Thursday, 4 October 2012

Broadcom Teaches Kids to Program in an Hour Using Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi, the $25 computer that can fit in your pocket, has gotten a lot of press for its low cost and small size. What you may not know, however, is that the pint-sized PC is also great for learning how to program.
This week, Broadcom put the computer in the hands of middle school students — many of whom had no background whatsoever in programming — and taught them how to make a game.
All of the students who participated were finalists in the Broadcom MASTERS program, short for Math, Applied Science, Technology, Engineering and Rising Stars. Originally a science fair-type competition between 1,500 middle school students, the Raspberry Pi event was held in D.C. from Sept. 28 to Oct. 3 for the competition’s 30 finalists.
“A key part of our mission at Broadcom is to promote math and science education at all levels,” Broadcom co-founder Dr. Henry Samueli told Mashable.
“This is the culmination of a year’s worth of work,” he said. The company has held the MASTERS program for the past two years, and Samueli said that it will continue “hopefully forever going forward.” The program is managed by the Society for Science and the Public, and judged by an independent panel of judges.
A little more advanced than the volcano you may have made for the school science fair, finalists submitted projects ranging from the “The Effects of Various Configurations of Heat Stack on the Energy Output of a Thermoacoustic Piezoelectric Generator” to “The Impact of a Parabolic Reflector on Wi-Fi Reception at Different Angles.” There was also more at stake than just a blue ribbon; the winner of the competition walked away with $25k.
As some of the country’s brightest middle-school minds, the final 30 contestants participated in an hour-long event in which they learned to program over breakfast.
Starting with a snake game similar to what you might have played on an early cell phone, the children were given a Raspberry Pi and an hour to expand on the game to make it a little different. Kids were broken up into six groups of five. A Broadcom employee and a student from Howard University assisted each group.
“This stuff, you could do it on any old PC, “ Eben Upton, founder and trustee of the Raspberry Pi Foundation told Mashable shortly after the event. He said that part of the beauty of the Raspberry Pi is that it’s cheap enough that almost anyone can buy one (all you need is some sort of display and a keyboard to use it), making it ideal to be used as a dedicated programming machine.
“You don’t need to worry about it if you do something [such as format the file system], Upton said. “You can’t destroy it in any visible way. It provides a safe place, a low consequence place where you can practice programming.”
During their breakfast programming session, kids did everything from turn snake into a multiplayer game, to creating a version of the game with holographic apples that the snake would pass through rather than eat.
Mashable was able to talk to a few of students involved in the event shortly after. The consensus amongst the group, who had never programmed before, was that it was hard to do at first, but got much easier once they got the hang out it. Everyone seemed to have a good time.
“You look at these kids and you say, ‘Yes we’ve done a good job here,’ because now we’ve taken these bright young minds and steered them in the direction of math and science education,” Samueli said. “Hopefully they’ll become the engineers of tomorrow that will create the next companies.”
Raspberry Pi is already being used in some schools, particularly in the UK, to teach programming to younger students.
Check out a gallery of photos from the event below.
Do you think programming is an important skill that kids should learn in school? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.



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