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15 — Volunteer at school.

2015-04-12. By Patrick.

Kelly set up a maker space club at the middle school where she works. That school also has special set of classes called the enrichment club and, for Kelly's 8th grade class, this is similar to the maker space. The last two enrichment club classes were on Saturdays which made it easy for me to come by and volunteer.

The main goal was to setup some Raspberry Pis that the maker space had acquired. Seemingly simple. In fact there were several failures. In the rush to get things done, I forgot the power cord for my laptop. Also, I made a mistake in copying raspbian image to the SD cards. In the middle of copying the second card we discovered the problem. A typo of a typical error for which warnings can be found all over the web: copying to /dev/sdb1 instead of /dev/sdb. It was easy to identify the mistake because I had written a script to do the copying. Handy that. And I know why it happened. Trying to get do too many things at once with a bunch of 8-th graders running around you crazy. Fun, but requires a higher level of re-checking critical commands.

In the end, only one of the Raspberry Pis got up and running. When we found the error in the script, we were well on our way to getting the other two up when my laptop battery died. But the kids were great. They set up all the hardware. Mostly connecting cables, trying out different cable monitor configurations, and trying out different SD cards. In the end, the kids got the Raspberry Pi running with a Noobs SD card that we had from somewhere. The monitors were mostly using HDMI to VGA converters and we were worried that they would not work. But that went OK.

During the second session, we got all the Raspberry Pis up. I had the disks already burned and Kelly and I had gotten up a bit after 4am to get into school early during the week and make sure the two other Pis would boot up and be mostly configured -- the usual raspi-config changes for the timezone, keyboard, expanding the file system, etc. That gave the school tech specialist time to set them up on the school network before the Saturday session. During the maker space session, kids were continuously on the Pis doing all sorts of stuff.

One job that turned out to be particularly challenging was setting up a new camera. The student, Max, spent the entire time working at it. I was working on some of the Pis (including his) over ssh and looking possible solutions to problems he encountered. I didn't have much to tell him because he was mostly ahead of me. Mechanically, we had a difficult time keeping the cable in its socket and that really slowed progress on the software side. We still didn't have it running when the session ended but Max seemed in good cheer.

One thing really struck me watching Max. It's only 8th grade. Yet there is a cycle that many of these kids appear to know instinctively. The cycle I'm talking about is a typical one in setting up new technology. You search on the web how to do it, put stuff together and work on the software, test, fail, search the web for a solution, alter hardware/software, test, fail, search... Until finally it works.

Not all kids have it and for some frustration happens on the very first fail. That's understandable. But for some like Max, there appears to be a confidence that keeps the cycle going. I'm not sure if it's the result of growing up in a different age of technology or if it's learned from parents or teachers. But it's amazing to watch.

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