On Saturday, I paid a visit to Southend’s TAP (Temporary Art Project) building for the Southend Raspberry Pi Jam. The event was held by SOSlug (Southend-on-Sea Linux User Group) and was to celebrate the second birthday of the Raspberry Pi. I would definitely have said that it was a child-friendly event for children of all ages from 6 to 96, though the robots might have either scared or intrigued anyone over the age of 97 half to death). There were lots of little ones running around, enthusiastically wowing at the adults who knew what Minecraft was! : o

Southend Linux Introduction

The day itself ran from 10am until 5pm and, I have to admit, I stayed the entire day. Though there’s only so much to look at when it came to the exhibits, the most fascinating part of the day were the talks that occurred in the “auditorium”-style room (I don’t know what else to call it). Throughout the day there were several talks followed by Q&A. The first of which was a beginner’s introduction to Linux including basic navigation, tools and commands in the console. This was in order to show how simple it is to format a micro-SD card for Raspberry Pi storage.

Southend Raspberry Pi Jam Exhibits

Above are a couple of the exhibits. You can learn how to create your own ethernet cable,

or if music was more to your fancy, there was a Linux Music Exhibit.

Southend Jam 3Doodler Exhibit

One exhibit that I found absolutely amazing was the 3Doodler. A pen tool to draw in 3D. It works a little like a glue gun, but you hold it like a pen and won’t burn yourself touching the plastic. I found it really challenging to think in 3D and couldn’t produce anything particularly inspiring to be honest. But if I had the entire exhibit to myself, I could probably have stayed there for hours. Instead I sat down for about 5 minutes and made this:

Love Southend Heart 3Doodler

If you can’t tell what it is, it’s supposed to be the Love Southend heart with SOS written on it for Southend-on-Sea. Yes, I failed.

Other peoples 3Doodles below. That rocking chair in particular was very well done for someone who had just picked the 3Doodler up for the first time.

Southend 3Doodler Creations

What is a Raspberry Pi?

Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is a tiny single-board computer the size of a credit card. It was developed in the UK by the Raspberry Pi Foundation with the intention of promoting computer science to children in schools. The potential uses of the Raspberry Pi are vast and with this single board (which only costs around £30) you can use it to learn a range of different skills including using the Linux operating system, programming, and even basic robotics! There are various add-on boards that you can purchase to extend the Raspberry Pi’s uses (you could even build your own!), but you can also pretty much use the board straight out of the box installing an OS onto an SD card, plugging in a keyboard, mouse and monitor and using it as a tiny computer immediately.

Southend Code Club?

One of the speakers at the Jam was Michael, the community manager of Code Club. Code Club began in September 2012 and now have 2026 clubs throughout the UK, aiming for 5000 by 2015. Code Club are a non-profit organisation that can only afford to employ workers and provide these services thanks to sponsorship from IT companies such as Google, Raspberry Pi, Amazon, and ARM as well as others. In their own words, they’re a “nationwide network of volunteer-led after school coding clubs for children aged 9-11”. Though he added that as they expand, they’ll be looking to be rid of the age limit as they’ll have more lesson material to teach children of all ages. Currently all teaching material is available open source at github. Code Club provides the teaching material and lesson structure but encourages creativity. Each lesson is designed to be an hour long to fit in with Code Club’s after school learning structure.

Teaching Children Programming Scratch

Currently children are able to learn HTML, CSS and Python using the Code Club lesson material. They host the children’s websites and projects for free and are expanding into teaching Javascript so kids can learn to create fully functioning websites. They use a program called Scratch to begin with, which Code Club also provides material for. Scratch is seen as a gateway into programming. It teaches the mechanics of coding, using sprites and background images to visualise code behaviour. With the child-friendly drag and drop interface, kids can practice common syntax and indentation with code blocks of a simplified, self-explanatory programming language with jigsaw edges that slot into each other.

Code Club

From September 2014, the UK government will be bringing actual computing to the school curriculum. Not just Information Communications Technology, where most of us will remember slaving away in front of Microsoft Office) but real Computer Science. This means kids will be learning about programming, hardware, software, development and everything else the rest of us weren’t lucky enough to learn in school. Code Club has already begun encouraging children to develop their natural enthusiasm for technology by providing safe havens for them to learn programming and scripting in a social environment.

The Southend Linux User Group is also looking to start a Code Club for children based at TAP. According to Michael, Southend is apparently under-represented when it comes to volunteers wanting to get involved with Code Club. There are currently more schools in the area asking for Code Club volunteers than volunteers themselves. This is thought to be due to a lack of knowledge about Code Club.

Learning Python programming using Minecraft and Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi Minecraft Python

Introducing programming to children via popular computer games like Minecraft is an effective way to teach them new concepts in a way that they can relate to. In the computer suite, we were playing around with a Raspberry Pi running Minecraft, using Python to manipulate the Minecraft in-game environment. Using basic maths and programming to work out how and where to build different shapes using the Minecraft blocks.

Raspberry Pi in the developing world

Andy Brooks was one of the speakers, discussing his experiences with bringing educational resources to Ghana via the Raspberry Pi. He stated that he could ship a box containing 500 Raspberry Pis to Ghana, door to door, for as little as 9p a Pi. Unfortunately he currently lacks the funding.

With these Raspberry Pis, he could provide children and illiterate adults in Ghana with a way of learning English using Python-programmed flash cards and an online Wiki for Schools 6600 page encyclopedia. The Wiki is 5gb to download and the information is thoroughly checked. This would enable the locals to learn a huge range of different subjects without needing access to the internet and they can learn via the resources and connect to each other via an intranet, also developing their ability to use a computer. They would also be able to learn webdevelopment languages locally also without needing internet access. This provides children with more career opportunities for the future including hardware and software based computing careers such as webdevelopment and database administration.


Raspberry Pi Piborg

Claire Pollard from PiBorg gave a demonstration of the amazing robotic capability of the Raspberry Pi, displaying the different add-on boards that they’ve developed for the Raspberry Pi. The DoodleBorg pictured above is particularly awesome (though I didn’t get a go controlling the beast myself, I had a go at one of the little ones – it was amazing). Controlled using a PlayStation controller, apparently it’s able to pull a caravan and you can even sit on top of it and drive it around!

If you live close to Southend and have a passion for technology, Linux or programming, I highly recommend popping into the weekly Southend Linux User Group meetups. Meetups are every Monday between 7-10pm and definitely worth checking out no matter what your technical ability. It seems like a great Southend community!