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Meet the all-new, modular pi-top [4] that’s inspiring a generation of makers


UK £5 US $9





FROM WORKBENCH TO WORLD-CLASS It started with a piece of timber. In 2014, pi-top’s two founders set out to make the world’s first 3D printed laptop. But having no maker space they first they had figure out how to make a workbench on which to build it. You see learning, making and designing are in our DNA, and our mission to change education is how we’ve grown from two guys with a prototype to the 75-strong creative learning company we are today. pi-top’s dedicated team of educators and academic researchers posses over 100 years’ of pedagogical knowledge between them, backed up by hands-on teaching experience. Meanwhile our support and community team are on ready to help you every step of the way. Finally, our award-winning design and engineering team have redefined not only what computers can look like, but more importantly what they can do. Our ideas, products and services have come a long way since that first 3D printed laptop, but we’ve never stopped listening, learning and making. And, yes, we still have the workbench.


FOREWORD Welcome to the Spring 2019 issue of Learning by Making. This year is going to be a huge year for us with the launch pi-top [4]. You can read all about how we designed and built this game-changing maker system on page 16. Also in this issue is an exclusive interview with Eben Upton, CEO and inventor of the Raspberry Pi, talking about pi-top [4], education and computing for everyone. On page 34, we examine the changing face of assessment, and how some of the world’s top ranking countries are moving beyond ‘teaching to the test’ and embracing project based learning. We’ll also hear about where education, making and tech is going over the next few years. So lots of change for 2019, but one thing we’ve not changed is our mission – to help bring the power of learning by making to the world of education. And we can’t do that without you; teachers, educators and school leaders who share our belief that a maker-mindset is crucial for developing the skills that learners need in order to thrive in a rapidly changing world. So exciting times ahead, we thank you for your support and hope you join us on this journey. Finally don’t forget to register your details at so you can get the next quarterly digital issue of Learning By Making delivered straight to your inbox. Jesse Lozano CEO and co-founder, pi-top





Meet the maker: Avye


5 common mistakes to avoid when building a maker space in your school


Can you use YouTube to improve literacy in the classroom?


Defining constructionist learning


How to buy the right technology for your school


Everything that’s wrong with the future (and how to fix it)







Are we about to witness the global collapse of school exam rankings?


The Middle school Mars farm



Back page tech: turn your Android phone into a laptop with pi-top






Andrew at pi-top: Eben, you’ve had a sneak peek of pi-top [4] prior to its release. What do you think of it, and how do you see it working? Eben Upton: I think I've been involved in the pi-top story all the way through. I remember being at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2014. I was on stage with Jesse [Lozano, pi-top’s co-founder & CEO] and he handed me a 3D printed prototype and it was like nothing I'd ever seen; a laptop that you could hack with. What's been interesting to watch is the evolution of the product from 3D printable laptop to professionalised laptop, to pi-top CEED, to the second generation laptop, and now to pi-top [4]. It's been interesting to watch the company sense the market. Raspberry Pi have been quite constrained in terms of this because we really haven't had any choice about what we build, so it's been great to watch another company do that. And each generation has addressed the challenges of the previous generation, polished the value proposition. I like it. And size, shape and form factor? Yes, I was completely surprised by it and I think that's a good thing. It's a testament to the ecosystem doing what the ecosystem does, which is to go and explore places that we never would have imagined. When you take the base unit and dock it onto the back of the keyboard and display, you are back to a laptop configuration. Or you use it standalone, connected

to a mouse and keyboard and a monitor. In all of the configurations it takes the time and complexity out of the classroom experience. I mean, I can see that device just getting everywhere, right?

occasionally they'll exercise some of those options to create a product or service which they then sell to get the money to go make more options.

It's exciting because we think we know how it's going to be used, but the fact that you can just unplug it and use it in so many ways...

I think it's really cute. I won't be happy until someone's written Pacman for it, obviously. It's crying out for some standalone applications. I think people have a lot of success with standalone Pi, and people have a lot of success with a kitted Pi, but there's a big niche for this one. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes. The physical computing aspects of the Pi were, for me as a software engineer, almost an unexpected bonus. I originally saw this as a PC – I didn't plug LEDs into my Amiga. I saw Raspberry Pi as a software platform but, of course, it's become increasingly a physical computing platform.

Yes! And then at the end of the day you bring it back and you plug it in and it’s the brain for your laptop. On some level I'm lost in admiration for you guys for daring to do stuff with batteries. That's It's mains powered too. Yes. But you have batteries in your product. Yes. There are areas of endeavor that you guys have been involved in, particularly around displays, keyboards, batteries and the like which we have not got involved in. And it’s been wonderful to see an organisation do that, take on those challenges and vanquish them. And then iterate around it, not just ‘hey we made a laptop, we're done now’, but we made a laptop, what did we learn from making that laptop and what might we make next that isn't a laptop? People get obsessed when they think about companies, because they think about them in terms of their products or how they make money, but what companies are really doing is they are developing capabilities and accumulating pools of options. And then

What do you think of the OLED screen on the back?

And by taking the base unit and putting it in a good enclosure and providing a good power solution and a remote GPIO Node, I did love that. That's a very fine pitch cable you've got connecting it, very flexible for something that's got basically 40 conductors going down it. I'm speculating you might have cheaped out on grounds a little bit to get it more flexible? No, no. It's actually got a full complement of ground wires?! But I think it's great and I think it's got its place. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes Congratulations. Thank you very much. Four products in four years... Yes, this is the big one though. It's going to be an evolutionarily leap… That's it! You look at the trajectory of any product

“I can see that device just getting everywhere” Eben Upton in Cambridge, where Raspberry Pi is based.



line and you have some evolutionary and you have some revolutionary steps. You look at Pi and you've got 1 to 1+ evolutionary. Pi 2, revolutionary. Pi 3, revolutionary, 3+ evolutionary… and whatever we do next we'll end up having to be of necessity. Some of the revolutions are forced on you. I'm interested to see which of the accessory products is the one that does the most business. Is it the drone? Is it the humanoid? Is it the laptop accessories? Or the standalone? How many people are gonna see this as a really good, rugged, plastic case with a battery in it? That alone has great value. If you look at most IT in schools, they already have keyboards, mice and screens. It's a cost-saving exercise for those guys. But it becoming a maker device is key. Because it just widens it out and it gets into the realm of say, costume design and stagecraft and theatre, so that it gets it off the screen and out of a room and into the environment – you can also leave it in a tree for a week! Yes! Relevance is the key, I think, to broadening

participation. There's a class of student, and I was one of them, who you can get with, "hey, we're gonna learn about IF statements" I'm one of those. And a lot of the people you're surrounded with when you work in the current tech industry are those people. Because actually it was hard even with these machines in the '80s. I think the thing is, we look back at the '80s as this amazing time, but actually a terrible time from a diversity perspective, from an accessibility perspective and a community perspective. I remember I knew one other guy who programmed computers in my whole town. And we can make all these things better and I think an important part of that is positioning computing software and hardware as a way of solving problems that aren’t just computing problems. I want to make fantastic clothes for a fashion show. I want to find out what's been pooing in my garden, all of these things. And if you do that, you don't just get the 5% of kids who like IF statements. You get basically all kids who have something they care about in their lives.

All kids have something they want to do and they can't do. And if you get to them and you position this as being relevant to them, then you engage people's interest. It’s not easy though. It's a lot of work to get good at anything. But that's the hope, that you can engage people's passions. Or help them through the time that it takes to get good at this stuff so that it sticks. And so they stick with it. And what does the future look like? One good thing about the future – it's not going to happen in five years but it might happen in 10 or 20 years – is that the engineering industry will look like society, because it doesn't at the moment. Go and look round at any engineering firm; it’s not a picture of society in any way. And I think that the leading indicators suggest, and some of the experience we're getting suggests, that we can turn the engineering industry into society. And that's incredibly exciting because it's such an enjoyable job. And we have to go out and give that opportunity to as many people as we can.

“The physical computing aspects of the Pi were, for me as a software engineer, almost an unexpected bonus.”


LEARNING BY MAKING // Meet the maker: Avye

>>What made you get into coding and making so young? I attended a coding class when I was seven, and soon after began going to the Raspberry Pi Jams and CoderDojos in London. I now run regular workshops for CoderDojo and organise my own coding events to encourage more girls into tech.


AVYE >> 11-year-old Avye’s love for coding and making was sparked when she was just seven, and since then she’s not looked back. She spends most weekends attending a coding group and is determined to change the gender imbalance in STEAM. This summer she reached her crowdfunding campaign target to fund her Girls Into Coding events, where girls are able to explore coding and tech. Here she is to explain more.

>>What have you made most recently? Earlier this year I made a voice command robot. It uses a Raspberry Pi 3 with the Google Cloud Speech API, programmed using Python. >>What does making mean to you? I love making stuff, particularly using upcycled objects. It’s great the way an old tin or some packaging can be given a new lease of life when used with some technology. >>What’s the first project or invention you ever worked on? The first project I worked on was a time machine/ spaceship that I made with my dad. It ended up being quite big, so I wasn’t able to keep it for as long as I would have liked. >>You won the ‘best working device’ for the Micro: bit 1st Birthday Challenge. Tell us about this project. I made a balloon waving birthday robot for this project from various components. It was coded to play the happy birthday tune and say “Happy Birthday Microbit!” I used two micro:bits for this project, one coded with java blocks and the other ran python code.

>>Have you ever had a tough time with a project and how did you end up working through it? I have had several difficult moments with projects. When I’m stuck or just don’t understand something, there’s always someone from the tech and digital making community willing to help – it’s such a great network. >>Can you describe your maker space? It’s two long workbenches, two high stools and two adjustable lamps in case it starts getting dark. It’s actually an inviting little area for when I get back from school. There is always a range of different projects on the workbenches so I can choose which one I feel like doing. >>Why do you think it’s important to organise events such as ‘Girls into Coding’? Girls and women are underrepresented in STEAM education and careers. Events like ‘Girls into Coding’ can empower girls to explore STEAM activities and help them to become more familiar with and comfortable in tech environments. >>What is your favourite thing about running workshops? I really love sharing the skills that I have learnt and it’s great seeing the look on someone’s face when they get their code or components to work. >>What advice would you give to others who are just getting started in making? I have learnt to be resilient and positive. Focus on one bit a time and try not to become overwhelmed. Don’t worry about doing things perfectly!


LEARNING BY MAKING // 5 common mistakes to avoid when building a maker space in your school

COMMON MISTAKES TO AVOID WHEN BUILDING A MAKER SPACE IN YOUR SCHOOL Maker spaces are spreading across the globe, but often administrators and teachers make the same mistakes when trying to integrate them into their learning environments. Here’s what not to do...…


LEARNING BY MAKING // 5 common mistakes to avoid when building a maker space in your school



DON'T KEEP THE MAKER SPACE LOCKED UP Some people think that maker spaces have to be in a classroom that is locked up and only accessible to students during class time. That’s not a maker space, it's a regular classroom. A maker space needs to be a space where kids and teachers can go at anytime. Learning happens whenever, and we need to advocate for places that are open and accessible.







DON'T SPEND ALL YOUR MONEY WITHOUT TALKING TO THE STUDENTS Some institutions might want to spend their grant before talking to the students and asking them what they actually want. Before you buy anything, speak to your students and give them options. There's nothing wrong with buying 3D printers, laser cutters and CNC machines, just make sure that the students are ready for that level of making. Dust is cool if it's sawdust because you're working, but not if it's because the tools are not being used.

Want more? This is an edited and abridged version of episode 02 of our podcast, We Make The Future. To hear the full interview with teacher and maker space expert Nicholas Provenzarno, visit

About Nicholas Nicholas has been in education for the past 16 years. He’s a Google Certified Educator, Raspberry Pi Certified Educator, and a TEDEd Innovative Educator. He has a Masters in Educational Technology from Central

You must have teachers as a part of this conversation. If you're going to build the maker space, talk to one of your early adopter teachers and bring them into the conversation. You’ll need to get those teachers on board so they can tell other teachers. If you're going to have student involvement you need teacher involvement too. Maker spaces are a little weird. If you don't get them up and running right away, it's so hard to get teachers and students using the space. There needs to be a lot of excitement around it.

A maker space needs an ongoing budget for supplies. If you’ve bought a laser cutter, don't forget you'll need wood to cut, and the same goes for 3D printers. Those are the things that long-term are forgotten about because you're excited. You'll need a few thousand every year and if it's a busy maker space, then you'll need more than that.

There are so many people in your community that have the skills, knowledge and connections that can support the learning that goes on in maker spaces. If it's possible, open up your maker space to the community, whether it's one weekend a month, an after-school event or even a "Parents & Kids Making Night" where kids can come in and show off what they’re working on to their parents. I think sometimes we look at a school like it's this silo when we really have this whole community around it that can totally be engaged and supportive of the space.

Michigan University.



This was an edited and abridged extract from our podcast, We Make The Future. To hear the full interview and find out more go to:

Dominic Traynor used to be a primary school teacher. After pushing his class hard to exceed their targets for two and a half terms he thought he’d let them wind down with a fun creative project. What happened next was totally unexpected... 12

LEARNING BY MAKING // Can you use YouTube to improve literacy in the classroom?

Andrew at pi-top: Dominic, tell us what happened. Dominic Traynor: One of the things that challenged me as a teacher was getting the kids to care about their learning, as they can often feel that they don’t have ownership of it. Together, we wanted to find a way to share their English work with a much wider audience. For this generation, video is a much quicker and often more artistic way to present a story. So we looked at working on some kind of video production, either a news report, an adventure film or performance poetry. How did this lead to establishing LitFilmFest? I was working in a school where the head teacher had set us some quite challenging targets one year. I spent the the first two and a half terms working the kids really hard and we had a very good report at the end of it, but there was also this sense that everybody was just a little bit spent. And so, I said to them, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ This was back in 2012, and all the kids in that class were very into YouTube, so they wanted to make a film. I'd made the decision that I wasn't going to mark any books or do anymore assessments, I'd just let them go for it and give them a free reign. About two or three weeks in, I noticed that there was this real change in the classroom. When they came in in the morning, they started working on things without me asking them to, and every now and again a child would come up and say,

"can I have a new book please, I've finished my book.’ Then ten kids were coming in and saying, "can I have a new book now?" And I knew that something was happening.

I've talked a lot recently with various headteachers about 21st century skills and one of the headteachers said to me, "Knowledge will die, but lifelong learning skills won't.’ The video

“There’s a big difference between watching three hours of cat videos on YouTube and spending three hours making a video for YouTube.” So I started looking through their books, and I could see that they were working much harder than they were before, because, for a start, it was their project, and secondly it was doing traditional work but for a medium that they were into. They wanted to be YouTubers. They understood that in order to produce something good for video, they had to produce something good on the page. It had to make sense, it had to flow. It had to have a good and intriguing storyline and all the dialogue had to be on point. It was some of the best stuff I'd seen from them all year, and at the end we produced this film and it was quite a decent watch. And that got me thinking; if they've made more progress in those last six weeks than they have in the last six months, then I'm doing something wrong and there is a massive opportunity here for us to develop a framework, where kids want to work hard and they're producing stuff that they actually like. There's a lot of talk now around creative problem solving, teamwork, all those so-called ‘soft skills’ that are preparing children for the future. Does this deliver on that?

us so much opportunity. What we need to get away from is mindless use of technology. There's a big difference between watching three hours of cat videos on YouTube and spending three hours making a video for YouTube. Well it's how we turn children from consumers into creators, right? Exactly.

production side of things really delivers all of those soft skills. And don’t forget that collaboration, teamwork, problem solving and planning are all the hallmarks of the best teams, the best companies - things that everybody talks about all the time, particularly in the startup world. These are all the skills that we produced, rather than just focusing on the ‘exam factory’.

So what’s the next step for teachers wanting to give this a try?

Tell us about the technology needed for this.

And anything that you do for the first time is going to be more challenging, but if you keep on doing it again and again, you will suddenly get into this culture of making and creating, and children will work for you without you having to crack the whip. Because no child ever woke up in the morning and said "I can't wait to see the response marking that my teacher has left for me."

You just need one device. Some schools actually use old phones and they take the sim cards out. Some schools will use an iPad, some schools have still got a flip cam. Most people can get their hands on some kind of filming device. And look at modern-day smartphones. They're better than cameras were five years ago. The technology is always cited as a barrier, but actually it’s the lowest barrier. The biggest barrier is the willingness of the teacher, the headteacher or the school culture to try new things. How do you address comments about screen time? I think the screen time issue is a red herring. Nobody wants to go back to a time where we didn't have technology because it gives

Go to LitFilmFest and download every single free resource that they possibly can. But the real thing is just give it a go, then question it at the end and ask the kids if they enjoyed it? Have a look at their work. Did they write more than they were writing before? Was it a higher quality? Was there a bigger buzz in the classroom?

But a child might get up in the morning and say, "I cannot wait to shoot the introduction to our news report when I get to school, because once it's all put together and we're gonna put it together in our ICT class, we can publish it on YouTube and I can show all my friends." And the more we can get people to be creators and makers, then maybe the better place this world might be.


LEARNING BY MAKING // Defining constructionist learning

DEFINING CONSTRUCTIONIST LEARNING THIS ARTICLE IS AN EXTRACT FROM THE RESEARCH PAPER EDUCATION, KNOWLEDGE, AND LEARNING. AN OVERVIEW OF THEORIES AND RESEARCH ABOUT CONSTRUCTIONISM AND MAKING BY LORRAINE CHARLES, WILLIAM RANKIN, AND CATHERINE SPEIGHT. YOU CAN READ THE FULL REPORT AT BIT.LY/PI-TOP-RESEARCH ‘Constructivism’ and ‘constructionism’ (including the subfields of ‘social constructivism’ and ‘social constructionism’) are two distinct learning methodologies. Although some teachers and theorists use these terms interchangeably, making a distinction between them and understanding their differences may prove helpful as we consider the design of learning approaches (Young and Collin 2004; Hyde 2015). Constructivism is a theory of knowledge originated by the Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget (1896–1980). Piaget argued that experience doesn’t happen in a vacuum; learners interpret their experiences based on their own prior knowledge as well as on the reported experiences of others. In other words, Piaget believed that children construct their knowledge based on what they know, who they are with, and who they are. Because of this interplay between experience, reflection and identity as the basis for building knowledge, constructivism argues that learning happens best when it is self-directed. Self-direction occurs when learners feel they can exercise authentic control over the content and purpose of their learning; they make judgements regarding the significance and meaning of learning experiences in a way best suited to them. However, this typically does not happen in isolated study; it is a function of the evaluation of shared and mutually interpreted experiences. Piaget’s constructivism provides a framework for understanding children’s patterns of thinking and development at different stages of learning (Ackermann 2010). In constructionism, created by Seymour Papert (1928–2016) of the


Massachusetts Institute of Technology, learning happens when children are engaged in constructing meaningful artefacts or objects. Like constructivism, constructionism shares a view of learning that is about the building of knowledge structures through the internalisation of action over time. However, in constructionism, attention is given to the manner of learning – also referred to as the ‘art of learning’ – and to understanding the relationship between the learner and the made object. Papert’s constructionism builds on Piaget’s constructivist theory. He proposed that learners construct mental models to understand the world around them, but must then manifest them in the construction of ‘objects-to-think-with’ to complete the process. Constructionism shares constructivism’s view that learning involves ‘building knowledge structures’ through progressive internalisation of actions, but it adds the idea that this happens in contexts where learners areconsciously engaged in constructing a ‘public entity’. Papert explains how his constructionist theory builds on constructivism thus: From constructivist theories of psychology we take a view of learning as a reconstruction rather than as a transmission of knowledge. Then we extend the idea of manipulative materials to the idea that learning is most effective when part of an activity the learner experiences [involves] constructinga meaningful product.

According to constructivist theory, individual learners construct new knowledge based upon existing and innate knowledge. In other words, learners do not receive knowledge

passively, but interpret what they receive, modifying it to construct new knowledge. Constructionist theorists and practitioners agree that learning is an active process, but they argue that it happens most productively when learners make (not receive) ideas and knowledge through the creation of personally meaningful projects. Constructionism goes beyond a superficial or simplistic idea of learning-by-doing, emphasising the roles of both design and digital technology in facilitating knowledge construction through the creation of actual artefacts. For Papert and his fellow constructionists, the creation of new knowledge is best served in contexts where learners are consciously involved in the design and production of sharable external artefacts (such as physical projects or products), offering learners opportunities to apply the knowledge they are developing. Kafai (2006) describes the artefacts that learners create as ‘objects-to-think-with,’ where the designed artefacts, in Papert’s terms, “can become objects in the mind that help to construct, examine, and revise connections between old and new knowledge.” For truly effective learning, constructionists believe learners must make discernible objects in real-world contexts for real audiences, drawing their conclusions through creative experimentation and the feedback that results from sharing what they produce. This emphasis on learner agency contrasts with the more academically prevalent practice of ‘instructionism,’ where knowledge is seen as a static, non-volatile object to be transmitted and absorbed. In part, this shift in emphasis from information to construction is due to more than thirty years of research, demonstrating

Boiled down, constructionist learning is characterised by five key emphases:-

that learners retain only minimal information from exclusively instructionist methods and they frequently have trouble transferring the information they do retain to new experiences. This difficulty in retaining and using information highlights one reason many have begun looking to constructionist educational approaches. Constructionism does not merely impact learners, however. To provide greater opportunities for individual agency, constructionism, like socioconstructivism, proposes that teachers act as facilitators, coaching learners rather than subjecting them to lectures or step-by-step guidance (Rogoff 1994). Instructionist ‘lecturing at’ is replaced in constructionism by teachers who serve and support learners working to understand problems and develop their own solutions. Projects, where individuals make connections between different ideas and areas of knowledge, provide an ideal environment for such learnerdirected learning. This has led to momentum behind several ‘new’ learning movements, such as projectand problem-based learning and ‘maker’ education (all three of which are discussed in detail in the next chapter). Known as ‘active learning’ for their emphasis on learner creation, these constructionist methodologies oppose the passive reception and repetition of information. Yet they also involve more than just active knowledge construction. Learners working through many constructionist approaches are also expected to reflect about their engagement in learning activities and tasks. Emphasising such metacognitive and higher-order thinking, many forms of constructionism incorporate group work, seeing collaboration as a means of driving skills and

knowledge development while also offering opportunities to engender further reflection and observational opportunities that can drive metacognition. Bonwell and Eison (1991) conclude that active forms of constructionist learning lead to better student attitudes and improvements in students’ thinking and writing. A meta-analysis study by Freeman et al., (2014) on the impact of active learning in undergraduate STEM classes shows that average examination scores improved by 6% in active learning sessions. Students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes with active learning. Lecturing and the passive reception it requires of students increased overall failure rates by 55%. Active learning strategies benefitted all class sizes, although classes with fewer than 50 students saw the greatest impact. Currently, educators are using three main forms of constructionist learning; problem based learning, project-based learning, and ‘maker’ learning. As the next chapter of this paper will outline, each approach differs from the others and offers specific advantages – and reasons for deployment. In a nutshell, in problem-based learning, teachers present a case or problem that learners must think through. Project-based learning takes this approach to the next level by asking students to enact the solution they have developed, producing an artefact or application that reflects their attempt to respond to the case or solve the problem. ‘Maker’ learning augments project-based learning by focusing on the collaborative community and productive learning and making spaces in which learners design, develop, and build their projects.

(Re)construction of knowledge: learners construct new understandings based on existing knowledge and actively make projects to test and refine the knowledge (and knowledge models) they’re developing. Learner agency and self-directed exploration: learners take a central role in the learning process, discovering new knowledge themselves, with teachers acting as facilitators and guides rather than custodians of content. Learning through designing and social making: learners are involved in designing and creating artefacts based on their own perspectives and ideas, getting feedback on their understanding not from external assessments (like exams) but from sharing their projects and artefacts with others. Reflection and metacognition: learners use the projects and artefacts they make to reflect on their learning, gaining opportunities to consider their own particular learning approaches and processes as a means of facilitating understanding. Technological literacy: learners use technology to achieve specific learning goals rather than experiencing technology as a bolt-on or after-thought. 15

THE POW OF THE [4 LEARNING BY MAKING // The power of the [4]

pi-top’s Chief Education and Product Officer, Graham BrownMartin opens his desk drawer. Inside sits an early pi-top [4] prototype. It looks like a small, bright green iPad, with an exposed Raspberry Pi protruding somewhat obtrusively from its back. Already on the desk is the final production version of pi-top [4], by contrast looking every inch the educator and consumer-ready product, fizzing with potential. “It’s amazing to think what we have gone through to get from that early prototype, to the final design of pi-top [4]” he says, “it’s been incredible”. 16

To say the last six months have been a busy time for pi-top is something of an understatement. They’ve not only designed, developed and iterated an entirely new piece of hardware, but also updated the operating system too. In addition, they have revamped their corporate branding, website and community support, and launched a successful podcast. On top of all that, a newly developed CPD programme launches shortly to better support educators. “There’s not one part of this business that’s not evolving” says Brown-Martin, “We’re developing and growing everything”. For pi-top [4], the team used ‘design thinking’, which is a way of looking at the design process in an iterative way.

WER 4]

LEARNING BY MAKING // The power of the [4]


LEARNING BY MAKING // The power of the [4]

“Everyone should have the opportunity to be a maker, no matter what their age”


LEARNING BY MAKING // The power of the [4]

Product Manager Toby Martin Hughes explains how this worked. “We started by defining the problems within the market, then looked how to answer them. For example, having a modular unit, rather than a traditional desktop PC, was a specific response to teachers wanting to take the learning outside of the classroom. The design and engineering team would then work together on viable solutions for this”. Designing a product to work outside also raised other issues such as power usage and product durability that the teams had to solve, but it was worth doing as it’s meant that pi-top [4] can

be used to develop more varied and real world learning for students away from the traditional classroom setting. Further research and user testing with educators during the development process also highlighted other challenges such as the GPIO (‘General Purpose Input Output’ – a way of controlling electronics with code) interface not being that user friendly. This led specifically to the development of pi-top [4]’s GPIO Node cable, that attaches to the pi-top [4] and extends the reach of the GPIO interface, allowing the making and electronics work more freedom of movement. But perhaps 19

LEARNING BY MAKING // The power of the [4]

one of the most interesting features of pi-top [4] is its OLED digital display screen on the unit itself. This can display information on current projects as well as system information. VP of Technology, Wil Bennett explains how it came to be a crucial part of the product. “At first we built a couple of prototypes without a screen, but after messing

in cardboard! It’s amazing how fast you can prototype in that medium, and get something from your your head to being accurately represented in front of you.”

With a true maker spirit, the team looked at how to change that. Wil Bennett again “We took inspiration from the HELIOS (see page 28) project where we built small boards with a screen and buttons to help with telemetry in the Solar Car Challenge. We liked that screen so much we decided to use the same one on the pi-top [4]. It’s a great example of how making, and messing around with things like HELIOS, although a limited run of 70 boards for a specific project, fed into the design and inspiration for our latest product. As with everything in making, everything you do is a stepping stone to the next great thing.”

“The first version was even built in cardboard! It’s amazing how fast you can prototype in that medium”

Finally, inclusivity and accessibility were crucial to pi-top [4]’s development, to ensure the lowest possible barrier to entry. The physical button colours and “having a modular unit, rather on-screen typeface used were chosen specifically to than a traditional desktop PC, legibility and visual was a pecific response to teachers support impairment issues. Also, wanting to take the learning the size, shape and form factor was designed with outside of the classroom.” both smaller, as well as older hands in mind. “Everyone should around with them quickly realised that have the opportunity to be a maker, no due to their modular nature, without matter what their age” says Brownan attached keyboard and screen, Martin, “and after all, our purpose there was no easy way to interact with at pi-top is to give every learner the them.” In other words, you couldn’t opportunity to be inspired by making . tell what the pi-top [4] was doing, These rules govern our design principles something that’s key if it’s being used and in fact everything we do as a 21st away from a keyboard and screen on century learning company”. a rover or drone for example.

It was this rapid iteration that allowed the pi-top [4] to evolve so quickly. “We learned so much” says Bennett, “we’ve built so many versions of pi-top [4], every six weeks we made a new version. The first version was even built


In Brown-Martin’s office we examine that early prototype. “The first iterations, in retrospect, are a bit basic, but our approach meant that we weren’t afraid to rapidly prototype, share these ideas then collaborate to test them and iterate to the point where we end up with something that we know our customers will love” he says. Yet despite all the planning, teamwork and market exploration, perhaps the most exciting things are still to come, when pi-top [4] gets in the hands of makers, hackers, and designers. “That’s what we can’t wait to see, the amazing things people are going to do with this” says Brown-Martin.

LEARNING BY MAKING // The power of the [4]

“That’s what we can’t wait to see, the amazing things people are going to do with this”



LEARNING BY MAKING // How to buy the right technology for your school

The educational technology sector is booming, some might even say overheating. Startups, as well as major global giants, now offer teachers and schools hundreds of products, projects and hardware. It’s never been more difficult or confusing for school administrators and teachers when it comes to investing in the best new technologies to ensure they get the results they and their pupils need, and that the school gets a solid return on its investment. Here’s how to get it right first time.

in their sector, had a positive impact on educational outcomes and saves educators the one thing they never have enough of – time!

A recent TES survey of over 1,000 British teachers clearly showed that the vast majority strongly agreed that the best EdTech enables innovation in pedagogy, had improved the quality of education 22

So why is it that over two-thirds of these same teachers still felt that it is still too hard for ordinary teachers to use technology, and over half (56%) felt that its use was ‘risky’ for classroom management. Plus, just under a third (30%) felt it was poor value for money.


LEARNING BY MAKING // How to buy the right technology for your school


HOW TO BUY THE RIGHT EDTECH FOR YOUR SCHOOL The general consensus amongst nearly half of those teachers surveyed (42%) was that their school was disinclined to invest in new EdTech. Furthermore, 47% of respondents noted that their current tech infrastructure actively prevented them from adopting new EdTech. “Most schools are struggling for funding at the moment,” said one respondent in the study, “but even so, in my experience, the success of innovation depends on how high the driving force is. When there is significant management buy-in, then the pace of change can be exhilarating; without it, innovators can feel like Sisyphus.”

Here at pi-top, we want to give every learner the opportunity to be inspired by making. Our hardware and our schools’ programs are designed by teachers, for teachers. Our education experts have an unrivalled knowledge of what teachers actually need and what works in the classroom, from years of teaching experience themselves. But don’t just take our word for it, check out our case studies for specific examples of how educators have used pi-top in the classroom. One of our goals is to make it easy for almost any teacher, no matter what their level of coding knowledge or computer literacy, to give a really engaging and memorable lesson that empowers children to explore their world through making and creativity. Our philosophy is to enable educators and students alike to make the most of collaborative, project-based, maker-centred learning. For example, pupils can learn the nuts and bolts of building their own laptop, which they can

then write code on. There’s a range of projects for pupils to work on, from programming basic lighting and audio circuits through to making robots and more sophisticated electronic musical instruments. The bottom line is this; while we love tinkering with our hardware and designing cool new projects for the classroom, the devices themselves are not the most important thing. That is the many remarkable things that your students will produce with their pi-tops, things that you might never have thought possible. The rate of change of EdTech is only going to increase. Yet the basic STEAM requirements of your students to learn science, maths, engineering, art and maths are only met by giving them educational projects to work on together that truly engage them. This is why pi-top’s constructionist approach to EdTech completely rejects the old-fashioned learning of content by rote and is instead all about experiential learning – encouraging passionate and engaged learners who thrive on thinking creatively, learning how to make things together. 23

LEARNING BY MAKING // Everything that’s wrong with the future


Andrew at pi-top: Mark, your books look at our current systems in government, technology, the environment and particularly education and how they're failing. I want to start by doing a deep dive on the doom; what are the worst examples of failure that you've come across.

way, because the status quo is very well-funded, but it's a lot easier than not doing it. One of the things I say to a lot to my clients is taking the future seriously will cost some people their jobs, and that's going to be difficult, but not taking it seriously wil cost everybody their jobs.

Mark Stevenson: Where do I start? All of it! There’s an assumption in the question that these are separate systems somehow, and that one them's failing, but they're all failing because they're all intertwined. It's like we've got all our priorities wrong as a species. And that's because there's a small number of people who profit quite well out of that, but 90% of us are looking at a bit of a disaster. So, what's going wrong? All of it. The whole shebang needs a radical rethink. Luckily, I think we're going through the process of doing that.

You talk about how these things are failing, because this isn't just a western or a First World thing, is it? It’s a global thing?

It's not easy, though, is it? I suppose it’s how you look at it. It's not easy in one


What tends to happen in the ‘developing economies’, although I don’t particularly like that phrase, is that they tend to ape what they see as more advanced systems. For example, ‘this is what Britain did, and Britain ruled the world, so let's follow their education system.’ Well, actually, British education was fine for 1850, but it's terrible for 2018. So, yes, I think it's a pretty much a global problem. There are some nations that are doing great things, though, Finland, in particular.

What is Finland are doing well, that other people could emulate? They do so many things well. The first thing they did was to decide that the purpose of their education system was to breed happy Finns. They pay their teachers commensurate salaries, as they would for a doctor or a lawyer. Their kids don't go to school, properly, until seven or eight, which gives them a

whole bunch of learning through free play, which is actually one of the most creative and stimulating things you can give children to do. They don't do all that much homework, either. I just think they see kids as human beings to be made fully rounded citizens, as opposed to products to be put through a system so that you can meet some kind of criteria.

LEARNING BY MAKING // Everything that’s wrong with the future

There’s no doubt that automation is going to do a lot of people out of work. But what we haven't got at the moment in most economies is any sense of creating an economy of the jobs machines can't do. But we're not building that economy, certainly not in the UK. So, we have to build an economy of the jobs machines can't do. Some nations will get this, and they will thrive brilliantly, because they and their machines will work very well together, and some nations won't, and at the moment, the UK, particularly post-Brexit, just hasn't got its head around this at all. So if we're not going to have this Blade-Runneresque scenario...

“what we haven't got at the moment in most economies is any sense of creating an economy of the jobs machines can't do.” There's been a lot of stories in the ed tech sphere recently about the seductive power of technology as a kind of global fixer for everything. Bill Gates said, "Automation applied to an inefficient operation will just magnify the inefficiency." And time and time again in my work, people will say, "Well, we've got a problem with this thing, so we're going to apply artificial intelligence,

machine learning, 3D printing, VR, whatever and that'll fix it." It's like, "No, it'll make it worse!" The idea that technology will save pedagogy is ridiculous, we actually have to re-think what we want people to do. The traditional argument is that you, quote, ‘Do school’, and then you go out into the workplace and get a job. Tell us how we’re going to have to radically re-think that.

We could very easily have a Blade-Runneresque scenario. I'm not an optimist, neither am I a pessimist, I’m a possibilist, and if we carry on the way we're going, it's a disaster. The good news is that it is all fixable, and I know that because I've spent a lot of my time going around finding, highlighting, helping, networking, getting finance for people who are solving systemic problems. The question is, "Will we get there?," and I don't know. There's this ugly period coming where the next 10 years is going to be very messy as we move from this old world of economies of scale to economies of distribution, where we have to move from extractive business models to regenerative ones, for example. That's not going to happen quickly, or easily, and the status quo, which is very

well-funded, is not going to like that. But there's no escaping the fact it's going to be a bloodbath, because the old world is going to die, and it's not going to happen in some orderly, lovely fashion. We’ve got a $22 trillion carbon bubble sitting on the stock market. If we follow these companies business models and burn those fossil fuels, the entire species dies. So, clearly, at some point, the market is going to understand that, either by the fact everybody in it is dead, or there will be a massive re-evaluation, which is coming quite soon. If an educator is listening to this, what do you say to them? If I were to give a generic piece of advice, it would be to think like an engineer, and not like a politician. Politicians will position themselves based on what's emotionally comfortable for them, and what they think will get the most support. Engineers just go, "We have a problem. We need to solve it." And that requires us acting differently. And one of the things I do know is that people divided by politics are very soon brought together around projects. So, stop arguing, or thinking or worrying about the position, and just go, "What is it I need to build that my colleagues also want to build, regardless of whether we believe in progressive or traditional, or left or right, or whatever? What is it we're going to make together?" And you'll find, actually you'll agree on 89% of it, and the other 11% you can argue about in the pub.


LEARNING BY MAKING // Is Pearson the Kodak of Education?


Artificial Intelligence (AI) often makes the list of things that are ‘just around the corner’ in the forthcoming Fourth Industrial Revolution, swiftly followed by ubiquitous connectivity, full robotic automation, and supercomputing for all. And so it is no surprise that people are keen to apply AI to sectors such as education. A July 2018 report predicts that artificial intelligence in U.S. education will grow by 47.5% from 2017-2021. So far, so future. But AI isn’t just the preserve of edtech startups; established educational behemoths also want to get a slice of the pie, and they don’t come much more behemothic than Pearson. Which is why it came as no surprise to read a Forbes article entitled How Pearson Plans To Automate Education With AI. We also know a thing about AI and education here at pi-top. Last year, our Chief Education & Product Officer, Graham Brown-Martin, gave evidence to the House of Lords Artificial Intelligence Committee. Of Pearson’s latest plans he says “once again Pearson conflate education with (their) content delivery and (their) measurement systems.


They will, I suspect, be massively disrupted and become the Kodak of Education as we realise that context is king rather than content, and that we need new metrics to recognise the things we value today, rather than the things we might have valued yesterday.”

LEARNING BY MAKING // Is Pearson the Kodak of Education?

THE SEDUCTION OF BIG DATA Those ‘things we value’ encompass everything from empathy and understanding to so-called soft skills like leadership and cooperation. Then there’s creativity and problem-solving, both critical for future generations as they tackle issues in the world, their communities and their lives. So how’s Pearson going to do it? Well, the company’s AI strategy seems to be crunching the huge amounts of data it

“...we need new metrics to recognise the things we value today, rather than the things we might have valued yesterday.”

has from students using already its education software. ‘[Pearson] is now pulling together data to build software that can automatically give students feedback on their work like a teacher would.’ The problem here isn’t that education is somehow unsuited to AI, it’s that Pearson, and others like them, are applying AI to an already broken and dysfunctional system (and it’s not just AI; you could slot VR or whatever the future tech of the week is in there and get a similar return). Graham Brown-Martin again; “like a lot of edu-businesses and those wanting to apply AI to teaching, Pearson misunderstands the value of small data and over-estimates the value of big data. The fact is that there is no such thing as an average student or human being, so the utility of big data isn’t as much as some would like to believe, especially when we are looking at something as personal as the learner/ teacher relationship.”

ASSESSMENT IS NOT A SPREADSHEET The problem here isn’t AI, it’s the assessment and grading, as any teacher will tell you. In fact, don’t take our word for it, take the words of the late Joe Bower, (a teacher from Canada who sadly passed away in 2016 at the age of 37); “assessment has been bastardised into meaning measurement – it’s not the same thing. Assessment is not measurement. I assess my students every single day, but it’s not in what is maybe the conventional sense. Assessment is not a spreadsheet, it’s a conversation.” Bill Gates famously said that ‘automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.’ Pearson is, fundamentally, a content and assessment company, and applying AI to that business model isn’t change and it isn’t the ‘future of education’. It’s using technology to maintain the status quo. And if there’s one thing we don’t like here at pi-top, it’s the status quo. It’s a tricky time for Pearson, and the company has its fingers in a lot of pies. It wants to see itself as the Netflix of Education, but until it puts down the crack pipe of belief in an assessment system delivered by content memorisation, it’ll still be the Kodak of Education in our eyes.


LEARNING BY MAKING // Here comes the sun



06 DAY 6:



05 DAY 5:



Vehicles from 30 US high schools arrived in Texas to take part in the 25th Solar Car Challenge race in the summer of 2018, each hoping to cover 1,300 miles from Fort Worth, Texas to Palmdale, California. An event like this combining learning by making, engineering and computers had pi-top written all over it – this year quite literally, as we decided to sponsor the race for the first time. However, we weren’t content just to put our logo on the race website, we wanted to figure

LEARNING BY MAKING // Here comes the sun




03 DAY 3:





01 DAY 1:

(c) solar car challenge / Lehman Marks

04 DAY 4:



DAY 2:



TEXAS out how we could really get involved. Here’s what happened. Several months before the start of the race, some of pi-top’s engineering team met with the event organisers to throw some ideas around. What they came up with was inspired. “Historically the event had a strong hardware and electronics element, and though we love that, we wanted to add software into the mix too” says Wil Bennett, pi-top’s VP of Technology.

The pi-top team developed a full telemetry system, so racers and their support cars could analyse energy input and usage on their vehicles. “The cockpits of most cars are a bit cramped already, so we didn’t want to make that worse by squeezing a pi-top in there. We decided to have some fun and throw together a custom circuit board to go in the solar cars instead” adds Wil. Called the pi-topHELIOS, the telemetry system can read the solar panel’s power, battery level, auxiliary battery levels – almost

anything the teams decided to measure during the race. They also threw a GPS in there too, so teams could measure speed, direction and distance. “Then we thought ‘wouldn’t it be cool to not only display all this to the driver but also send it to a pi-top in the support car’” adds Wil. Despite all this complexity, the engineering team designed and produced the units from scratch in under a month. Crucially though, they made everything open source.


LEARNING BY MAKING // Here Article comes Namethe sun

“Teams can see the schematics, the parts we chose and why, and the whole idea was to make it open and encourage them to take it apart” says Wil. The system was further developed by one of the race’s adult engineering volunteers who added a graphical interface to show the data. This too was totally customisable – one team reprogrammed it with their team colours and logo!

Helios board that their fully charged battery pack was showing less voltage than expected. They found the charge controller on their array was out of calibration, and the internal voltmeter was 3 volts off. So they got the charge controller fixed and are now getting a full charge, so Telemetry saved their race” says Jarrett Dunn, from the Solar Car Challenge Technology Team.

The telemetry proved itself in action. “All Saint’s School noticed on their

Jarrett also went on to talk about the power of the event in helping


students develop important skills and experiences “I had a lot of great conversations with students this year, but one stands out. A particular student came from a school that didn’t have a particularly strong technology program. They don’t have a computer science curriculum and the solar car team was an extension of the automotive service curriculum. Here, he found something he really loved. I don’t think I saw him without the pi-top in his hands the

LEARNING BY MAKING // Here comes the sun

“we are delighted to have pi-top as a technology partner for the Solar Car Challenge. We have never had access to this level of advanced technology before.”

entire two weeks. He was asking great questions and wanted to go on to pursue programming in higher education.” Despite the heat and distances involved, the units held up admirably, and pi-top’s involvement was a resounding success. “We worked on three main areas” says Wil. “Developing high-level application software for computers, low-level embedded software that talks to components like the radio

and voltage meters and hardware, and the physical electronics hardware itself – schematics and PCBs. But crucially all of these were open source. We actively wanted teams to take them apart and adapt them. It’s what learning by making is all about”. Dr Lehman Marks, founder and president of the Solar Car Challenge, said “we are delighted to have pi-top as a technology partner for the Solar Car Challenge. We have

never had access to this level of advanced technology before.” As for next year? Well, pi-top are hoping to be back stronger than ever. In the meantime, there are dozens of other uses for this technology. “The range of the transmitter is several miles, and can be tweaked to go even further, so you could attach this to all sorts of things like planes, weather balloons or rockets” says Wil. The sky’s the limit it seems!



This is an edited and abridged version of episode 07 of our podcast, We Make The Future. To hear the full interview, go to:

Photo: @PhilpottdDesign with @ChrisNashPhoto


>>Andrew at pi-top: Zoe, tell us what led you to create Ada, Ada, Ada, and what's it like to be an audience member? Zoe: Ada, Ada, Ada is a one woman show about the world's first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace. We tell her story in her own words, using an LED dress and a lot of string! The show exists to inspire more engagement in STEAM, especially in girls and women. Tech and engineering are the future. Whereas in the past parents might have encouraged their kids to be lawyers or accountants, they should now be suggesting engineering to them, because it’s such an exciting growth industry. The problem is that the industry’s not getting the pipeline of talent it needs, because people don't realise what an engaging and brilliant career it is.

LEARNING BY MAKING // Meet the maker bringing Ada Lovelace to life

>>Do you perform the show in Ada's own words, are you using her diary extracts? There is very little known about Ada because her mother destroyed most of the correspondence to and from her. What remains is mainly between her and (inventor and mathematician) Charles Babbage. Charles was an extraordinary inventor and mathematician, incredibly eccentric. So I present her as much as I can in her own words, so that people can then decide what she was like. I think she was awesome, so outrageous, incredibly intelligent, thinking in a way that other people weren't thinking at the time. During the show we rebuild Babbage’s original machine, the analytical engine, with string. We involve the audience, who become the world's ‘first computer that was never built’. Babbage’s analytical engine was actually a modern computer, because it contained the three primary elements of one. You've got the store, which is the memory, so that's the RAM, and you've got the mill, which is the processor, and you've got the printer, which was revolutionary in 1843 because it printed out all the calculations that the machine was doing; it was effectively the screen of a modern computer. It also had looping, and conditional branching. >>Tell us a little bit about Ada's life. Ada's life was tragic, but brilliant. Her father was Lord Byron, and her mother was Ann Isabella Millbank, a trained mathematician.

When the marriage collapsed, Ada was taken away by her mother and never saw her father again. Her mother then made sure Ada had the best instruction in mathematics and of course she was completely brilliant at maths, but also retained her creativity. She met Babbage in 1833 and they just clicked, even though he was 23 years older than her. He was working on the difference engine, which he put aside, and Ada then started working with him on the analytical engine. He suggested that she do a translation of an essay that had been written about his talk on the analytical engine by Luigi Menabrea, an Italian writing in French, adding her own thoughts as notes. These ‘notes’ ended up being three times the length of the original essay and were incredibly impactful. Essentially, they were where Ada had the space to think about the potential of a general purpose machine that could become the tool of human imagination, would be able to potentially create imagery and music. She talks in these notes about an analytical engine which has no pretensions to originate anything, but can be programmed to perform actions. She had this incredible foresight to think that computers, if we know what to ask of them, can be the tool of our imaginations. >>And that idea didn't surface again for another 100 years. That’s right. The most remarkable aspect of their incredible achievement in

thought and engineering was that it was forgotten for a whole hundred years before we reached Alan Turing and the Enigma machine, A whole hundred years before we reached the Mark I that IBM came up with in 1944. >>The dress is a key part of the performance and it's an amazing creation. Tell us what it does and how you made it. When we decided to do Ada, Ada, Ada, I was keen to create something that could be moveable and performed anywhere, and wearable technology was the ideal solution. The other reason for using an LED dress was to reflect the innovator that Ada was, with our own future thinking and innovation. The dress is actually completely free-standing, and it effectively contains the set and the lighting for the show. To make the first prototype, we used half a kilometre of conductive thread. I don'tknow if you've used conductive thread, but it’s a nightmare to use in bulk as it disintegrates and shorts. We collaborated with the London Fashion School to make the dress, hand stitching it with conductive thread plus 500 LEDs and then we had to test it multiple times to try and debug it. It didn’t always work, so for the second prototype we took all those learnings, because that's the beauty of working in technology, is you prototype, learn, and redo. We learned so much through failure, which is an absolutely liberating way to work, and the

second prototype used Adafruit NeoPixels, and has 4,400 LEDs, each uniquely addressable. We also collaborated with a period costume maker as we wanted it to be authentic. The idea was that Ada Lovelace was very real, and if she had imagined this dress she would have made it. So this LED dress, for insurance purposes, is actually a bespoke computer housed in bespoke housing, because that's really what it is. It weighs 10 kilos and it doesn't need to be the only one; we can recreate it. >>How is the glove a part of that? The glove operates the dress. It’s a glove made by the glove makers to The Queen no less, and takes the signal from the performer touching different fingers together, through conductive fabric that then joins to a breakout, and the breakout turns it into a more stable wire that then takes it back into the electronics that are housed within the dress. So it's that, that's operating the dress during the performance. >>So where can people see Ada, Ada, Ada? Ada, Ada, Ada is hired. We go with the governments, with schools and with businesses, touring to venues that need us. We occasionally do public performances, and are considering more for next year. Go to to find out where we've been, where we're going, and how to bring Ada to you.


LEARNING BY MAKING // Are we about to witness the global collapse of school exam rankings?

Where do you go when you’re at the top? That’s a question that might have gone through the mind of Ong Ye Kung, Singapore’s education minister, when he announced the end of ranking children by test scores. Singapore currently sits at the top of the PISA global education rankings and is so far out in front, OECD education director Andreas Schleicher has declared Singapore was “not only doing well but getting further ahead” when the tests were last carried out in 2016. So changing tack when you’re the leader of the pack makes the Singapore Government’s decision all the more interesting. They have come to realise that although exams, league tables, and rigid assessment might give your country a global pole position, it doesn’t give your country’s learners the skills they need to be engaged, productive and happy citizens in the 21st Century.

So, instead of exam assessment, teachers will gather information about pupils’ learning through discussions, homework, and quizzes. Schools will use other ways like ‘qualitative descriptors’, in place of marks and grades, to evaluate pupils’ progress. Other institutions are already following suit, with the The Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government in Dubai having dropped exams to instead focus on ‘the real world’. Finally then, the penny drops. It’s a first step, but an important one, and given that it comes from a country at the top of the table, rather than at the bottom (USA) or the middle (UK), it’s a decision that should carry some weight in reducing our addiction to ranking.

WINNERS AND LOSERS IN LEAGUE TABLES From Sunday league football to global GDP, seemingly everything is now ranked in charts, lists, and league tables and sadly, education is no exception. But can you really test, assess and rank a child’s education? Can you put a number on learning? Can you distil it down to a percentage?


TEACHING TO THE TEST ISN’T NEW In his book, The Tyranny of Metrics, historian Jerry Muller explores how our addiction to educational measurement, assessment, and data collecting began. The story begins in England, in 1862, when MP Robert Lowe drives a law through parliament that schools would be funded based on their ‘performance’. The Government would test pupils’ reading, writing, and arithmetic (the famous three R’s) and award funding accordingly. You can clearly see the problem with this, as rather than encouraging a love of learning or creativity, teachers were financially incentivised to teach to the test. Indeed, rallying against this approach was one of the Government’s own inspectors, the cultural critic and poet Matthew Arnold, who said in his book, The Twice-Revised Code, “[In preparation for these tests] the teacher is led to think…not about teaching their subject but about managing to meet targets. They limit their subject as much as they can and within these limits try to cram their pupils… the ridiculous results obtained by teaching under these conditions can be imagined.”

That sentence could have been written an hour ago, rather than 156 years ago. Arnold frequently found himself

Singapore is leading the way in abolishing some school exam rankings, stating that ‘learning is not competition’. So how do we work out what we value if we no longer value exam results?

We think we have the answer… 34

LEARNING BY MAKING // Are we about to witness the global collapse of school exam rankings?

in schools where pupils had ingested and could regurgitate mountains of facts but were completely devoid of any analytical skills. In the 20th century, this process was developed further by the likes of mechanical engineer Fredrick Winslow Taylor, into the discipline of ‘scientific management’. Here, every action from teaching to manufacturing could be measured, tabulated and assigned a value. Crucially, tasks perceived to have been performed optimally (i.e in the quickest time) were financially incentivised in the form of extra funding or overtime pay. Todd Rose writes on this idea of speed in his book The End of Average, stating, “we have created an educational system that is profoundly unfair, one that favours those students who happen to be fast, while penalising students who are just as smart yet learn at a slower pace.”

WHO INSPECTS THE INSPECTORS? And so we come full circle to today, where children’s and teacher’s abilities are considered as data sets to be managed by quangos and semiautonomous Governmental bodies. Here in the UK, specifically England and Wales, we have Ofsted, whose remit is to assess and grade teachers and schools, examine their performance, and deliver a score. The start of the 2018 academic year saw Ofsted repeatedly blotting its copybook. First came the ‘must try harder’ report on them from the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, which stated ‘there have been clear shortcomings in Ofsted’s performance and if the level of inspection continues

to be eroded, there is a risk that Ofsted will come to be perceived by parents, Parliament and taxpayers as not relevant or worse, simply a fig leaf for Government failures on school standards’. Days later, HM Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman admitted that the organisation she leads adds to the ‘teach-to-the-test’ mentality, where too much focus is put on exams and testing, with little regard for project-based learning or other ways to measure student development, comprehension and understanding.

SO WHAT WILL WE VALUE? But let’s assume for a moment that the winds of change are blowing. Let’s assume that after 160 years we can somehow wean ourselves off the teat of the test and onto the solid food of experience-based learning driven by people’s interests and passions. What do we value then? Well, various studies and research from across the political spectrum highlight that the very skills we need to meet the imminent challenges of the future are skills such as creative thinking, critical analysis, collaboration across disciplines and deep emotional intelligence. These are what weshould value. But back to where we began. In a wide-ranging interview Dr. Lim Lai Cheng, director of SMU Academy at Singapore Management University summed up her country’s new approach to education; “let’s help students find their passion and get a sense of personal mastery as they progress through the education system.”

There is a reason as to why this is important that extends way out past a student’s school years. It’s to instil a sense of curiosity, self-worth, and learning that persists. *Sum of mean science, reading and mathematics scores from the OECD PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) Results 2015. **Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Guangdong.

With robots, automation and AI already replacing lots of low skilled repetitive jobs, the opportunity here is to find new subjects, services and roles to explore, and yes, they are there and there can be enough for everyone. But to invent those, we need to be happy, creative and be able to build good relationships (all things robots are really bad at!). In the end, what matters isn’t so much the place you went to school or the job you have, but your relationships with other people. And yet nothing in our education systems addresses that in a meaningful way. Singapore’s sense of national identity born from its short history and geographical location has led them to choose to evaluate their children based on new terms rather than just solely fact memorisation. It’s one the rest of the world should surely follow.


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LEARNING BY MAKING // The Middle school Mars farm


clue where our food was coming from, and that's what spurred on this idea that we were going to create a community garden in our classroom.

Chris: We are West Hollow Middle School, on Long Island, New York. We're a school of about 1200 students ranging from ages 11 to 14. We have quite a diverse community, with tremendous buy-in from them as well as enthusiasm from our parents, our teachers, and our central administration. Describe the maker space for us. A couple of years ago, we transformed our traditional library into a really impressive maker space. I spent a long time trying to figure out how I was going to make it work, just asking myself - how am I going to make this space improve the test scores of my kids? Then I realised I was asking the wrong question. I needed to think about how this space could replace their test scores. So, I just dived in, because if I waited until I had a perfect plan, I was never going to implement it.

We landed on hydroponics and we brought in a bunch of junk – old soda bottles, PVC pipes, string, aluminum foil – to fashion these little systems, and with them were able to successfully grow food in the back of our classroom.

I explained to the students that we're going to learn this together and we adopted very early on this culture of learning through failing. And the word fail became almost a badge of honour. And from there it really just grew. Grew quite literally because you've been doing some farming projects. Tell us about those. I needed to tie the space into the curriculum, and when I looked at our science curriculum, we had a unit on plants. I looked at the traditional way that plants are taught, and I thought ‘what are they going to be able to do with that knowledge? Is there anything that's going to be productive other than the fact that they'll do well on the test?’ So, we started to talk about food and we realised that not many of us had any


Looking at some of the images, there's a fully fledged farm there, it's quite a healthy crop We had to take a look at our space, and instead of the traditional moving outward, which is what crops tend to do, we decided to go upwards. So we started to adopt a concept known as vertical farming. And we used a vertical technique known as NFT, or nutrient film technique. So, we've got a NFT system on the wall, and then we have a vertical shelving system of DWC, or deep water culture systems. And now we have about three dozen planting sites in the corner of our classroom that could feed a number of families. Obviously, the learning outcome for this will be how we feed the world in a growing population. Do the students understand that?

We did have to design a way to teach with it. We knew that this could work in an urban environment. You can take pods where people store stuff and grow food in them. We could be in the Arctic. We could be in the desert. We could be on a space colony on Mars. And that's when we started calling it our Mars Farm. And then we started to experiment with different species of plants and grow different crops all in one little system. It wasn't perfect and there was quite a number of things that we were going to figure out. But we've been figuring it out along the way. Does the learning that happens in this project cascade out into other areas of the curriculum? Yes. It started out being about plants, but then we started to think about heat, energy, the carbon footprint and what types of foods make sense for us and for other people. You spoke earlier about the China project. Tell us about that. We wanted to understand the food needs of other people and cultures and I've had some really unique opportunities to communicate with different schools around the world, such as China. We thought it would be a great idea to have their kids and ours start to talk to one another

LEARNING BY MAKING // The Middle school Mars farm

about what they were growing. The idea is that we are going to grow some traditional Chinese greens and they are going to grow some of the crops that we find valuable. So there's also a language element in there, a cultural element, as well as the social skills, the teamwork, the collaboration, those soft skills. Yes. We actually have Mandarin Chinese offered here in our school. So, some of the students that are learning Chinese here can translate for us and give us some simple communication skills that we can use as we communicate back and forth. What's been the biggest problem that you've faced? There are always restrictions and budgets and you don't always get to move at the pace that you want to move. It isn't for lack of enthusiasm, but you can't always move forward right then and there. What are your plans for the future? We're starting to see that this project-based learning is something that we'd love to move toward on a fulltime basis. I feel sometimes that people are still a little brainwashed, thinking only of measurement and grades. We need

to think about what are we equipping them with when they go beyond the classroom, so let's give them a chance to build a digital portfolio, badge their skills, to show what they’ve worked on and how unique they are.

the story. Try to put them in positions where they can be talking to their peers, the adults in their lives and their community. And if people want to find out more, are, you open to sharing your knowledge and experience? Education is open source. That's one thing that I've learned about the maker community. It's an organic environment where it's not mine, it's ours. So whether its code, circuits, or hydroponic knowledge, jump on in, the water's warm.

What are your three top tips for teachers thinking about implementing this? One. Don't worry about being perfect. Just take the leap. Your students will appreciate you for it. And if you can stand in the front of the room and mess up and let them mess up and do it together, that's key. Number two, stop worrying about the tests. Stop worrying about the curriculum. There's plenty of time for the rest of our lives to worry about reaching a number. And finally, give kids the voice to share what's being done out there. A lot of times we want to go ahead to celebrate the things that are happening on behalf of our students, so we try to tell their story. Let them tell

This was an edit and abridged extract from our podcast, We Make The Future. To hear the full interview and find out more go to:


TURN YOUR ANDROID PHONE INTO A LAPTOP WITH A PI-TOP We love it when people hack and modify pi-tops in ways we hadn’t even thought about, and this one is a beauty! Rob Knight owns and operates, a technology consulting service specialising in remote working, mobility, BYOD, and smartphones. A self-confessed tinkerer and tech enthusiast, he’s found a way to remove the Raspberry Pi from a pi-top, and attach readily available components to access the desktop mode in Android phones. Here’s what you’ll need: • 1 x pi-top [3] • USB-C dock with HDMI out, USB x2 and USB-C power in - make sure it's compatible with Samsung DeX • Low profile USB extension - this will connect 1 port on the dock to the keyboard connector • Low profile (FPV) HDMI female to HDMI male (30 cm) cable - this connects the HDMI output of the dock to the input on the pi-top V2 board • Low profile dual USB hub (vertical configuration) - this will provide 2 additional USB ports on the back - plugs into 2nd port on the USB-C dock • USB-A to USB-C cable - the USB-A bit will be cut off and 5V and GND feeds from the GPIO pins of the bridge will be connected the + and GND cables in the cable • Cable to connect GPIO pin 9 (GND) to another GND pin (39) • Insulation tape.


Needless to say this mod is undertaken at your own risk! You can view a video of Rob’s efforts on our blog at:

THE DEATH OF THE DESKTOP The stats don’t lie. Website access via desktops is continuing to be overtaken by access via mobile devices. But perhaps more than that, the nature of work done on devices is changing, as tasks move from being essentially clerical and desk based in nature to content creation and curation. And that doesn’t just mean Instagramming shots of smashed avocado on toast. Last year, Samsung won a £210m contract with UK police and paramedics to supply them with toughened smartphones. It’s scenarios like this, where staff might want a pocket device in the field, with the option to connect that to a full-size screen and keyboard back at base, where Rob’s hack is useful. It’s also why we built pi-top [4] the way we did. As smartphones become more powerful and IT departments look to save money, there’s a strong case for users bringing their own device to the party. There are some security concerns, granted, but soon we may only have to carry one device around, leaving our keyboard and screen on our desks.

GET MORE AT WWW.PI-TOP.COM/BLOG If you’ve enjoyed this issue of Learning by Making, remember there’s lots more stories, interviews, projects and essays on our blog. Not only that, but you can also sign up for our newsletter which gives you the best of each week’s content delivered weekly, so you’re always up to date on the latest education, maker and technology news. Visit for more information.

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Learning by Making - Issue 3