From January until June 2015, I had the opportunity to implement an innovative teaching and learning strategy with a group of above average grade 5 readers in their literacy block. As an early adopter of new technologies with a mindset that it is okay to FAIL and take risks, when I found a set of 7 Raspberry Pi’s collecting dust in a back shelf of my elementary school learning commons, I immediately began to think of how I could incorporate this maker technology effectively into core subject learning.
According to its creators (Raspberry Pi Foundation, 2015), the Raspberry Pi is:
- a low cost, credit-card sized computer that plugs into a computer monitor or TV, and uses a standard keyboard and mouse.
- a device that enables people of all ages to explore computing, and to learn how to program in languages like Scratch and Python.
- It can do everything you’d expect a desktop computer to do, from browsing the internet and playing high-definition video, to making spreadsheets, word-processing, and playing games.
- able to interact with the outside world, and has been used in a wide array of digital maker projects.
From reaching out to my PLN through Twitter, I learnt of the book Adventures in Raspberry Pi (Philbin. 2014). I purchased three copies of the book and began to tinker with this mini computer at home. I must admit – I was definitely over my head as even the initial set-up took me quite a while to figure out! But, I knew this would be good for my kids.
I began to work through the first challenge You Have a Raspberry Pi. Now What? This task taught me the foundation skills required to get my students off and running. For example, how to log on and off of the machine, and how to decide what program to load in the memory card – NOOBS. From here, I began to look at adventure three: Creating Stories and Games with Scratch. I worked through this challenge and decided this was a great place for my group to start.
According to its creators, “Scratch is a free programming language and online community where you can create your own interactive stories, games, and animations” (MIT Media Lab, 2015).
Once back at school, I copied adventure three into duo-tangs for each student and set up a personal Pi station in a room adjacent to the learning commons. We set up a schedule with the classroom teacher to meet every Wednesday for 45 minutes. Once ready for implementation, students were given their duo-tang, and, as like all effective instruction, as a group, we work through the first few pages together. Taking turns reading, we learnt how to log on to our Pi’s, how to open Scratch, and what the different components of the Scratch interface were.
From here, students were allowed to move at their own pace, reading the text and completing the challenges. As students progressed and complete sections, such as clone you character, they would raise their hand. I would then ask them to explain to me what they had done and how they had completed the task. I would then initial in their duo-tang the section they had completed. Much like in effective game design, the tasks were executed in a format that evolved in degree of difficulty and built upon previous skills (Gee, 2008). Thus, mastery of a section was imperative before moving on. Mastery was evident through screen demonstration and articulation of what had been accomplished (Gee, 2008).
Upon reflection, here is a list of the noted benefits of this learning strategy:
- students had to achieve mastery before progressing.
- Students were learning how to code while also reading – consequently, this task integrated CTF (see curriculum here) into classroom learning while also building student capacity in digital literacy.
- Students had to practice following step-by-step instructions, which is much more difficult than one would imagine. They actually had to READ in order to find the answer.
- Students became independent in their learning.
- Behaviour did not interfere with learning (yes there were some heavy-hitters in this group).
- Students were engaged in the task and wanted to come back every week to do more.
- Students learnt to ask each other for help and collaborate to solve problems
With benefits come challenges:
- Because we had to use older computer monitors with no internet connection (due to restrictions placed on our network), students could not access online resources or tutorials. They also did not have access to speakers or cameras, so some challenges had to be modified.
- Sometimes, the technology failed; special adapters had to be purchased, which were finicky and resulted in lost time due to connection failure.
- Teachers were hesitant at first; hence why we did not begin this project until after the winter break.
What were the results, you ask? Well, upon the students’ final reading test of the year, all of them had improved, moving up “letters” according to Fountas and Pinnell (see here for website). However, this cannot be solely attributed to this task, as traditional guided reading with the classroom teacher, as well as literacy center work, were ongoing.
Second, student engagement in their learning increased, including those energetic ones who can be difficult to keep on task. In fact, it was difficult to get the students to go back to class at the end of the 45 minutes. Also, kids that normally were not allowed to work together, could – and could do so without interfering with one another’s learning. They could even sit beside each other and stay on task.
Third, teacher interest and comfort with this technology increased. As students began to talk about what they were doing, teachers began to ask what exactly was going on. As well, an additional student was identified as a “good fit” for the group and she was asked to join.
Overall, if you are looking to find different ways to engage students in reading while also integrating CTF into classroom work, I would suggest giving this a try. Raspberry Pi’s are roughly $80 to purchase (plus the book) and are open source – everything is free after that. Plus, coding helps with numeracy (this angles, degrees, units, etc), and Scratch uses blockly, a great way to learn basic coding. Kids can share devices, as long as they save their work and practice good digital citizenship.
Go ahead and task a risk. And remember, if you experience FAILure along the way, this just means First Attempt In Learning!
Alberta Education (2011). Career and technology studies. Retrieved from http://education.alberta.ca/teachers/resources/connection/archive/may-2011/curriculum/cts.aspx#cts_careerCarrie Anne
Philbin, C. (2014). Adventures In Raspberry Pi. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Gee, J. (2008). “Learning and Games.” The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Edited by Katie Salen. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 21–40.
MIT Media Lab (2015). Scratch: For parents. Retrieve on July 17, 2015 from https://scratch.mit.edu/parents/
Raspberry Pi Foundation (2015). What is a Raspberry Pi? Retrieved on July 17, 2015 from https://www.raspberrypi.org/help/what-is-a-raspberry-pi/