What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things describes a rapidly increasing collection of physical devices and objects that are connected to the Internet which are not typical computers. Things such as fridges, cameras, vending machines, routers, etc. More interestingly these devices are usually capable of receiving and sending data back onto the Internet.

For me, this makes them the secret weapon in the battle to interest children (and adults) in computing and programming.

What’s so interesting about a vending machine on the Internet?

Not much on the face of it. We’ve been hacking these sort of things for decades. I remember working in San Francisco and one of our Startup friends had rigged up his “soda” machine to the web so it would let him know when it was empty.

Great, so the Internet of Things uses the Internet to help us be even more lazy?

Yes, exactly! No, hang on a minute. No.

Okay, the pop/soda vending machine example was probably the wrong one. Let’s try this one, the cute Pixy cmucam5 which is has already smashed it’s first goal on Kickstarter.

Pixy cmucam5
Pixy cmucam5

The Pixy is a camera that can recognise multiple objects, in colour, and send a message when it does. It can also do this with moving objects. If this all sounds a bit abstract let’s think of something practical.

Pixy cmucam5 - colour object recognition
Pixy cmucam5 – colour object recognition

For example, with Pixy, I could teach it to recognise different birds and animals in my garden, take a picture and then send the data to my web blog: Dan’s Garden Zoo.

The server could  store the data in a database and graph the animal activity in my garden over time. If I get something rare, say a Woodpecker, it could send a tweet with the pic attached. I could share the code with friends and we could have a Battle of the Garden Zoos to see who has the most nature friendly garden.

Actually, I’ve just backed the Kickstarter and this is what I’ll be doing with it with the kids (along with ordering vats of slugs so we win the Hedgehog Showdown!

Personally, I think this is a fantastic way to introduce programming to children as again it’s a very tangible thing. It could be something more fun that counting birds and animals, maybe a hi-tech security device for opening a child’s bedroom door! It could also be something that you could build a simple physical computer game with.

There’s also the Raspberry-Pi which has the potential to be right at the heart of the Internet of Things as the brains behind these devices. And it’s not ust going to be a new way to hack devices.
going to be a massive part of Cisco estimate the Internet of Things to be worth  $14.3 trillion by 2020.

There’s currently a pilot in UK schools with the concept. Here’s a Telegraph article about the Eight UK schools to pilot Internet of Things trial

Made in SunnyWales: How Silicon Valley influenced the Craft Computer

A few people have asked me about the little text on the Craft Computer PDF that says Made in SunnyWales so I thought I’d put a little explanation up on ‘Made in SunnyWales: How Silicon Valley influenced the Craft Computer’. It’s basically a little joke, an Easter egg.

On the front page of the PDF is a little label that looks like this:

Made in SunnyWales - Craft Computer
Made in SunnyWales – Craft Computer

The gamers amongst you will probably recognise this paraphrasing from a certain Atari and the reason it’s there is because it’s from the back of the Atari 2600 games console. The machine affectionately known as ‘Woody’ because, well, it looked like this:

Atari 2600 - Woody

In 1979, the 6 year old me wandered bleary eyed downstairs late one evening before Christmas. Something had woken me up. As I walked into the living room, I saw my father and an Uncle transfixed at the television. At first I thought it was my favourite programme, Blake’s 7 . It wasn’t.

It was Space Invaders and the box that played it sowed the seed in my young mind that electronics and computers were the most exciting thing I’d ever seen. And they still are.

This is what the real badge looks like:

Made in Sunnvale, Atari
Made in Sunnvale, Atari

The other thing it did was put California in the centre of my world for my formative years, culturally speaking. This was the home of CHiPs, Atari, Whizz Kids, etc

Some 20 years later I got to live and work in California as a software engineer running a startup development team and it was that little box, made in Sunnyvale, that set me on my way. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do the same…




Open Badges Should Be Used By Industry To Fill The Tech Job Shortage

There is a well documented supply shortfall of candidates for ‘tech jobs’. code.org/stats estimates this to be around 1m unfilled jobs by 2020.

I believe that Industry needs to solve this problem, not the education system, and it can do it with a collaborative set of Open Badges.

Programming Job Shortage
Programming Job Shortage

Mark Hartely’s post over at KPMG’s tech growth blog posits that to address this potential shortage ‘The UK education system needs to get with the program’.

His reasoning is that:

as the pace of technological change is so fast, I worry that these institutions risk falling further and further off the pace.”

I was about to tweet Mark with my agreement but something was bothering me, I couldn’t quite agree with him and this is why:

it’s not the responsibility of educational institutions to keep up with the insanely quixotic turns of technology industry

Nor can it realistically do so. If that code.org job shortage stat turns out to be correct, anyone with technical skill is going to be headhunted with extreme prejudice into industry, not academia. So the supply of quality teachers will shrink. As is the case right now.

So let’s reverse that stat and take the burden from the already creaking educational institutions. Let’s leave them to excel at what they do: progressing education and research as a rigorous academic discipline. Something that I believe should be one step removed from the madness of Internet speed innovation. This is an important role for our society and civilisation.

Academia should be Industry’s House of Lords. They should retain a healthy, if grudging, respect for each other!

Does the UK Industry need to get with the program?

I believe so and if you think about it, it’s the one best placed to do so, as it painfully understands what’s needed.

It’s Industry not Education that has to be the one to change and there are some fine examples of this such as Google’s Summer of Code, Mozilla.org’s webmaker, the very brilliant young rewired state etc

But what about traditional industry, why doesn’t Tesco, HSBC, KPMG, Carphone Warehouse or Virgin run summer of code camps? I’d love to get a group of kids hacking on a Tesco Clubcard API 😉

OPen Badges
Open Badges

If we take look at the fantastic Mozilla Open Badges initiative, UK Industry could come together and create an Industrial apprenticeship.

A combined Industry set of Open Badges could be the practical equivalent of a Computer Science degree.

With it we could fill that shortage quickly. With smart, tech focused students who want to work, learn and earn their qualification on the job. It would be globally portable and industry recognised.

It would by default meet the pace of new technology developments.

So let’s put that burden on private industry.

It was our industry that created this incredible opportunity for growth.

Let’s all go and help realise it.

Craft Computer – Create Your Own Computer Craft Kit PDF

Build your own craft computer with our PDF computer craft kit  – suitable for ages 5 upwards!

Craft Computer
Craft Computer Kit

Download Craft Computer Kit PDF

We’ve designed it as a PDF craft computer pack for teaching children core computing ideas without the need for any computers or tablets! All you’ll need is a printer, safety scissors and glue – oh and some pipe cleaners or string if you’d like to network your Craft Computers 🙂

Here’s the write up from our first test run with it:

When teaching children we wanted to start at the beginning, before programming, with something tangible, something they could handle and own. There is a strong urge with Computing to dive straight into programming which is the obvious goal  but we have found it valuable to have it supported  by a solid physical understanding through play and craft.

Children love to create, especially with paper and glue so that’s how we came up with the Craft Computer. As cross-curricular addition it also involves teamwork, hand eye coordination and maths transformation (2D to 3D).

The kit contains:

  • some components (MEMORY, CPU, FILES) which we use to teach the children some simple fundamentals on how computers work.
  • Pixel files – we use these as a fun colouring in task to show how computers use numbers to represent things like colours
  • Program Punch cards – we use these to draw simple “programs” on

Using the Craft Computer Kit you can create your own craft computers which you can give to a whole class with just an A4 printer.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling, here’s the Craft Computer PDF file*:

Download Craft Computer Kit PDF

Please feel free to share around your networks if they’re of any use.

*If you find any errors or have some suggestions please drop me a line – the pack is a draft so there might be some bugs 🙂


dan@inpractice.org (@danfbridge)

If Then Else

Computers are dumb – understanding this is fundamental to learning how to tell them to do what you want.

If Then Else
If Then Else
They can’t think for themselves – what they can do is complete lots of little tasks, which you can string together to solve larger problems.
Stringing the tasks together is where humans are needed.
‘Control Flow’ or ‘Program Flow’ basically means deciding the order in which things happen in your program – what happens when, and under what circumstances.
Conditional statements like ‘IF THEN ELSE’ are a powerful way of controlling your program flow. They are a way of saying

“If a certain condition is true, do this.  Otherwise, do this”.

The condition has to be something that is either true or false – it has to be a question with a yes or no answer.

 Is it raining?

Imagine you want to add up the price of only the blue items in a shopping basket.
Taking each item in turn, you want to add it to your total if it is blue, or discard the item if it is not blue.
In plain English, your IF THEN ELSE statement would be:
IF this item is blue
THEN add the price of the item to your total
OTHERWISE discard the item


or as a simple set of statements in PHP:


if($colour == 'blue')
   $total = $total + $price;

This might seem rather limited – but when combined with some other control structures, it gives you the power to do pretty much anything you can conceive of.

Computer Girls And Why We Designed Our Computer For Girls workshop

Computer girls was our initial badge to give our computer for girls workshop. I know. It needs work.

Computer Girls
Computer Girls

Why computer for girls workshops?

I’ve been surprised the number of times I’ve been asked this particular question. Often it feels loaded. As if it could be a bad thing. Why just girls? Honestly, there’s no sinister motive. We’ll run mixed groups and groups for boys too.

But as a STEM ambassador and a father with a young daughter I’ve a keen interest in helping to make sure girls don’t see technology and computing as a ‘boys subject’. I see patterns already with my chilren (boy and girl). They very definitely have gender biased gifts on their birthdays – from relatives etc. Machines and toy tools for the boy. Ponies and princesses for the girl. I want to help to change this. To at least contribute to giving both sexes the same options.

So for our Computer For Girls workshop it seemed obvious to team up with the amazing Chwarae Teg.com to build it into their existing fair foundations programme. Their mission is to:

champion education, entrepreneurship, work-life balance and flexible working, helping women to overcome the obstacles that prevent them from making a full and consistent contribution within the economy.

Helping devise a workshop to create a new generation of Computer Girls (I’m convinced the name will catch on!) is a good part of their mission work and I’ve been really lucky to be involved.

All children, girl or boy, should have access to a good liberal education and I think computing should be part of that.

And that’s the part I can help with.

So I am.

Starting with the girls.

Craft Computer Club

Craft Computer Club: Our First All Girls Computer Club with Chwarae Teg.

If you want a copy of the print materials we’ve made just drop me an email on dan@inpractice.org or tweet me @danfbridge.

Update You can download it here too: Craft Computer PDF kit

This was  a dry run for our Primary school pilot in September. Our main goal was to test drive the material we have developed especially the craft computer based approach we’ve decided upon. We wanted to check we are going in the right direction, as when we first looked at the syllabus, our first reaction was …

How do we teach this to five year olds?

Luckily, I have one knocking around the house so I sat down to design material for teaching computing to her. I started looking at digital material but then two things dawned on me.

The first was that I can’t guarantee our locations will have computers or an Internet connection. That’s a bit of a snag.

The second came more by accident because my kitchen table looks like this:

Craft Computer at My Kitchen Table - Actual Photo
Craft Computer at My Kitchen Table – Actual Photo

Watching my daughter sit at the table was a revelation. Everything she learns at the moment is done by making – or breaking – something. This shouldn’t have been a revelation. I was a kid once and that’s exactly what I did.

This is also how I learned to program. Although I have a Computer Science degree I’d say the vast majority of what I have learned, I learned by hacking/breaking/fixing/making things.

I dimly recall that some bloke called Aristotle once said that

what we learn to do, we learn by doing… and that the way to do the computing is by building a craft computer

The last part of that might be paraphrased slightly.

Anyway, that’s how we decided on the Craft Computer approach. Looking at the KS1 syllabus it is, in a nutshell, about understanding Algorithms, Programs, Debugging, Files, Sharing and Safety. If we start with a computer and build upwards we should be on a solid foundation.

This is where we got a little ambitious. We wanted to devise material that would let us teach the entire syllabus, at least in overview. In order for us to do that we need a starting point and that starting point is our Craft Computer.

The Craft Computer

The Craft Computer is a cube template that we designed to be printed on a double-sided sheet of A4.

This was an important part of our design brief

to create something that anyone with a printer could download, share and learn from

and they could do this anywhere .

This little craft computer is the basis for all the work we’ll do with the KS1 syllabus – although we will supplement it with some role play games and online activities too.

The kids loved it. They loved customising their computers with googly eyes and lips!

The material we created covers most of English 2014 Key Stage 1 (KS1) computing curriculum – here’s the curriculum review document.

I’ll write up a more technical i.e. useful view of the material we covered, the response, the recall rates following the club but for now I can say the Craft Computer approach is definitely a fun and effective way to engage with our young generation of  technologists.

If you want a copy of the materials we’ve made just drop me an email on dan@inpractice.org or tweet me @danfbridge.


English Computing Curriculum Key Stage 1 and 2

Here’s the revised English Computing Curriculum Key Stage 1 and 2

It sets our the purpose for the curriculum as:

A high-quality computing education equips pupils to understand and change the world through logical thinking and creativity, including by making links with mathematics, science, and design and technology. The core of computing is computer science, in which pupils are taught the principles of information and computation, and how digital systems work. Computing equips pupils to use information technology to create programs, systems and a range of media. It also ensures that pupils become digitally literate – able to use, and express themselves and develop their ideas through, information and communication technology – at a level suitable for the future workplace and as active participants in a digital world.

Key stage 1 Pupils should be taught to:

  • understand what algorithms are; how they are implemented as programs on digital  devices; and that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions

  • create and debug simple programs use logical reasoning to predict the behaviour of simple programs

  • use technology purposefully to create, organise, store, manipulate and retrieve digital content

  • use technology safely and respectfully, keeping personal information private; know where to go for help and support when they have concerns about material on the internet

  • recognise common uses of information technology beyond school.


Key stage 2 Pupils should be taught to:

  • design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts

  • use sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; work with variables and various forms of input and output

  • use logical reasoning to explain how some simple algorithms work and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs

  • understand computer networks including the internet; how they can provide multiple services, such as the world-wide web; and the opportunities they offer for communication and collaboration

  • use search technologies effectively, appreciate how results are selected and ranked, and be discerning in evaluating digital content

  • use technology safely, respectfully and responsibly; know a range of ways to report concerns and inappropriate behaviour

  • select, use and combine a variety of software (including internet services) on a range of digital devices to accomplish given goals, including collecting, analysing, evaluating and presenting data and information.

The Computing and ICT Debate: You Say Big-O, I Say Asymptotic Notation

Yesterday the Guardian, as part of it’s week long ICT Teacher Takeover, published “Computer science or ICT: which would serve our pupils better?“. It was a friendly setting out of stalls between Miles Berry (for Computing) and Chris Leach (for ICT).

And so the Computing and ICT debate continues to rumble on. In most quarters it’s a lively debate between peers. But I’m sensing a bit of tubthumping, particularly from the Computer Science camp and it’s a coming across as a wee bit disrespectful to the ICT teachers from where I sit.

All you need is love
All you need is love

Before I go on, I should declare I have a Computer Science degree and I’ve been a developer/manager of technical development teams for the last 17 years. I have a deep understanding of the academic subject and a strong technical ability to execute it. Along with that I have a young family and I’m very familiar with teaching technology to young children.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that my background should probably put me in the ‘Computer Science’ camp but, well to be honest, I’ve never liked camping that much. I like Hotels. And Caravans. Whatever’s most appropriate really.

What I’m seeing as the Computing and ICT debate seems largely to be a bit of an opportunistic effort by the Computer Science community to get their subject understood and taken seriously by the wider population. As a marketing exercise Computer Science badly needs it but this is not the arena for it. There’s a danger of Computer Science looking like a flat track bully here.

Sadly, it’s triggered a defensive response by the ICT teachers who, quite rightly, are having to speak up and tell everyone that they don’t just teach children how to use Word – which having met a few of them is off the mark by some way.

Next month, I begin a six week pilot teaching children the 2014 Computing Curriculum and the material we’ve developed so far would be called ICT in Wales and in England it would be Computing.

Frankly, I don’t care what it’s called as long as this generation of children get the education and resources they need to find meaningful work in an increasingly technological world. Gove, for all his detractors, has set in motion a change that has the potential to make a big difference.

Computer technology’s greatest gift has always been meritocracy, let’s not get too precious about what we call it.



Teaching Girls About Technology and Computing

Today I’m teaching a group of five year old girls computing fundamentals and in front of me right now is a stack of material that’s looking decidedly ambitious – we’re going to cover a fair bit of the English 2014 Key Stage 1 syllabus for Computing.

Oddly I’m a bit nervous.

I don’t usually get nervous before giving a talk. Today is different. Today I’m not really talking, I’m teaching. My memory of great teachers tells me there’s a big difference between the two things. For me it was the difference between mental inspiration and stagnation.

The shining light from my schooldays was the aptly nicknamed Shiner, my physics teacher. Shiner, so called due to his dazzling pate, was Alka-Seltzer for my brain following a sadly stodgy History – History was taught by the deputy-head, so he’d come in for 5 mins at the start, tell us to copy a bunch of pages from a book then bugger off again, often not even coming back.

Shiner was on the Ultraviolet end of the teaching spectrum and could, almost at will, ignite the entire class in fits of laughter and then before you knew it he’d have you buried in text doing actual work. It never felt like work and Shiner was genius at that alchemy. If I get stuck I’ll think of Shiner!

I’ll report back later but the nerves have gone somewhat as my five year old daughter has just told me we need to leave!

Yes miss!