Sunday, August 18, 2013

ROB, REVOLUTION and RASPBERRY PI

Rob Bishop from the Raspberry Pi Foundation is on a mission.   More than 1.5 million teensy $35 Raspberry Pi computers have sold in the first year.  Not bad.  But selling hardware is not the goal;  the Raspberry Pi Foundation is a nonprofit and their aim is to transform computer science education.   

About 1/3 of the Raspberry Pi sales go to the United States, mostly to hobbyists and geeky sorts who use them to power everything from webcam controlled Nerf guns to a virtual drum set controlled by golden beets.  While this does elicit Rob's delight and appreciation, it's not his central concern.  Rob, founder Eben Upton and the Raspberry Pi Foundation want to transform the world of computing education by creating a platform for kids to play around with coding on a machine that costs less than a family dinner out.

When talking to Bishop (says Sophia Wooten) I was struck by his passion for changing societal attitudes towards the use of computers and addressing the computer science knowledge gap in the UK. One of the goals of Raspberry Pi is to restructure the way that computer science is viewed; it should not be something left to the ‘computer geeks.’  Raspberry Pi seeks to revive the days of people “creating stuff,” of being interested in how computers are built and how they are programmed. Raspberry Pi encourages interest and participation in STEM education and reminds people that computers do what you tell them to do, so there is a lot of fun to be had through computer programming!


Bishop is touring parts of the United States, especially the Midwest, to evangelize the Pi.  I met him Tuesday in Minneapolis, in the offices of the Minnesota High Technology Association, with a few other leaders from nonprofit, informal education.  Rob showed us the cool little camera (5 megapixel) that they've just produced for the Pi, and encouraged us to take action to fast forward computer science education locally.

In Britain, he explained, industrialists came together to bring attention and heat to computer science education:  the system was not producing enough people with the training and imagination to fuel British technical development.  The situation had become dire and was threatening the British economy.  So industry pressured the government, and the Education Secretary, Michael Gove responded.  Britian's ICT curriculum, he declared,  was "demotivating and dull."   He scrapped the whole thing, and resolved to start over in 2 years with a forward-looking, re-designed curriculum.   He did just that, though the implementation may be rocky.

New standards for computer science curriculum in England were released last month and go into effect this autumn: starting as young as age 5, British pupils will be coding in multiple languages, understanding algorithms, exploring 3-D computer aided design in manufacturing and other fields and using multiple skills to undertake creative projects.   Here's a summary of the curriculum for all fields. The computer science standards (starting on page 188) set a bold goal:   "A high-quality computing education equips pupils to understand and change the world through logical thinking and creativity."

Minnesota, let's take Rob's challenge, and produce world class opportunities in coding and computer science for our kids.   Let me know if you are willing to help with any of the Code Savvy initiatives, or if you want our help to start up your own.  


P. S.   We're using lots of Raspberry Pi's at CoderDojoTC.  The Pi/Python group has been our most popular!