After two years of remote teaching, it was fantastic to welcome schools back to Sony UK Technology Centre (UK TEC) in September 2022. Having children back on-site really gives everyone a lift and to see the children’s faces when they arrive is wonderful. Setting up the Raspberry Pis in the new area was great and having the lessons located at the front of the Academy allows UK TEC Team Players to see the children in action during the workshops. In addition, this visibility also reminds the children that they are in a working factory rather than a classroom.

In preparation for being back on-site, I wanted to make sure all of the Raspberry Pis were updated, as they hadn’t been used in two years. I immediately installed the newest Raspberry Pi operating system, Bullseye. Still, I soon realised newer doesn’t always mean better and discovered that this release of the OS doesn’t include Minecraft Pi or Python games, both of which we use in some of our sessions. Fortunately, I was able to return to a legacy version of Buster (Raspberry Pi operating systems are named after Toy Story characters, in case you were wondering).

It has been wonderful to present to children in person rather than on screen and there’s definitely been more interaction because of this. I enjoy seeing their responses when we showcase the Sony hand-built cameras and there is a real buzz when the children get to see the specific camera models used to film popular events around the world. I now also deliver the factory tour, which has been a real eye-opener and I’ve gained a greater appreciation for Sony as a company, and also for the manufacturing process involved in both the cameras and the Raspberry Pi computers. Showing the philosophy of Monozukuri (closest to craftsmanship in English) in action by watching the Team Players constructing the cameras at the ‘super-assy’ (assembly) stations is Subarashi (Japanese for amazing!).

When we first had schools back on-site, I made the mistake that many teachers make – I had far too many activities! As the weeks progressed, I pared the activities back to allow more tinker time, just like I did online. One of the activities that we used was building and controlling a set of traffic lights using Scratch. This is an activity that has always been well received and the children enjoy building the circuits and being able to control them. Once we got to December 2022 though, I decided to change things up to allow them to create LED Christmas decorations. I shared the following video showing what they could create using LED Christmas lights and a Raspberry Pi.

When the children were building their circuits and code, I realised they were all fully engaged and continued to be so for quite a while. The open-ended and exploratory nature of the activity encouraged children to continue to be involved. There was no wrong answer. Compared to the traffic light activity, where there is one correct answer and anything else is wrong. During the traffic light activity, some children would either complete it quickly and wonder what to do next or they would struggle, feeling like they hadn’t achieved anything. With the LED Christmas decoration, children can create their own pattern of light and instead of just three lights, they had fifteen to play with!

The variety and complexity of the code varied hugely but I was impressed with the patterns they had created and how they made it work. It gave the children much more freedom to explore and challenge themselves at their own level.

Some enjoyed building lots of circuits, while others preferred to spend time tinkering with their code. This child-led approach has led to a much deeper level of engagement.

A new element to the workshop is courtesy of Chiaki, who has joined us for a year from Japan. She shows the children different aspects of Japanese culture, teaches them Japanese phrases, and completes a fabulous Origami challenge. This introduces them to another culture and is a nice change of pace from the coding workshop. The children create a heart and write a message to Sony in Japanese. We then put these on the Sony Academy wall together to create a Japanese cherry blossom tree display.

It has been a fantastic return to on-site visits, and we are already fully booked until July 2023. The children get a lot out of it and so do we!

by Steve Lewis @Steve_Lewis81

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