Raspberry Jam boot camp prepares kids for the maker revolution

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What do you get when you combine the tiny Raspberry Pi computer with some highly creative young inventors? As 35 youngsters from Grades 6-8 discovered, the possibilities are as limitless as one’s imagination.

Compute Canada hosted a “Raspberry Jam” event for students June 18 at Stanley Milner Library’s Makerspace in Edmonton, as a kickoff to its annual CANHEIT | High Performance Computing Symposium.

The workshop, run in partnership with conference co-hosts WestGrid, CUCCIO and the University of Alberta, was held to encourage the next generation, particularly girls, to take sciences, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in school and explore a career in HPC.

This free event introduced students to computer coding and programming using an all-in-one Raspberry Pi microcomputer. This a low cost, credit-card sized computer plugs into a computer monitor or TV, and uses a standard keyboard and mouse. It is a capable little device that enables people of all ages to explore computing, and to learn how to program in languages like Scratch.

The goal was to encourage children to explore and create in an accessible and fun event with experts and mentors in the computer sciences field. The students used the technology to create games, send encrypted messages and make music.

“Assembling your own computer, seeing how programming works, is the first step,” Compute Canada digital humanities specialist John Simpson told the Edmonton Journal. “We want kids interested in programming, and as well for our staff to think more broadly (about how to use the technology).”

He said he hopes this may be another small step in altering the gender balance in IT and HPC.

Ten-year-old Neeysa Cruz told the Edmonton Journal she hoped the workshop would help her to fix technical problems that come up at home.

“My mom, she always needs help with computers. This will help her and me and my sister,” she said. “I have learned a lot. I have learned to make a game on Scratch, how to program a computer so you can have different effects on it.”

“Students like learning by doing and that was one of main goal of this workshop,” said Mark Dietrich, President and CEO of Compute Canada. “We need to ensure that today’s youth develop the computing skills that are essential for a nation’s economic competitiveness. Knowing how to use a software program is no longer good enough. We need them to be able to make tomorrow’s software. It’s these types of skills that are fueling the maker revolution.”

To read the Edmonton Journal’s full story about the workshop, click here.

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