Review – Scratch Conference Europe 2019

Now a week has passed this thoroughly enjoyable conference, here are my main takeaways and thoughts…

Community, community, community

The main thing I remember from previous Scratch conferences is the friendliness of the community and this year’s event certainly continued this trend. Everyone was keen to chat and to share their experiences; whether a class teacher from a few miles away or a Professor from the other side of the Atlantic, all were extremely welcoming. I particularly liked speaking to the Japanese and discussing their literature, plus managing to put in the miles with Miles (Berry) and find some guy named Mich (Resnick) out running even earlier than myself! 

Japanese computing education magazines
Out for a morning 10k with Miles Berry
Whereas Mitch Resnick (AKA “the inventor of Scratch”) was out earlier than myself!

However, the highlight was catching up with other members of the computing education community from the UK and Ireland throughout the weekend, especially as there was no national CAS conference this year.

#computationaldrinking at the Punter

Physical computing continues to evolve

The range of devices available is still growing significantly and two new items particularly caught my attention. Firstly, Scratch Nodes https://www.scratchnodes.com/ allowed a stick like device to be programmed in Scratch 3.0, which can then be thrown, caught and pushed in order to develop children’s outdoor play. The device appeared robust when chucked about and it is great to see collaborative play being combined with programming.

Playing with the ScratchNodes lights

The other device being discussed in detail was ScratchGo (also known as ScratchBits), which contains a tilt sensor, accelerometer, light sensor and button https://en.scratch-wiki.info/wiki/Scratch_Bit and is being developed with the team at MIT https://conference.iste.org/2019/program/search/detail_session.php?id=112123869 A few examples uses, including code, can be found here https://ae-uploads.uoregon.edu/ISTE/ISTE2019/PROGRAM_SESSION_MODEL/HANDOUTS/112123869/ScratchBitCardsUpdatedJune2019.pdf whilst Matt Moore https://twitter.com/AlwaysComputing and Nic Hughes https://twitter.com/duck_star can be seen using their rugby ball inspired creation below…

Nic goes long….
… and Matt goes high.

The presenters stated they are trying to keep the device under $50, which will hopefully make it within the reach of schools.

Turtlestitch – Coded Embroidery 

It has been a while since I’ve had a “wow” moment from a bit of educational technology, but Turtlestich certainly provided one! Turtlestitch allows you to program different patterns using a block based programming language (Snap!) and then send the output to a sewing machine https://www.turtlestitch.org/ Whilst a machine that can be used for producing the finished embroidery is likely to be out of reach of many schools https://www.turtlestitch.org/page/faq#wmachine over time this cost should decrease and it is possible local colleges, sewing shops, etc might have a compatible machine available to use.

My TurtleStich creation

Organisers – Raspberry Pi

Whilst the organisation of previous European Scratch conferences has been more volunteer led, my former colleagues at the Raspberry Pi Foundation oversaw the running of the event on this occasion. In addition to being well organised and having plenty of people on hand to sort out the “little things” that make events run smoothly, this also meant we were given some excellent conference swag, which included a brand new Raspberry Pi 4 4GB! According to CEO Philip Colligan, this was the first ever computer given away to all conference delegates and is billed as a full desktop machine. PJ Evans recently put the device through its paces for those of you wanting to find out more https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/raspberry-pi-4-a-full-desktop-replacement/

Conference swag

Hosting the event at the University of Cambridge’s Churchill College meant accommodation was available on site, which saved on travel time and logistical problems, plus meant meeting up with people before / after the main programme was particularly easy. It also ensured there was a bar with very reasonable prices available for all, with punting nearby if required!

All ready for punting

My workshop – Creative, collaborative projects using the micro:bit radio

It was great to work with the 30 or so educators from around the world that came to my workshop. I was delighted with their enthusiasm and it was pleasing to see how engaged attendees were using the radio to communicate between two or more devices.

Cheesey workshop selfie

I enjoyed reading Mark Weddell’s write up of the conference, which included discussing my session http://weddell.co.uk/computing/holding-hands/ He even shared his code written following the workshop https://makecode.microbit.org/86081-24330-64331-25064 where he made a buzzer for a quiz – nice work! It was also good to hear how attendees are already using the slides to teach other educators on how to use the micro:bit radio.

On a side note, I was really pleased I had decided to ask delegates on entering the room about their experience programming the micro:bit, which meant I could tailor my input and conversations with individuals / groups more easily throughout the session. At previous conferences, tight turnaround times between sessions have occasionally made speaking to people before beginning difficult, so it was great the organisers had left plenty of time before each workshop for facilitators to get setup. It also meant I could easily deploy my extremely kind volunteer helpers in the form of Neill Bogie https://twitter.com/neillbogie and Rachel Lancaster https://twitter.com/ItsAll_Geek2Me 

As mentioned in my previous blog post, the slides and resources from my presentation can be found here – https://computingchampions.co.uk/scratch2019/ 

Anything else?

The standard of most sessions I went to was excellent, although a couple left me wanting to know more – particularly how I could find out further information and / or use what I’ve been told to enhance my practice. It certainly serves as a helpful reminder for me in the future!

What are your thoughts?

Get in touch or let me know on Twitter – https://twitter.com/computingchamps