Raspberry Pi Zero

At Christmas I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of the elusive Raspberry Pi Zeros.  I didn’t get mine off of the front cover of a copy of the MagPi Magazine as like many people I missed that boat but I did quickly manage to purchase one from thePiHut.  The small form factor has presented some opportiunities for my desire to create small form factor mobile robot using the Raspberry Pi but has brought some challenges that have required some further research and development.

In order to use the Raspberry Pi Zero as a controller the first thing I have had to do is learn how to use the device headless (without a monitor.)  I did purchase the essentials kit from thePiHut and solder the header connections on following this video, I then watched these two tutorials on how to configure the wifi adapter and ensure that the device can be found without needing to know the IP address. Actually, I have now started doing this to all my raspberry pis.  This should mean that if I can purchase more Raspberry Pi Zeros then I should be able to do so without the need for micro HDMI connectors.

So, What’s the plan?

I’ve been granted a sum of money to improve one of our courses that we offer as part of our enrichment courses.  At school we currently offer a SQA NPA award in Games Programming this sounds attractive and the pupils like it well enough but they can usually achieve the qualification easily enough but hate every minute of the evidence gathering aspect of this qualification.  We also have a surplus of time left over which we use to build other skills and have in the past used our Lego Robotics kits to develop their programming skills.  The pupils really love this, creating devices that follow black lines and navigate mazes and leave all sorts of programming opportunities.

I would like to take this further and suppliement these skills using the Raspberry Pis to allow pupils to develop projects from scratch to the point that we could even have our own PiWars.

So, what’s the plan?  I’d like to develop my own robot with 4 micro gear motors powered by 4 AA batteries.  Have the Pi Zero powered by a battery power pack and other than that I will need to mount an H-bridge motor controller.  Extra features which I would like to add are an RGB LED which I plan to have displaying one of 4 colours – flashing orange for forward normal operations, flashing red for turning to port (left), flashing green for starboard (right) and flashing white for astern (backwards.). I would also like to fit an HC-SR04 Ultrasonic Sensor so that the robot could be programmed to run autonomously.


So, there are many issues which I can work on and some which are more problematic.  I will work on ensuring that I have enough GPIO pins for all the functions as well as the programming Python to thread so that I can run the lights as well as the motors however the current supply of Raspberry Pi Zeros mean that I wouldn’t be able to get devices for a class load of these projects and I am wrestling in my brain about this.  It seems that their availability seems to be more of an issue than was seen at first.

When will they be available in sufficient numbers?  Will they be supplied by a main manufacturer.  So, it’s quite nice at one level that smaller retailers seem to be leading the way with the supply of the Pi Zeros however this isn’t ideal for schools as Local Authorities have approved lists of suppliers and none of these suppliers are on the approved lists.  Adding suppliers requires significant financial information from the retailer and takes a significant amount of effort from somebody (e.g. me) rendering this an almost impossible task when you have other things needing done at the same time.

So, will RS components, CPC, Farnell and other similarly large retailers supply the Raspberry Pi Zero so that schools can buy them or not?  Otherwise I will need to significantly modify my plans.

Has the $5 price point ruined the viability of an otherwise attractive device?

As sometimes the form factor is the attraction and the price could be the stumbling block if it’s preventing manufacturers from developing the Raspberry Pi Zero.


OneNote and BYOD

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been doing some holiday research into ideas which could help integrte ICT within learning and teaching in a BYOD environment.

This has led me to look at hardware and software suitable which Is largely operating system platform independent.

There is of course, a lot of browser based software out there which help to make bring your own device possible. And in Scotland we are further aided in our National Education intranet called GLOW.  The recent upgrades to GLOW to include a O365 SharePoint tenancy for all pupils and teachers further augments the range of tools which pupils can have at home.  As all users can now have access to Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote coupled with 1TB of cloud based storage in OneDrive (Microsoft’s Dropbox equivalent.)

hXYVJ_U4_200x200The purpose of OneNote has always eluded me somehow as I have always felt that I could achieve the same or better in Word or Publisher. However, OneNote in the context of learning coupled with the ClassCreator tool form a very powerful complimentary partnership.

To explain, OneNote behaves like a pupil’s jotter (or exercise book for non-Scots) where each curricular subject could have a notebook with multiple tabs representing topics and multiple pages for either lessons or sub topics and tasks.  Other uses too could include e-portfolios. When you couple this with the fact that OneNote is available for everyone on every platform and free to all learners then we have a powerful tool for learning. In my mind the light bulb has switched on.

OneNote ClassCreator which is available in SharePoint O365 (GLOW) takes this a stage further allowing teachers to create OneNote notebooks which are allocated to their pupils both tasking them and simultaneously allowing pupils to have the work monitored and corrected (without even the perceived public humiliation of a teacher standing over a shoulder.) There are a number of good video tutorials about this which both demonstrate this in action and can take teacher through the process.

First, watch Microsoft in Education’s YouTube channel.  There are 34 videos many of which show the power of OneNote used by pupils coupled with a suitable device.  The use of handwritten entries in OneNote is of particular interest.

Second, look at www.onenoteforteachers.com. This shows teachers how to use these tools to set up the class notebooks and how to get the most out of OneNote.

Issues?  I always like to identify any downsides too!  O365 web based versions are limited as are the apple and Android versions.  Microsoft understandably want to sell windows kit therefore the most fully featured versions of all applications are available in Microsoft Office 2013.  It’s also worth using this as it integrates from the desktop directly into GLOW. However, this is worth the effort in my opinion. GLOW wouldn’t  let me log in to OneNote without a Microsoft account and it didn’t like my GLOW login details.  I’m assuming that this is a current glitch that will be resolved soon. Just as ClassCreator wasn’t working until on day of this week.

Overall, this looks like a really useful tool which I plan to explore further in the current weeks.

HP Streams and BYOD

The Christmas Holidays have come upon us and that provides a little downtime to facilitate some thinking about new things.  This holiday I have been considering the implications of how bring your own device could ever work.  Of course this really means that I’ve been investigating the killer hardware and software which would allow this to work. New and favourite pieces of hardware include the new line of products from HP.

The new HP Stream products further demonstrate the cloud based nature of modern ICT.  The range includes a 7 inch (£99) tablet, 8 inch (£149) tablets, 11 inch (£169), 13 inch (£229) and 14 inch laptops (£229).  They have also just announced a HP Stream mini desktop (~£120).

HP Stream 7
HP Stream 7

The key thing with all of these devices is their low price point. I am writing this post on a HP Stream 7 signature edition which I bought from the Microsoft store at the sale price of £79 with free postage.  It’s terrific!  I have thoroughly enjoyed using it and as an avid fan of all things Apple I have been quite happy to put my other toys aside in favour of this budget device.  As a possible tool for pupils at school this little device can pack a punch and runs Microsoft Office (bundled for a year) with ease. When you consider the ability for Scottish Schools to use windows based devices like this with the national O365 SharePoint tenancy in GLOW then these little devices have the potential to change productivity in the classroom.  They also have a fairly parent friendly price compared to Apple devices whilst still allowing access to industry standard applications.

The only downsides which I have discovered are the battery life, as whilst I get a fair few hours from the device it’s not an all day battery, and the cameras are pretty poor. But what do you expect for this price?  These haven’t affected the usability of the device for most purposes.

Next, you need the killer apps… My research took me to a variety of applications including OneNote coupled with ClassCreator.  However, that is worthy of it’s own post and will come next.


This article focuses on the HP Stream devices.  Other PC, Apple, ChromeOS and Android devices will also work with GLOW.

GLOW Future’s Announcement

<a href=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVD7k3nw_CQ&amp;feature=player_embedded”>Watch the Education Secretary’s Announcement on the Future of ICT within Education</a>



As set out on Michael Russell’s address there are 5 objectives which need to be considered in taking ICT within Scottish Education forward. I’m going to outline my thoughts here.



As a Principal Teacher in charge of the Faculty of ICT, an ICT Co-ordinator within South Lanarkshire and a Computing Teacher I have welcomed the advances in ICT for over many years.  I welcome this opportunity to share my thoughts as part of this national consultation and to contribute to the debate from the perspective of a Secondary School practitioner who genuinely wants purposeful productive debate in ICT in Education.


From my perspective I see the challenges of the five objectives as;


<strong>Objective 1 – Changing the culture of the use of ICT</strong>


We have all heard the issues surrounding the simple facts that; pupils are in some respects more ICT literate than their teachers and that pupils embrace ICT more than teachers.  Essentially that Pupils are digital natives and that Teachers are digital migrants.  Well whilst this is true to an extent a lot of our teachers are also digital natives.  The issue is trying to keep the fluency of our ICT knowledge up-to-date.  We need to develop the ICT knowledge of our staff from beyond the NOF where there is an expectation of all staff to being able to use Presentation Software like Powerpoint or Keynote for sharing learning intentions at the start of the lesson and from death by powerpoint.  Develop their ability to use ever more complicated e-mail and calendaring software like exchange away from the basics of these Core Office Suites to build themselves a digital literacy of Social Media and the Web that brings them from being Teacher 1.0 to a Web friendly Teacher 2.0 and beyond.


To what end?  To force all Teachers into the world of Social Media, Twitter, WordPress and Facebook.  No!  But to give them a confidence about what these sites are about?  How our youngsters can use them and how they could consider using them safely within learning and teaching.


Is it all just about social media?  No!  But this would be a place to start but it’s also about the use of personal devices in schools and finding solutions to the social-economic divides between haves and have nots.  As well as the benefits of online resources like YouTube, iTunes and Glow.  In doing so, pupils will develop the softer skills associated with developing some of these resources and we can develop the tangible quality of their communication skills.


For pupils, this would open up digital learning styles that they are familiar with and which can enhance their knowledge and skills and move at a more appropriate pace for them and the micro-society that they travel in.  In the past that every web or virtual year is worth seven real year’s in terms of productivity.  Our pupils need to survive in this world of change. So we owe it to them to step up a gear or two…


How do we do this?  Hopefully we do this through some of the answers of the other objectives. Firstly and foremost by improve confidence in the use of ICT….





<strong>Objective 2 – Improve confidence in the use of ICT for learners, teachers, school leaders and parents</strong>


<strong>Objective 2 – Improving confidence</strong>


Improving confidence in ICT within learning and teaching will demand a massive commitment to CPD within our schools.  Trying to achieve this involves a massive investment in school time which we currently do not commit to.  Schools are juggling so many changes in Learning and Teaching as they struggle to implement a Curriculum for Excellence that ICT pales into insignificance and in-service training allows for 5 minute drop-in slots with nothing more than network newsflashes.  Other CPD issues revolve around opt-in sessions which take a few more teachers forward but with the best will in the world once the merry-go round of the teaching year gets up to full speed people opt out of these sessions as they try to hold on.  These are not excuses just reality of people with varying priorities trying to the best for their pupils.


How do we embrace some of this change then?  An investment in ICT inservice, just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean that we runaway from the issue.  We need to offer good quality inservice which is available to all when they need it.  Although I would welcome the prospect of an ICT INSET day calendared into the year I would consider it lucky to ever see it.  Perhaps CPD On-line in the use of ICT more akin to YouTube than anything we have seen before.  Teacher’s could contribute and record some of these themselves and share them nationally on a National CPDTube.  We have seen some of this already embedded within GLOW but a commitment to building up the volume of content of some of this might be good thing and increasing the accessibility in the way that Youtube or iTunes are easily searchable.  There are web based youtube clones around like PHPMotion or ClipBucket as example of what could be easily hosted on a web-based media server.


ICT Skills of teachers need to improve to allow Drama Teacher’s the skills to record and edit media, Art Teachers to do more electronic art using graphics tablets and digital cameras and other digital sources.  Sound engineering for Music Teachers. Games programming and Mobile Device Application development for Computing Teacher’s and links with some of the universities to develop would be useful in explaining how these technologies to professionals within their own field but who may never have studied these disciplines.


In the end a massive injection in CPD for teachers directed at ICT must happen to improve their confidence and it must contain more than a lip-service approach if we are to take ICT forward and deliver a sometimes expectation of ICT Faculties being the ICT Services department there to facilitate the rest of the school.


I have focussed on Teacher confidence here because I feel that one can drive another.  A Teacher who is not confident in the technology themselves is often reluctant to allow pupils to experience something which they themselves know little about.  However, pupils will benefit from the time building up ICT confidence in their teacher.  Especially when the teacher then feels confident enough to deliver the learning and teaching using ICT and to troubleshoot issues as they arise.  That is not to say that other’s may not feel confident enough to give it a go and see what happens but it must be noted that there are dangers here as we know and that this approach would be dangerous in regards to Social Media and Social Networks.


With improved confidence and digital literacy within our schools we should then let creativity be the driving force which can promote new behaviors.


<strong>Objective 3 – Promoting new behaviours</strong>


There are a lot of readily behaviours which I would like to see developed in schools.  Some of these require a change the way we do things.  In no particular order, I’d like to share some of these ideas.


Blogging and National Portfolios – As already adopted by various schools the WordPressMU solution is an excellent starting point for developing e-portfolios within GLOW.  However, WordPressMU has given way to WordPress Multisite and the number of useful plugins the lack of the ability for pupils to develop themes which they could select for their blog is more than a bit limiting.  Coupled with a question about the longevity and development of this aspect of glow in the future?


Ok, so I’ve had my moan but the positive is there to be seen.   GLOW blogs work on a sound and well supported platform.  It has the massive potential to get even better!


Sharing good practice – There are lots of good ways to collaborate on-line and share ideas with others. When I’m looking to learn something new myself where do I turn?  Books?  For somethings you can’t beat a useful and handy reference however these days with technology changing so fast and the fact that I want the answer yesterday I more often turn to YouTube or iTunesU (iTunes University) where you will find a myriad of not always so useful content but usually amongst it you will find a fast answer.  If we were to expand this to our classrooms then think of the potential!  Imagine an iTunesU for Scottish Education covering a variety of the courses which we all teach.  We could have delivery for CPD for teachers, as well as nicely broken down lessons from every subject from good practice in Literacy, Numeracy, Technologies etc.  Think of the benefits to difficult to resource subjects like RME, and Gaelic.  It has great possibilities.  Furthermore, there is the possibility to share the quality of expectation which we expect at a national level with principal examiners communicating and reporting their thoughts, outlining them directly to pupils and teachers as to how to take standards forward for the next year. Of course, this is merely the tip of the iceberg and many of us are independently working in that direction already.  But this should be a national road-mapped plan of developing and sharing good practice.


Social Media – This is a well documented but still a difficult area as leaving pupils potentially vulnerable is a major concern.  However, the benefits are there to be seen.  Fast fire questions in preparation for exam time to homework reminders this needs to be opened up safely and a national policy on the use of social media and networks would perhaps help.


An end to the “you can do it in three minutes on a computer” philosophy – some departments want to pass the buck of doing all ICT work to the Faculty of ICT belittling it to the ICT Services department e.g. The department of powerpoint presentations, The department of Word Processing, The Video and Digital Media Editing Department and of course the Internet Research Department.  Part of this is to do with access to the necessary hardware which will be discussed later but the misconception of it can be done in no time at all on the computer still prevails with complete disregard for the fact that we have our own curriculum to deliver.  The ICT outcome and experiences which are hidden in the technologies document don’t do us any favours as whilst they are there for all teachers to use they are also similarly vague.  ICT for Educators should have been a document on it’s own.


More engagement – The fact that the world is getting smaller through use of the internet should mean that we can have more conferences like #EduScotICT.  This was a terrific step forward as far as I was concerned. This was in part the collaborative promise of Glow.  However, in glow’s case the infrastructure is overly bureaucratic, the hierarchical structure is upside down.  In facebook the person requests to join the group, in glow they have to be allocated access.  Imagine if glow was upside down and the pupils chose the teacher (nationally) depending on who had the good resources?  That’s what I would like to see.  Let them choose the courses and resources which work for them and free the teachers up to develop the resources for their courses.  Then lets see what that does for engagement.


In terms of other ways of engaging with ICT in learning and teaching lets have a lot more good practice sessions using ICT as a major part of the ICT agenda at SLF.  If were looking to develop e.g. games design outcome and experience at level 3 where was the good practice?  There were plenty of examples of lower level ICT witness sessions but often they shy away from difficult skills found in Computing or Technical and if they do exist like using iPads in Music they are often vastly oversubscribed and only delivered once.  This year’s SLF was naturally driven by Curriculum for Excellence there was actually very little new content surrounding ICT which was a bit disappointing.  Also, whilst I’m having a moan about SLF the austerity of the Education Scotland Stand filled with grey suits seemed to have the high and mighty networking with themselves, this perceivably made that stand decidedly unapproachable.  Was that the intention?


Access to a more flexible curriculum structure – with the desire to deliver more content on-line in the form of video and or podcasts.  I would like to see the upscaling of resources like digital video camera’s green screens and associated software.  This may sound simple but often the software can cost thousands, the cameras only a couple of hundred pounds each but when you multiply that up to ten, fifteen or twenty of them this is still an expensive business note even the ongoing costs of replacing headphones and microphones nor the battery management of the devices to try and ensure that the devices are functional when you need them.  Finally the amount of time to do some of the editing and rendering of final productions could take more time than any one period allows.  Classes can come and go before a single ten minute video will finalise.


<strong>Objective 4 – Parental engagement</strong>


Schools try hard to engage with the parent body but this is like a big black hole.  Communication goes out but does it get acknowledged?  Usually only if the school has done something perceivably wrong.  With regards to ICT everybody knows that they know best.  This is a major issue in parental engagement in developing the use of ICT however we must continue to try and engage with parents.  My thoughts following the EduScotICT conference would be to try and present them with the 5 objectives and ask them what they percieve to be the issues.  These can then be better communicated back to them through websites, newsletters and presentations.  I would like to have an ICT conference at school level where perhaps the issues about taking ICT forward could be discussed and they could even fundraise to take some of these issues forward.


Schools should be able to tackle these issues for themselves, however at a national level I would like to see more guidance for parents on the use of ICT in schools.  e.g. allowing pupils to bring their own hardware and guidance on  the use of social media.


<strong>Objective 5 – Strengthen position on hardware and associated infrastructure</strong>


My thoughts will go here. I have draft thoughts here but these haven’t been formalised.  once I get them sorted I’ll post them here.