Apps and Pi in education


With the advent of the Raspberry Pi and cheap apps for handheld devices, the opportunities for cost-effective ICT projects and lessons are increasing. Edmund West takes a look at Raspberry Pi and three apps which are proving popular.

Raspberry Pi

Could children learn faster through gaming? Schools use games in physics, algebra and computer programming. They also experiment with new cost-effective hardware like Raspberry Pi.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation released its credit card-sized motherboard last year. It costs £30 and runs Linux – so no licence fee. It is designed for schools to teach computer programming cheaply.

Carvey Francis, head of ICT at Forest Gate Community School in east London, thinks the Pi is?“amazing”.

She explained: “I can’t believe it hasn’t been done before. You can hook up a keyboard and monitor, you can use code just as much as with a normal computer.

“The best thing about it, if you want to teach ICT, is that it boots up in Python (a simplified programming language). You can install an OS, but few people buying them want to do that. There is a manual teaching Python as well as  Scratch and Java (alternative educational programming languages) step-by-step. 

“Using Python you can program it to link with the internet or specific web pages. You can program it to set up a file directory, you can save files, access email, add a bit of software like Word. A child can use the manual to program it step-by-step.”

Ms Carvey lists several uses for the Pi including by parents of special needs children who can use it to run just the websites they consider suitable, or teachers who are using it to show the passage of electricity in physics. Meanwhile, pupils at St Saviour’s School in Paddington used Scratch to program a Lego crocodile. Head Lindsey Woodford explained: “We’re keen to create a legacy for the initiative by purchasing the Raspberry Pis and Lego robotics kits to enable us to run a computer club with parents and teachers working together and bringing these invaluable IT skills into the curriculum.”

Angry Birds

And it’s not just hardware that is proving cost-effective now. Back at Forest Gate, Ms Carvey is impressed with the idea of using the popular Angry Birds mobile game to teach physics: “One of the things I liked was the potential for teaching flight, velocity, pressure, gravity. Because of the way this game has been coded, the graphics are very life-like, enabling students to discuss (these concepts). Being able to score points is good too. It could also be used in maths lessons, students could devise formulas for accuracy.”

Code Hero?

Code Hero is a game for teaching the most popular code – JavaScript. You carry a “code ray” which “fires” JavaScript. One section is the “Gamebridge Unityversity” where you learn to write your own games.

Ms Carvey continued: “It makes a dry subject fun. Assessments and quizzes are built into the game so students know where they have to improve. There is a forum where you can share your work and hack other people’s work. It’s also good for teachers. We have to teach a very dry ICT syllabus, many of us have had to relearn coding, so I just thought it was brilliant.”


DragonBox is a game designed by Norwegian company We Want To Know to teach children algebra in two hours. The founder, Jean-Baptiste Huynh believes the entire maths curriculum (primary and secondary) could actually be taught in 30 hours through games. He is working on the other 28 hours now!?

He said: “A sequel to DragonBox is in its advanced stages, with a great deal more content (factorising, parenthesis, fractions group addition and even the creation of variables). We have another four games in the pipeline relating to functions and calculus.”?DragonBox has four chapters, in the first two there are pictures instead of letters and numbers, which are gradually introduced as the user progresses. 

The screen is in two halves, the answer hidden until  everything else on that side of the equation is removed. Mr Huynh said: “It’s somewhat like the Montessori approach to education set in an interactive form. There is very little text-based instruction in the game, instead plain English is replaced by a discovery-based approach.” 

The game was trialled at Eltham CE Primary School in Greenwich.?One pupil said: “That’s a great way of cheating children into doing maths.”?

Teacher Jennifer Tucker added: “I ensure my pupils play a maths game every week to reinforce their learning. To play a game reinforces that text-book stuff they need to learn.”

  • Edmund West is a freelance education and ICT writer.

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