Why so serious?

I just thought I’d give some background to my recent unfortunate outbursts in the online world.

I work in primary schools and for a number of years have been helping (and directly teaching) teachers with ICT lessons.  When  I first came along, teachers had recently been on a computing control course using the original Mk1 Lego mindstorms – they came back from a one day course and unless they immediately tried it out  by the time the came to use the one set that each school bought – they’d forgotten how to do it.

So they went into cupboards.

Along came the Data Harvest FloGo box – brilliant hardware concept – very robust – £100 so quite pricey and the software used uses old style flow-charting techniques – easy to get started but soon becomes quite messy.

I worked in a school cluster and we collaborated on fairground ride type stuff mixing Design Technology with Control Programming.

Good times.

Then in 2005, along came Scratch and I loved it.  Here was the Lego equivalent for programming for kids.  I started teaching it in Year 6 and then pushed it down over the years to Year 3.

The only problem was the lack of an external interface box like the FloGo so everything had to be simulated and I missed being able  to control lights and motors.

Then 2 years ago, the Raspberry Pi appeared 🙂

I bought one as soon as I could, I went to Preston and Manchester Raspberry Jams, I saw the PiFace  borrowed their code and got Scratch on the Pi to control lights and motors via the GPIO pins using a few £ worth of components.

The integration of an open platform being able to run high level code is fantastic and I thought – great – there will soon be affordable packaged versions of this ready to use in classrooms up and down the land.

I persuaded my schools that this was the way forward and they clubbed together to buy 6 other Pi and I used them to run after school clubs – controlling Robots in 2012-13 school year and trialing Scratch interfacing to the real world.

Having learnt Python and interfacing it with Scratch, I also worked on doing the same to let Scratch on PC/Mac/Linux laptops/desktops control Arduino based devices including the £3 Shrimp.

Although a complete Arduino package was much cheaper than the equivalent Pi setup, the lack of integration in one unit meant it is harder to produce an easy software Scratch interface and so I switched back to developing on the Pi.

I’d hoped by the end of that year, that the Foundation would be ready to roll out whatever they had planned for UK schools for the start of the school year in Sep 2013 but nothing appeared.

I picked up a few hints that something big might be announced at the 2014 Jamboree but nothing concrete appeared.

I had spoken to a number of people and said that I would be coming out into the open to complain about the lack of evident progress but as usual, the way I expressed myself (or more accurately – my bad reaction to the Foundations reaction to my forum post) has led to a lot of trouble all-round which is not good.

Now, I’m hoping that people can separate inter-personal differences and respond positively to getting the Pi INTO schools in a big way.

Simon Walters

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9 Responses

  1. stewart dunn says:


    You are doing great work with ScratchGPIO and I for one very much appreciate your effort.

  2. Alan Taylor says:

    Hi Simon I was not aware of any problems on the forum before you mentioned it but you have my full support, for what its worth. I have always been amazed at how patient and helpful you are when answering problems even to the extent of modifying your software to suit their particular problems. Your obvious enthusiasm and sincerity for your work is amazing so please” dont let the Bxxstxxrds grind you down”! I would like to say that you have helped me a lot in the past and probably will again in the future, so” keep your pecker up” or “Keep Calm and Carry On” Best wishes Alan

  3. Hi Simon. As you know, I’ve been an avid follower of your work. I did read the (now-locked) thread and can understand your frustration. You jumped on the Pi very early on as a way to enhance the ICT curriculum and have done some excellent work. I have been wondering why your blog has slowed up a bit lately and it now makes sense (to me, at least), you went off at full steam and have recently been waiting for the Foundation / ICT curriculum to catch up with you. I think that the fact that their has not actually been a curriculum for ICT for the past 2 years has been a bit of a double-edged sword. It has allowed teachers like you to come up with some inspirational stuff, but it has equally allowed others to take a more relaxed approach.

    Reading some of the recent posts regarding Scratch, it would seem that the Foundation is now catching up with you and is trying to get some sort of standard sorted out for integrating add-on boards into the Scratch on the Pi. I also feel that the Foundation now has people and processes in place ready to fully commit to getting the Pi into schools, and having teachers that are able and enthused to use them.

    I hope that the recent ‘problems’ between you and the Foundation can be solved as the next step will need teachers as committed as you to help get through to headteachers and other ICT teachers about the benefits if the Pi (the head at my son’s primary school is of the opinion that the Pi will not add value to the new curriculum and that coding can just as easily be taught on paper). I think, also, that you now need the Foundation as, without it, you will eventually tire of teaching to a handful of kids without any official framework to follow. I sincerely hope that the latter does not happen, and that the Foundation and OCR do make good on their promises and all IT & Computing teachers get the training and support that they will need to inspire the next generation of geeks!

    • cymplecy says:

      Wise words-thank you 🙂

      • I would just like to correct something that I said in the above post, about your blog slowing up a bit lately. Having just had a browse through some of your pages I would like to apologise for my extreme wrongness!! I now see that you have been very busy with ScratchGPIO and other stuff. I think that the blogging format can be a bit misleading when your looking for new comments because they can appear on any one of your many posts. Also, I need to look harder!

        • cymplecy says:

          Yep – I’ve moved from blog posts for everything to putting documentation in pages which are more fixed and easier to find. So the blog posts from now on should be true blogs


  4. My wife has just bought 3 Pi’s for her primary school. I already had a couple that I’ve played with at home but didn’t really know how to simplify things for primary age kids. Then we stumbled on the PiBrella and discovered you had adapted Scratch to work with it. This is an absolutely perfect introduction to the Pi as they can get results extremely quickly without too much effort. Thanks so much for doing this.

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