Thursday 20 September 2012

Enthusiasm and Vision #RaspberryJam

Well, that was an interesting evening! Lots of enthusiasm, lots of  geekiness, lots of vision, and lots of printed circuit boards. Inspiring.

I've just been to the third Raspberry Jam in London, an event designed to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and experience of the exciting new Raspberry Pi microcomputer. Its British creators call it "an ARM GNU/Linux box for $25", but to me it's an attempt to recreate the fun and learnings I experienced as a teenager in the 1970's with an Atari 400 (or BBC micro, TRS 80, or Sinclair Spectrum). We called them microcomputers in those days.

This wasn't just a trip down memory lane. The British approach to teaching Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has consisted largely of teaching kids how to use the primary components of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher), producing posters, leaflets and the like. That's not what got me excited about computers as a teenager. I got hooked on computing by coding stuff - being creative and building something that didn't exist until I created it from my own design. Being able to drive Microsoft Office applications is a good office skill, but it won't produce a new generation of computer scientists in the UK; that's computer scientists who will contribute to the music, video, movie and games industries amongst others.

I secretly harbour ambitions to be an IT teacher at a senior school (age 11-18). When I say IT teacher, I'm thinking of teaching kids how to write code, how to think about design, and how to create new technology. There was an enthusiastic group of teachers at tonight's event with just the same ambitions. Their schools and their pupils are lucky to have such an enthusiastic and visionary bunch of people. I was glad to meet like-minded people.

I was expecting the main part of this evening to be one or two presentations from people who've done interesting stuff with their Pi's. Instead, our hosts (Mozilla) had kindly provided several monitors and display stands so that anybody with a Pi could hook it up and show it off. This left the rest of us to circulate and (big intake of breath) talk to each other. As a child I was taught not to speak to strangers; as a British adult, I continue to follow the same teachings!

The Mozilla office is located in St Martin's Lane, near Covent Garden, in London's theatre district. The character and ambience inside the building were artistic and creative. The free beer, nuts, Pringles and Doritos helped too. I had no trouble talking to strangers!

All-in-all, it wasn't the evening I expected, but it was an enjoyable evening nonetheless and I hope to return to the next event (in October). Moreover, I hope that the Raspberry Pi fans can continue to influence ideas about what we should be teaching our kids with regard to technology: how to use it, or how to create it. I say "how to create it".

My thanks to Ben and colleagues for their organisation of the event, and to Mozilla for kindly hosting it.