A slice of Pi

 Some Raspberry Pi monitor issues 

The Background

What I love about the summer is that it gives me time to explore different ideas and new concepts and it was in this spirit that I've been messing around with a Raspberry Pi. Admittedly there's nothing new about the Raspberry Pi apart from the Pi two which launched earlier this year, but it is something I've never got around to exploring.  They've now sold 5 millions Pi's, but I suspect for the majority of people it still remains a rather niche product they may of heard of the name, but they don't really understand the fuss.

UPDATE: This post is now out of date as the updated Raspberry Pi OS seems to configure itself automatically.

As an aide I've been interested in the Pi for a while from an educational point of view,but our school decided not to go down that route. We still ue an ageing suite of PC's and part of me thinks it would be a good idea to reinvigorate them by installing Linux and some of the Pi software, getting a number of the advantages that the Pi offers all for free, but I don't think the school is yet ready for that mind shift away from Windows quite yet.
Well now I've had a play and I thought I'd write about the installation glitch I had to overcome.  There are plenty of how to installation guides out there, but they seem to fail to mention this potential problem.  Overall I think the Pi is awesome, apart  from the head scratching to get the monitor to work.

Installation Problem

The Pi comes with a HDMI connection, but as it's a low powered device I wanted to use it with an old monitor which has a VGA connection (I've owned laptops for years and don't have a TV, so I didn't have a HDMI monitor to use even if I wanted to), so with this in mind I duly bought a HDMI>VGA adapter. However nobody told me this won't work out of the box and it took me a bit of digging to find out why? The adapter on it's own won't work (unless it's an expensive model) as they use different signals and the signal itself needs to be converted. As a result I tried to boot the Pi several times and was starting to think I had got a dud. It was actually simple to fix the issue, the problem was diagnosing it. A hard lesson in some computing principles.

The Solution

Most guides tell you to use the NOOB'S software and this is the same package that will come on a Pi ready SD card, but this easy install won't work with a VGA monitor.  Instead you will need to install the operating system that you want to use in most cases this will be Pi's own OS Raspian and edit the config.text file.
  1. Format your SD card
  2. Download Raspian
  3. Copy Raspian onto the SD card by using and creating a bootable SD. Use something like Win32diskimager or an equivalent.
  4. Then open up the SD card and edit the config.txt file. You need to open it up in a plain text editor such as Notepad and not a program like Word which will format the text and can cause issues.
The config file is a way of adjusting the settings of your Pi and as standard all options aren't enabled as they have a # in front of each line (this makes the computer think it is text and not a command). To enable the settings to use a VGA monitor remove the # in front of following lines: hdmi_force_hotplug=1 hdmi_drive=2 hdmi_group=1 hdmi_mode=1 Then when I booted up my Pi with this SD card it worked straight away, apart from the OS overspilling the screen. I shut it down went into the config file again and adjusted the display settings and its been fine ever since. So what have I done since the install?  Well I had a bit of a play with Raspian and then ended up installing Openelec and turning it into a home media centre, as the Pi2 has a reasonable one GB of ram it's actually pretty good at it.  The config file for Openelec was slightly simpler and I just uncommented the following lines. hdmi_force_hotplug=1 hdmi_ignore_cec_init=1/span>

Animal Relay

This is my jazzed up version of a relay race to warm your class up, a good one for younger children, but works for any age group.  It is designed to add a bit of fun to your lesson, help develop children's throwing skills and introduce a friendly competitive spirit.
Several Hoops
Bean Bag
A few cones
First split your children into teams as you would for a normal relay and give each team some bean bags.  You then need to position a row of 4 hoops  directly in front of each relay team.  These are the targets.  Before they run the relay, each team member must throw a bean bag towards the hoops.  The target hoop is the furthest away as this is obviously the hardest to hit.  Now explain to the class that each team member will throw the bean bag and then run to the other end of the playground and back. Where the bean bag lands will determine how you run, see the examples below.
A Miss run like a frog.  Children hop all the way there and back making a ribbit noise.
First Hoop Run like a chicken, children must flap their wings and cluck and crouch down as they go to the other end and back. (You can also make them lay an egg at the other end)
Second Hoop Run like a monkey. (My personal favorite) Children hop and jump to the other end scratching their armpits and make the obligatory monkey chattering noise.
Third Hoop Run like an elephant, children can run, but they must hold their arm out in front of them like a cheetah.
fourth Hoop Run like a cheetah children sprint to the other end and back, they can growl and  roar if they can manage it!
Use progressively smaller hoops to make this relay harder for older children.
After we have played it once I like to get my children to suggest their own animals.
Use a scoring system to add an element of competition.  5 points for the furthest hoop, 4 points for the next closest and so on.  I reserve 1 point for missing, but throwing it in the right direction.  This adds the opportunity to incorporate a bit of mental arithmetic into the lesson.

10 Grammar Exercises

Grammar has become a much bigger part of the new curriculum, but many teachers are still getting to grips with how to teach it effectively.  I don't claim to be an expert, but here are a few of the ideas that I've used in my primary classroom, which seem to make the teaching of grammar a bit less dry.  I use these quick activities to recap grammar concepts and for assessment purposes.  I personally don't like stand alone grammar lessons and instead use frequent starter activities. I also discuss and model grammar construction during shared writing with the children, who then practice these concepts later in the lesson.  The following activities aren't necessarily new ideas and I can't take any credit for inventing them, but they may serve as a reminder to some people, as well as inspiring others.

1. Descriptive Pictures

Create a document with a selection of different pictures around a common theme.  Show it to your class, then read out a sentence, which is not particularly descriptive.  Ask your class to discuss which picture it describes?  They will soon find out that the description is too generic and it does not create a clear image.  Then get the children to write their own sentences to describe a picture, you can use a sentence frame as I have done in the example below.    Children can then take turns to read out their sentences and the other children can decide which picture it  describes.

2. Connect Fours

A great tool to review grammar concepts which I've recently started using is Connect Fours from classtools.net.  Here children select groups of four words that have a common theme.  Then when they have selected the words they explain the theme to the rest of the class.
Here are the links to the above connect four games:
Word Classes 1 (verbs, conjunctions, nouns, pronouns)
Word Classes 2 (adjectives, prepositions, adverbs, determiners)
You cab also make your own connect four games, watch Richard Byrne's video to find out how.

3. Sentence Consequences

This is a classic children's game that used to be played with children drawing pictures of different animals.  The children write down a word that has to be part of the word classes that the teacher says.  The children write down their word, fold the paper over and pass it to the next person, so that they can't see what has been already written.  This keeps repeating until you've finished your instructions, then the last child reads out the silly sentence.  Here is an example of instructions that you could use:
  1. Write down an article
  2. Write down an adjective
  3. Write down a common noun
  4. Write down a verb
  5. Write down a preposition
  6. Write down an article and an adjective
  7. Lastly write down another noun

4. Act Out Prepositions  

I first heard about this idea from Phil Beadle, an early advocate (possibly the inventor) of Kung Fu Punctuation, but I haven't head anyone talking about it for a while.  Children move around their chairs based on the instructions that you read out.  Then you ask them to identify the prepositional phrase.  It's a quick warm up activity that  I've found reinforce the definition of prepositions.
  1. Stand in front of your chair.
  2. Stand behind your chair.
  3. Go under your chair.
  4. Stand next to your chair.
  5. Stand on top of your chair (If health and safety allows!!).

5. Act Out Verbs

Another classic variation of this game is to write a selection of powerful verbs on a piece of paper and place them into a 'hat'.  Pick a child to take a piece of paper and then without revealing what it says, ask the child to go outside and then re-enter the room in the style of that verb.  The rest of the class then has to guess the verb.  This can be used to introduce different verbs as well as reinforcing this word class.

6. Grammar List Poem

In this activity you give the class a list of word classes to write down, they then write it again underneath with the next word class added onto the end, thus forming a list.  Here's an example of what I mean.
  1. Article
  2. Noun
  3. adjective
  4. verb
  5. Adverb
  6. Preposition
  7. A noun phrase
  8. A connective
  9. A subordinate clauses
A man
A wicked man
A wicked man walking
A wicked man walking silently
A wicked man walking silently towards
A wicked man walking silently towards the busy park
A wicked man walking silently towards the busy park, whilst
A wicked man walking silently towards the busy park, whilst 

7. Rearranging clauses

In this example you write down a sentence with several clauses on a piece of paper and then photocopy it. Children decide where the clauses are and rip the paper into those clauses.  They then practice rearranging the clauses to see how this changes the meaning of the sentence.  This is a great way for children to experiment with how changing the order of a sentence can effect its meaning.

8. Missing Verbs

Type out a paragraph of a text you are study and remove all of the verbs and replace them with dashes.  Photocopy this and give it to each member of the class.  Discuss how verbs are essential for sentences to make sense.  Then ask your class to write in new verbs to replace the missing verbs and change the meaning of the text.  It's a great time for children to make up silly sentences, as well as helping children to become more familiar with the role of verbs.  This can be repeated for any other word class.

9. Emotional Adjectives

I've used this as a way of collecting vocabulary before the children start writing.  It works particular well for creating stage directions in play-scripts.  Take photos of one or two children  in class pulling different exaggerated faces before the start of the lesson pulling.  For example tired, angry, upset, bored, annoyed, startled, overjoyed, content.  Then show each picture in turn on your whiteboard and children write down a word to describe the emotion that is being shown, which can be up-levelled using a thesaurus.  It makes a great and useful display on your working wall.

10. Dictation Races

This is an approach for making children more aware of sentence structure and the importance of punctuation.  It has been used a lot in the past with children, who have english as an additional language.  But I think it is a great way to teach sentence structure to younger children and as a way of reinforcing spellings and punctuation to older children.    
This activity requires a bit of space, so it is best to do it outside or  in a hall.  Have a short paragraph of a text in a large font (best to blow it up onto A3)  and place this on the floor at one end of the hall.  At the other end of the hall split the children into teams of around 4 or five and give each team a whiteboard and a pen.  The teams take turns to run to the text memorise a line then run back and copy it onto the whiteboard.  The winner is the first team to copy the text correctly with no spelling and punctuation mistakes.  Further instructions can be found here.
I hope that has reminded you of a few good ideas and may be has introduced you to a few new ideas. Thanks for reading.  


Robot Routes provides a good introduction to sequencing instructions and creating basic algorithms. When children have started to learn what an algorithm is and to sequence instructions. Children can then complete the challenges on the website that become increasingly complex. This provides a great first programming challenge at year 2 level up or a good homework activity for older children. Younger children may need to practice following instructions in the real world by acting navigating around a maze before moving onto this website. Children will also need a reminder about being precise with their commands and using the correct number of blocks, in order to achieve each challenge.

When children have mastered this they could then go on to complete harder challenges such as using logo, scratch or blockly.


Understand that commands are in sequential order and know the difference between left and right. Also understand the concept of a birds eye view.


My school doesn't have the best internet coverage and I found when the children used internet explorer the website timed out when everyone was loading the page at once. However when the children loaded it with Chrome it loaded fine.

Dragons and Shields

Here is a PE idea, which is designed to improve children's ability of Marking other players and increase their awareness of space.

First you’ll need to set some boundaries for this activity.  Children will need just enough room so that they can run around freely, but are still close to each other.  Then you’ll need to explain the warm up, you’ll need to demonstrate this warm up idea, if not children won’t quite get it.  The concept is each child chooses another person to be their dragon, but they don’t tell anyone who their dragon is.  Then when you start the activity you have to get as far away from your dragon as possible, while still staying within the boundaries of the area.  You’ll find that as everyone has different dragons it prompt a lot of running and dodging to really get as far away from your dragon as possible.  When children have had a go for a few minutes and got the concept, I then introduce the shields.  Again ask each child to pick someone (a different person to the dragon) and they are now their shield.  The idea now is to still keep away from your dragon, but try and get your shield in between you and the dragon to protect you in a straight line.