappy Cat" in Scratch

I believe this is a good example of how we can encourage young people to become creators rather than just consumers of digital content, in a way that is immediately relevant to them.

You can download my Scratch file here, but there are a range of more polished versions of the game available on the Scratch website!

Posted in Computing, ICT | Leave a comment

Success! Increasing the number of girls studying GCSE Computing

Overview: In the academic year 2012-2013 I ran a small project at my school to try and encourage more girls to study GCSE Computing (an entirely optional subject, on offer since 2011).

I am pleased to say that with some intervention I managed to increase the number of girls who have opted to study Computing from just 2, to 19. This is nearly a 50/50 gender split!

I produced a short presentation at the end of this project, for anyone who might be interested: goo.gl/rVMXf

Although this project wasn’t perfectly scientific, the results were positive and I hope that this information might be of use to anyone facing similar gender balance issues in other schools.

Posted in Computing, MLDP | Leave a comment

OCR GCSE Computing: Example Controlled Assessment Report

As discussed at the Computing At School Wessex Hub meeting this evening, I have uploaded an example of a “grade A” Controlled Assessment report for the OCR GCSE Computing course. This work was created by David Joyce (a professional programmer) who is delivering the course to a small group of volunteer students at a school in Berkshire. He completed a report for a sample task, and asked OCR for feedback and a guideline grade:

A453 Grade “A” example (password strength)

He received some feedback from OCR as follows:

“The sample work that you sent is from the sample task.   It is well structured and each step is clearly explained and justified, mirroring the example we have provided for A grade standard work.  It is an excellent example of the type of work we are seeing from the most organised candidates. The overall marks would be obtained by looking at the complete set of three tasks to determine a numeric score for each section,  While we cannot  therefore supply numeric values for this, it is firmly in the top band of marks for each section.   May I remind you that candidates cannot use the sample task as one of thecontrolled assessment tasks.”
I hope this is of some use to those who are following the OCR GCSE Computing course!
Posted in Computing | Leave a comment

Girls in Computing: Student Survey

Last Friday I gathered my “Girls in Computing” focus group together one final time, to share some chips (!) and complete a short online questionnaire designed to gather opinions and find out if this small project has had an impact on their choice of GCSE courses (hopefully to include GCSE Computing).

I need to analyse the result fully, but I am hopeful that this survey will show that I have “narrowed the gender gap”!

Posted in Computing, MLDP | Leave a comment

Girls in Computing: Parent Email

Below is a copy of the email that I sent out to the parents of the students involved in my “Girls in Computing” focus group:

Dear Parent,

I am writing to you because I believe your daughter would enjoy taking Computing as one of her GCSE choices next year.

This GCSE Computing course is proving very popular, with an increasing number of students choosing to study it each year since its introduction (both nationally and at Perins) in 2011. We are getting very positive feedback from parents and students – it is often listed as a “favourite subject” during discussion at Parents’ Evenings. Sadly, however, there is a significant gender imbalance and I am trying to address this (also national) problem in our school.

School “ICT” courses have typically involved software skills training, often focusing on office software such as Word and Excel. Over the past couple of years this approach has received a lot of criticism and there is now a national move, backed by the government, towards Computer Science in schools. This is because:

· it is more useful to employers than mere software training (it develops a deeper understanding).

· computational thinking skills can be applied elsewhere (breaking a problem into logical steps).

· it is a “science” and so recognised as a high-quality academic subject (included amongst the science subjects in the Ebacc and held in high regard by Colleges and Universities).

This BBC news article has some more information about these recent curriculum changes: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-16493929

I have evidence that students with strong logical thinking skills do well in GCSE Computing, and I have identified a small group of girls in Year 8 who are the most “logical” thinkers (based on data from Cognitive Ability Tests taken in Year 7). Your daughter is one of these students and the group has taken part in some voluntary activities this year, to give them increased awareness of Computer Science as a school subject. I hope that a number of them, including your daughter, will consider taking GCSE Computing next year.

You can find out more about the GCSE Computing course through the following web links:

http://www.perins.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/E-booklet-2013.pdf (Perins GCSE choices booklet)

http://www.ocr.org.uk/qualifications/gcse-computing-j275-from-2012/ (exam board website)

If you have any questions about the course, I would be very happy to answer them in person at the forthcoming parent evenings or by email. Please do not hesitate to get in touch.

I have had some positive responses from parents, including the one below:

Thanks for your email. We spoke at the Choices evening and I am pleased to say that Holly is very keen to take GCSE Computing! She will be following in my footsteps as I did Computer Studies O Level many many years ago and then had 12 years in IT outsourcing. A successful career I have only recently advanced on from! Both my husband and I worked for ICL/ Fujitsu and others so it’s probably in her blood. Anyway, she is very keen, so count her in :)

I am hopeful that engaging parents in this way will increase the chances of these girls considering studying Computing next year!

Posted in Computing, MLDP | Leave a comment

GCSE Choices Fair

Last night was the “GCSE choices fair” at my school. Year 8 students and their families were invited to the Sports Hall where each department offering GCSE courses exhibited information and answered questions.

I invited a handful of existing students who are currently following GCSE Computing and Cambridge Nationals ICT courses to help. I was particularly conscious to make sure at least one of the (three!) girls currently studying Computing was with us, so that any girls considering the subject (particularly including those in my MLDP focus group) would have the opportunity to chat with a fellow student.

The student helpers were a real credit to themselves and to the department, confidently answering questions and explaining the difference between our IT courses at GCSE level.

I was really pleased with how many students expressed an interest in taking GCSE Computing next year, and amazed at how many girls seem to be keen to take it. I am starting to think that my intervention strategies are having a positive effect, but we will have to wait a little while longer to find out for sure!

I have three more activities planned before the end of my “narrowing the gender gap” project:

  1. Send an email to the parents of girls in my focus group, with more details of this project and why I am doing it.
  2. Meet in person with focus group parents at the forthcoming parents evening events.
  3. Ask the focus group students to complete a short survey so that I have some “pupil voice” evidence to support my project report.

I will be presenting the outcome of this small project at the finale of my MLDP course on 20th June, at which point I will also publish my findings here in case it can assist other schools address similar gender balance issues!

Posted in Computing, MLDP | Leave a comment

Computing Girls: Robot Workshop

Today my focus group of the 22 “most logical” girls in Year 8 took part in a one hour Robot Workshop (to coincide with National Science & Engineering Week). This workshop was the brainchild of David Kempton who travelled down from the Thales Group in Basingstoke with his cleverly-designed robots.

During the session girls had to construct their own LEGO robots from Spybotics parts, before creating simple programs using BRICX software on their computers.

It was clear that all of the girls had fun at the workshop but a follow-up session will be needed to assess if this has influenced their opinion of Computer Science.

Posted in Computing, MLDP | Leave a comment