‘oh Brother, where art thou? – at the @coolestprojects turtlestitch atelier in Dublin, Ireland.

Richard Millwood, Visiting Fellow at CRITE in TCD, founding member of the Computational Thinking 4 Life (http://ct4life.scss.tcd.ie/) group, and current coordinator of the CESI Computer Science community of practice was one of the busiest humans at Coolest Projects on Saturday May 26th in the RDS, Dublin. Once he had set up his electronic Brother sewing machine and left some laptops open at the Turtlestitch coding website, curious youngsters – and some oldsters – began coding their designs, saving them, and taking them to Richard who helped them choose fabric and thread and setting up the machine to print each individual design. Many happy visitors went away proudly showing off their swatch decorated with their own coded design.

Turtlestitch is the brainchild of Andrea Mayr-Stalder, who had the smart idea to merge turtle logo programming with the workings of her electronic embroidery machine. The story is at turtlestitch.org and is about to be launched as a crowdfunded project so that progress to date can be maintained.

Most youngsters who visited our atelier were familiar with Scratch block based programming. Turtlestitch is based on SNAP! so the Scratchers had no hesitation in diving in. Very very useful were Jennifer Lin’s starter cards, which outline some very basic designs and can be a supportive scaffold to hesitant beginners. Having them on offer was invaluable to me who’s role was “guide on the side” (as was John Hegarty, who called to say hello but was swiftly press-ganged into work).

Success in bringing each piece of work from programming thru file transfer to final production took patience and persistence, as sometimes more than one cycle was necessary to achieve a desired outcome; this was interesting to watch. One parent in particular caught our attention – she had visited and observed as her two children took their turn, but returned herself later and worked out, for her first time ever, the code for a gorgeous geometric design. Go, Helen!

Thanks to Coolest Projects liaison Peter O’Shea for inviting Turtlestitch to partake – it was a great experience for all those who took part.

Sarah and Daisy from Antrim with their designs. (Parental permission to display picture).

Sarah and Daisy from Antrim with their designs. (Parental permission to display picture).


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Although it’s way over a calendar month ago, I’ve been thinking about #picademy Dublin a lot since those two days, April 23 & 24, in the Science Gallery Dublin. James Robinson and his team did a tremendous pre setup for the thirty who took part in Raspberry Pi educator training.


It was a vibrant mix of learners – full mix of experience, sector, gender. Day 1 was a whistlestop tour of all the possibilities working with Raspberry Pi can offer – scratch and python coding, sonic pi music, physical computing – as long a piece of thread as anyone could want. The coolest lesson of the day at our table was learning about pitch, roll, and yaw; I reckon none of us will ever take a flight – or for those inclined, a rollercoaster – again without remembering this afternoon.

Day 2 was a huge gently guided maker project day – attendees could follow their dream theme. I worked with Mary Jo, Irene, Julie, Thomas and Seamus; our group’s goal was to put our pitch roll yaw learning into action and use one pi as a remote control to control a vehicle motor powered by another pi. We worked in two physical crews – the boys got busy building a lego car while the girls got busy programming each pi so that they could communicate over bluetooth. [Disclosure #1: for this part we got a lotta lotta help from Martin O’Hanlon in the use of bluedot – manual here – thank you Martin.]

What was really really important during this exercise, although we were far too living it busy to actually be aware of it at the time, was that we were conjuring the will o’ the wisp of the classroom – authentic cooperative learning. One half of the coding group was programming the pi 1 as the remote controller, the other half of the group was programming pi 2 to drive the motor of the vehicle on receipt of command from pi 1. [Disclosure #2: Irene and Julie took the lead as programmers, Mary Jo and me assisted.]  Both groups needed knowledge of each others programmes, dovetailing almost line by line, in order to progress.

In terms of cooperative learning we were experiencing all elements of learning cooperatively as a formal group – positive interdependence, individual and group accountability, promotive interaction, interpersonal and small group skills, group processing. During the ‘show and tell’ session at the end of the day, it was obvious other groups had experienced these elements also.  As a cooperative learning teacher, this made me comfortable at the time, and very very happy in reflection afterwards. I’m now curious to know if / how my colleagues Richard Millwood, Stephen Howell, and Keith Quille, who’ve each have been working with teacher groups using micro:bits, have seen the weaving of true cooperative learning into programming and maker projects.


So massive thanks to James and his Picademy team, you brought something good to Dublin, and you’re all welcome back anytime.


Fundamental Law of Conventional Conferences. Dave Winer. 2006.

The sum of the expertise of the people in the audience is greater than the sum of expertise of the people on stage.

I was introduced to this idea when reading a 2008* blog post by Ian Usher. *I didn’t read it in 2008, though I wish I had – i didn’t find it until 2015 when I started chasing up early information about TeachMeet.

Three times in the past fortnight this Winer’s Law has come to mind, to conversation, and into action, for me…

  • firstly in a conversation with a friend that I don’t see often enough, who was speaking of her ennui when sitting passively listening to stuff she already knew being explained to her from a stage. Her joy on hearing my profound pronouncement ex-cathedra that there was a Fundamental Law to explain her predicament made me feel very wise.
  • secondly at a recent conference, INTED (in Valencia Spain), where Winer’s Law was certainly true in terms of audience expertise, but the organisers of the conference were very thoughtful with the structure of the conference – of the over 700 attendees, almost all were presenting at some stage (literally the 15 mins of fame!), and the rules of engagement were very clearly drawn up with the Law Of Two Feet in mind – the audience in each of the many rooms was free to some and go as necessary. Coupled with the long siestas coffee and lunch breaks, it made for a conversational, relaxed-but-still-full-on-learning atmosphere. At no stage was an audience member in any ‘captive’, but there by choice and out of interest. It made for a very dynamic and lively two days. As giant strictly organised conventional conferences go, INTED was the first I’ve encountered which has, consciously or otherwise, taken Winer’s Law into account during the planning process.

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  • thirdly, on Twitter this morning, I read a conversation about TeachMeet between @johnjohnston and @MrM which conjured again for me Winer’s Law, and prompted me to reply via this blog post (Hello John, Hello Athole). John summarises neatly here, and others pipe in with comments. As it happens, I was speaking of TeachMeet at the INTED conference mentioned above – it is always interesting to watch the reactions of education academics when TeachMeet – a leaderless organisation, by teachers for teachers – is explained and outlined to them for the first time. There is keen interest and a plethora of questions; a little tension; and a LOT of delight. The image that works best I find is the ‘desire line’ metaphor here.

So thank you Dave for your law, and thank you Ian for pointing me towards it, and thank you Athole and John and commenters for reminding us of TeachMeet’s unconference birth, and thank you to my friend Carmel for the sheer joy of your reaction to it all.

Room 2, INTED 2018

Jano (Peru), Mags (Ireland), Marta (Espana), Pablo (UK), Sung (China), Maria (Espana).

Rainy Snowy days are meant to be used for catching up – and they don’t come much snowier in Ireland than today. So snowy that our annual CESI Conference – to which many of us had been looking forward eagerly – has been cancelled postponed. [Among other diversions, some simpleminded intrepid CESI folk have been honing their science inquiry skills with a new invention – details at Twitter hashtag #sneachtometer.]

There are two recent events for which I want to record thanks here – a Raspberry Jam in Belfast that was part of the Northern Ireland Science Festival, and a Turtlestitch lecture that was the opening event of a creative coded embroidery course in Trinity College Dublin.

Raspberry Jam – thanks to Andrew Mulholland and team
Me and my 10yo granddaughter spent a Saturday day in Queen’s University College Belfast during NI Science Week at the invitation of Andrew Mulholland, the mile-a-minute champion of all things Raspberry Pi in Northern Ireland. I loved the two giant computer labs full of Pi-controlled PCs, the family atmosphere, the light-touch-but-highly-supportive teaching and mentoring. We did an introductory lesson that outlined all things Pi, controlled some giant traffic lights with python, we used a micro:bit and a Sparkle neo-pixel to work out RGB colour codes, and we did some Sonic Pi composing. When I say “we”, I mean the 10yo; I was a passenger, an observer happily watching the learners and the mentors in action. We had a lovely lunchtime demonstration by teenage mentors Lucy and Sam, who wore the “formal” dress thay had hacked for their Prom the evening before. The kids and their families loved this. All in all, it was a terrific experience, and we will definitely be going back up the M1.


Turtlestitch lecture – thanks to Andrea Mayr-Stalder
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What a treat this was. IMG_20180223_171140.jpgAs an introduction to their forthcoming coded embroidery open course in Trinity, Richard Millwood and Glenn Strong invited Andrea to give the introductory lecture, outlining how she developed Turltestitch, a block-based interface based on SNAP!, in order to code designs for electronic embroidery machines. Andrea’s work  has inspired users across the world. Listening to her tell the story, with humility and quiet passion, was a lovely experience. I look forward to meeting Andrea again at the Scratch conference this summer – indeed it is at the past few Scratch conferences that the SNAP!-Turltestitch family has deepened growing connections.

Sorry To Be Missing these but delighted they are happening:
(i) next week’s visit by lead developer of SNAP!, Jens Monig, hosted by SAP. Thanks to Bernard Kirk (soon-to-ex-Director of Galway Education Centre) for arranging this, and best wishes to all who gather to talk SNAP!

(ii) next weekend’s aforementioned re-constituted #CESIcon; thanks are due from us all for the remarkable work has gone into this, TWICE, by the organising committee.


Writing a literature review.


Knitting needles, yarn, pattern

Knitting a literature review

Thinking it is a lot like (but more difficult than) the knitting used between paragraphs for procrastinating, postponing, pondering.

Having gathered the materials, the tools, the pattern, all made by others, waiting for the knitter to apply the twist of their craft knowledge and ideas, putting it together in a way that makes it both pleasing and useful.

Double click.

#BETT2018 – Three billboards, Two #teachmeets, One fellowship and No Stormtroopers

The annual BETT Ed Tech conference is about much much more than Tech or even education. It’s like an annual pilgrimage (too noisy to qualify as a retreat) with friends – the distances walked in the ExCel Centre and in the city qualify it for Camino status.

Three Billboards – this time last week I finished the 2018 BETT weekend with Richard Millwood and Adrienne Webb at the Westfield Cineplex watching Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. I went in so totally biased (love McDormand, love McDonagh) that I was fearful it wouldn’t measure up. Verdict – no problem, was absorbed, loved it, have to go again very soon.

Two TeachMeets – thanks to the backroom machinations of Drew Buddie, there was a new addition to the BETT calendar this year – an International TeachMeet on the Thursday night, sponsored by TES. It was attended by teachers from all over Europe – even Ireland, we made a sizeable dent in the floor and on the podium – and was meticulously curated and MC’d by eTwinning rock stars Bart Verswijvel and Arjana Blazic. It made for a lovely TeachMeet-style start to the BETT weekend, and judging by the atmosphere and reaction, it will become a fixture of future BETT conferences.


The traditional Friday night TeachMeet, running since BETT2008, was curated by Drew aided by Alan O’Donohue, and MC’d by a Dawn Hallybone / Ian Usher double act with a relaxing light touch. The move to the smaller venue with the ExCel was an inspired one – the ARENA was proving too vast for comfort in recent years – and engendered a real Friday night TeachMeet atmosphere. The evening started with a tribute to our late friend Tim Rylands, warmly and lovingly delivered by Dughall McCormick on behalf of us all; and made so very special by the ever gracious presence of Tim’s beloved Sarah Neild. The whole evening went swimmingly – the old random name picker is still working, Russel – and we were treated to a lot of thought provoking ideas to take away and try out or ponder – Joanna’s provocative presentation about parity of esteem, or not, in education and life in general, Matt’s inspiring photography club, Jodies’s moving use of Kandinsky art therapy with her young students have all exercised my thoughts this week, and will continue to do so. All that is good about TeachMeet was here this weekend. [And of course there was the TeachEat chats afterwards – a chance to catch up with each other and put the international world to rights].

One Fellowship – This is what the late Bianca Ní Ghrógáin named her ragtag band of ed tech friends at the 2013 Scratch conference in Barcelona, and it has sort of stuck since, covering any of the Irish CESI / ICTEDU / MakerMeet / TeachMeet / Scratch / EdchatIE tribe who meet up at an event, even those who qualify under the Granny, Emigrant, or Imported rules. Travelling and eating together gives us time to chat and mash up ideas, catch up with each other’s plans and dreams. These are people who see the unconference part of the trip as being equal to the conference part, and will travel together to other places of pilgrimage – this year it was the Babbage and the maths gallery at the Science Museum, the fashion rooms and tea rooms at the V&A, and the Winter Light show at Canary wharf. Thank you Adrienne, Pamela O’Brien, Hassan Dabbagh, John Hegarty, Richard, Tony Riley, Jake Byrne, Lorraine Underwood, Joanna Norton, and Neilus Young for your delightful company. ‘Til next time…

No Stormtroopers – this became the motto of this year’s BETT for me. It was a fun Pi-Top challenge, born of Graham Brown Martin’s recent Papert-inspired theorising, which reminded me of a Rebel Alliance conversation with him and Dawn Hallybone last BETT, and a constructionism blog post he wrote between last BETT and this. It was good to see a lot of creative coding around this year, mostly centred in the maker driven ‘constructionism’ corner, full of Pi and Micro:bit DIY ideas and people, including the beautiful 1000 micro:bit ‘swan’ display, behind which I had a geeky peek:

And so I wandered round BETT for an afternoon with the No Stormtroopers sticker in my hand, and everywhere I wanted to stick it would have possibly certainly got me arrested; in the end I went for some forced perspective (and some forced participation, thanks Hass and John, and pleased to meet you, Jesse) and came up with this masterpiece:

And yes, I won an Oscar – a PiTop – for this masterpiece of dodgy forced perspective, probably awarded for cheekily bossing the boss about – and look forward to using it.

And so, the Oyster card and the spare sterling change is away in the drawer for the next pilgrimage retreat camino trip to BETT 2019.

So is Scratch *real* programming, you ask, or have been asked?

The next time someone raises a dismissive or patronising eyebrow when you say you are using Scratch (or Snap! or such like) with students, or announces wearily ‘oh we’ve done Scratch’ as if that was the end of that, here’s a three minute video featuring an explanation software developer Bernat Romagosa that may give you some serious ammunition for your side of the discussion. It was made at the Scratch conference in July 2017, and I have quoted from it many times since. It should have been transcribed and uploaded before this, but today it can be a timely Fáilte for the new Leaving Certificate Computer Science professional development being launched in Ireland tomorrow. Good luck to all involved.

At the start of the Scratch Conference in Bordeaux, July 2018, video producer Jeannette gave me the task of finding someone to interview who would make sense, to a non-professional, of why Scratch is such a powerful tool. At the very end of a very busy conference, Catalan programmer Bernat Romagosa (Snap!4Arduino, Beetleblocks) provided us with a clear, simple, comprehensive answer. (Zoot, the cameraman, can be heard approving of the answers, so they must have been making sense.)


Mags – What is your explanation of what good Scratch is – why is it different to what people think computer programmers do – what good is it – how wonderful is it?
Bernat – Basically I think there are two parts to this…the first part is the visual part of the equation, which is what many people only see in Scratch…the blocks based interface, the cartoonish IDE and the 2D microworld where sprites interact with each other; but the actual interesting part to me is the fact that the system is live, you can modify programs while they are running, you can click on any piece of script, even a single block at any given time, and get back a result or have it perform an action, so you can test things live…and you have parallel vision…so eight year old kids are doing parallel programming…whereas I left university without doing that as it was too difficult. Basically I think that’s what there is.

Mags – And I need two questions answered now – you’re a computer programer, you’re qualified – what is an IDE and what is parallel programming?
Bernat – an IDE* is basically a programming environment, but in Scratch the lines get blurred…because the programming environment, the language, and the result of the language are all in the same interface…that’s in part inherited from live languages like Smalltalk

Mags – So you mean the screen we see when we open Scratch – these different panes – you don’t normally have all those open together?
Bernat –  No – so usually in – I hate the word – traditional programming languages or mainstream programming languages – you use a program to add in the code and the result of what you’re doing appears somewhere else, and in many cases you cannot see in real time the result of what you’re doing; you have to run to a complicated process – more or less complicated depending on the language – which translates that into an output. It is usually linear, which means you can only do one thing at a time. What parallel programming means is you can have the program do more than one thing. This is usually a very complicated thing to do in other languages, but Scratch makes it really easy with scripts that can be run at the same time by clicking on them or having them be triggered on Space Key press or Green Flag press or on receiving a message.

Mags – So now I understand for the first time, as a non-professional programmer, why I find Scratch easy to use. Whoa! You’ve done something for us here – thank you Bernat.

*IDE integrated development environment

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