Live Streaming of #FSCHack Results Showcase

If you can’t be with us here at MozSpace tonight, we have set up a handy live streaming channel where you can tune into the event.

Live streaming by Ustream

Or you can follow the #FSCHack hashtag for updates from the event via Twitter.

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FSC Hackday Results Showcase: Mozspace London 30th May

We knew that a lot of our friends and colleagues wouldn’t be able to join us all the way out in Devon, but we also know that we need to show you our amazing results in order to make the difference in teaching and development that we feel is needed, and which inspired this whole event. So, next Wednesday, the 30th of May, we’ll be back at the Mozilla Foundation offices in St. Martin’s Lane in London to report back on the efforts of last weekend.

We’ll be able to show the premier of our short film shot at the event, demonstrate a few of the hacks, and you’ll be able to meet a few of the educators and developers who came together in Slapton. If you’re interested in fieldwork, outdoors education, hackdays, software for learning or any and all of these, do come along. We didn’t just hack, we also learned a huge amount about the challenges in these fields and their overlap, and we really want to share our experience.

Doors are from five pm, film at six. We’re planning on being around until eightish, so we hope quite a few of you will be able to fit this in after work. And if it’s still tricky to catch up, don’t worry- we might even manage to web stream the main presentations.

As if all that isn’t enough to entice you along, this will be the first presentation of the #altfschackday team’s Quadrapp hack. With a few more days to polish compared to other hacks, we’ve high expectations for the Kent hackers results!

To book a place at the review day go to the event lanyrd page, and we’ll see you next week.

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#FSC Hack Winners

The very last thing we did on Sunday was to review all the hacks and present the prizes for best hacks, immediately after which began the task of clearing up and driving home, hence the delay in reporting back to you all out there on our results.  But here, at last, is the full run down of the hacks, the feedback from the judges and those all important prizes (results are right at the bottom with the podcast, so YOU NEED TO READ THIS ALL!):

Lab 1

The Batmen

Mike and Nick had come up with a plan to create a bat detector peripheral for a smart phone or tablet that would do the electronics bit of turning very high frequency sound into something a device can analyse, and then doing the frequency analysis and other nice connectivity driven things like location logging and species identification.  For the demo they were able to demonstrate the electronics element of their hack across a few different devices, and Nick nicely explained, by means of a proxy, the sort of interface that users could expect from a fully fledged detector.

The judges felt this was a really inspirational hack, and was one that individual could get into (most others were group use).  It was really interesting to see physics and other science in the mix, not just biology and a ‘self build and download the app’ scenario seemed really promising.

3D printed Beach Profiles

Gemma Peter worked with David Rogers and Jo Debens to take beach profiling data and to demonstrate turning it into 3d file data that could be printed out on a RepRap printer for use in the classroom.  Various modes of application were posited, including periodical production at a field centre for schools to take home (and build up a collection based on their visits), a physical weekly build up, and the creation of larger 3d files based on historical data for output.  The possibility of accentuating the vertical component was also suggested, and indeed the use of alternative variables so to give a physical tactile representation of intangible factors like soil pH or species density.

In the view of the judges, this hack was particularly well suited to application in schools with their slightly higher levels of support, and had extraordinary accessibility benefits.  A highly innovative hack it also represented a great jumping off point for more experimentation, and that could easily be driven by students themselves.

Lab 2

FLAIR (Field Logging Analysis and Instant Resource)

Sym Roe and the guys took the biggest challenge on offer and tackled it head on.  This was a big team with at least a dozen people making significant contributions over the weekend, but it really showed.  Sym ran a tight team too- the work was carefully apportioned and expertly shepherded through, and at the final presentation the team produced functional multiplatform applications capable of real time collation, analysis and presentation of data across a network or stand alone.  The massive impact on field education of this can’t be understated- the delay between gathering numbers in the field and showing results in the classroom is a major barrier to supporting understanding, and with one shot this team hit it.  And it worked.  And by Monday it was being demonstrated in other centres.  Sym and team even took the time to carefully document their whole project and it’s now up on Git Hub for anyone else to download and build for themselves.  Git Hub Link for FLAIR.

The judges were pretty much as bowled over by this as the rest of us – the ambition to build working applications and to achieve it whilst facing the toughest challenge was universally applauded.

Lab 3


Andy Piper and Neil Ford had been working on a physical hack to create a kind of universal low power low cost geo data logger, with a core powered by an arduino (a tiny computer) saving data to SD cards.  The prototype they were able to show at the review was functional, if still a little bit untidy, but demonstrated brilliantly the idea of having a single button data grabber that could be so cheap and easy to use as to be utterly ubiquitous.  The demo did re-ignite a debate that had been running across the weekend as to when was too much automation and machine assistance a bad thing- would tools that did all the data gathering flawlessly not possibly get in the way of a hands on understanding of concepts, and to their credit the team did come up with ways to configure the tool so as to demand more proactive engagement of students in using it.  As a core platform this could even be a modular tool so users would need to construct (to a greater or lesser extent) the scientific tools they are using.

The feedback from the judges was really positive- “more data!” is always welcome, especially if it’s cheap and granular, and the benefits of more time to explore concepts rather than repeat the less interesting tasks was identified as a real boon.

The code and schematic is all available on Github.

Educational Geo-Caching

Heidi had been helping a lot of the teams in the early stages with their UX ideas, but was able to present a really in depth analysis of the potential for geo-caching within a Field Centre environment.  Based on in depth interviews with several educators, and her own wide experience of the activity, the potential use of active and passive games and puzzles in a nature reserve based setting was a fascinating look into future possibilities.  In fact it was really nice to see a hack that was about thinking strategically- the weekend was as much about ideas and introductions as making things, and it was great to see ideas properly explored and documented.

The judges notes: Well presented – really useful interviews – interesting balance between self-guided and tutored approach to learning – great to see GPS in the mix and gamification. Very imaginative.

River Cruncher

The team from Outlandish Ideas had kept us guessing what their final app would be most of the weekend, refusing to give a name or label much beyond ‘historical data stuff’, so it was a relief to see they had really focused down and when we were shown River Cruncher the impact was huge.  Taking masses and masses of field data from river surveys (though conceptually beach survey would work just as well) they built an online tool that lets classes explore the rivers through time and space as their profiles change with the location, the season, and the slapdash measuring of their class mates!  This was a really beautifully presented hack, and the animated transformations between the data sets were a joy to behold universally acknowledged with ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ like a good firework display.  Harry presented a really compelling educational scenario too, and this was appreciated by teachers in the audience.

As the judges said- Awesome! A great curriculum fit, fantastic way of learning about issues around historic collection of data and accuracy issues, and excellent visual representation.

Pop Up Lab

Bristol Hackspace Suite of Tools

As our resident engineering support, the Hacksapce team didn’t have a huge amount of time or headspace to do their own hack but they did work on a few little, but significant developments during the weekend.  These included little temperature loggers that can be left out gathering data (a bush was seen to warm strangely during the night), little cheap IR sensors that were made into camera triggers turning ordinary cameras into camera traps, and another interface that allowed camera flashes to trigger data collection devices (remember Floggr…?  Exactly!).  These tools together really extended a lot of the capabilities of other hacks, and of course the help of the team to others, and their tools and facilities, was invaluable.

The judges felt this really was a set of hacks that pointed the way to really interesting future work, either as tools, or as science projects in their own right.  It was also excellent to see cameras traps in the mix – kids would engage and it could generate many ideas for the future.

and finally…

AWS (The Automated Weather Station)

Steve and Gordon were hard at work and heads down in a very focused way for the whole weekend working on this, even going so far as to draft in 15 or so of the GCSE students from the school sharing the centre on Saturday night to design a user interface for the web end of their system.  With an arduino driven data collection end and a Raspberry Pi unit serving the data to the web, this set up has tremendous potential to simplify the collection of data for use in classrooms at the centre, and crucially for students before and after their time in Slapton.  The team did butt up against a couple of really difficult connectivity issues with both their wireless and ethernet connection attempts falling prey to gremlins over the weekend.  By Sunday they had the set up working by USB, however they announced the intention to donate the set up to the centre for use, so will be back down in a couple of weeks to finish a linked up set up.

From the judges, the generous donation was particularly commended, as was the innovative and collaboratively designed user interface.  The low cost of the parts to create this rig was also applauded allowing wider application of this approach in schools and other centres.

And the Winners Were…

After an intensive discussion our five judges agreed on the following as being the best hacks in the following categories:

Best Build

For the best build in terms of data use, software development, UX and/or hardware, the judges felt that Outlandish Idea’s River Cruncher was deserving of the Best Build award.  The prize was a new Raspberry Pi.

People’s Choice

By popular vote (most pebbles in a beaker) the hackers voter that their favourite of all their peers was the Bat Men’s Bat Detector by Mike Saunby and Nick Charlton.  The guys were awarded FSC Slapton Hoodies as prizes, and basked in the warm appreciative glow of their colleagues’ approval!

Most Potential

The judging panel felt that as so many of the hacks were clearly early steps along brand new avenues, and since the whole point of the weekend had been to kick off new developments, that it was worth recognising these initial ideas and identifying the one with the most potential for future educational impact.  The prize of O’Reilly text books and a large stash of the excellent Sugru went to Andy Piper and Neil Ford for their Floggr hack.

Best in Field

The prize for the best overall hack of the weekend, combining excellence in technical build, superb educational impact and general awesomeness was a unanimous decision by the judging panel.  Sym Roe, Norm Caesar, Steve Day, Hanry Miller, Chris Hunt and their many collaborators were universally recognised as producing the weekend’s best hack in the form of FLAIR, and were awarded the prize of a guided visit to the Met Offcie in Exeter.  Which was cool for everyone except Steve who works there anyway, so we’ll sort him out with something else.  Not sure yet.

Here’s a complete recording from the judges’ feedback and prize giving ceremony:

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Interview with David Rogers at #FSCHack

After all the interviews with developers, organisers and FSC people, I was keen to talk to Geography teacher David Rogers to find out how the hack day had been from his perspective – as someone who may well end up using some of the technology that was invented over the weekend. I wanted to find out what he thought about the hacks and how they might affect his work with students in the field and in the classroom. Here’s the recording of our chat:

You can also read more thoughts from David on the #FSCHack weekend in this write up on his own blog and a contextual post on his school’s blog.

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#FSCHack De-brief with the Organising Team

Right after the presentations and awards yesterday, and before everyone started disbanding to their respective journeys home, I grabbed organisers Ant, Harriet and John to get a read from them on how they felt the whole event had gone off. Here’s the resulting podcast:

Ant will be writing up some more detailed notes on the hacks and awards shortly and I have a couple more podcasts to come – so stay tuned.

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Guest Post from the FSC Hack Day Kent Outpost Team

Following a car explosion (not as dramatic as it sounds), our little team decided to hack on in Kent. For the blow-by-blow account, have a look at our Storify

We chose to focus on a common field task – quadrats. Fran (@FraMaHa – shortly to be a (not-medical) doctor) walked us through some of the field exercises she’d taught to undergrad Geography and Environmental Science students. We wanted to help students make better use of their time in the field by allowing them to reflect on their results in situ, and benefit from other groups’ data.

We started exploring exactly what students did in the field, and wireframed a possible interface for their inputs. Then we ran through the analysis that would usually happen in the classroom afterwards – for quadrant datasets, these are often biodiversity indicies – and thought about how these could happen in the field in a way that would be useful to students.

Matt (@JasonClint – product manager and would-be coder extraordinaire) started to mock-up a possible front-end, using AppFurnace as a quick prototyping tool, while Luke (@EuriskoStudios – our resident nuclear physicist, CGI artist and programmer) investigated a possible back-end using MongoDB as the data store and Python as the calculation engine. Although you may not split these functions like this in production, dividing these tasks up allowed us to make the best use of the limited coding knowledge and concurrency of our team.

Once we’d got an app that was submitting data, Fran and Alex (@lexij – digital comms bod and general wrangler) went to Darland Banks, a chalk downland SSSI round the corner, and sampled three random quadrats, using the app to submit data back to HQ.

We spent the evening working on the calculations – we’d chosen to use species richness, the Simpson’s index and the Shannon-Wiener index as indicators of biodiversity, as they’re often taught as part of school and university curricula. These are relative measures, so it’s important for students to have more than one quadrat to be able to compare sets of results.

On Sunday, Alex stole kind local designer Allan Willmott (@allwill) for half an hour who helped us convert our scribblings into a logo. We think it looks rather flash 🙂

We talked at length about what it is desirable to automate – for instance, we could have automagically pulled in information about soil type into the description field – but part of the learning process for students is to critically observe and evaluate their environment, and make decisions about what information is relevant. We felt it was important to keep the free-form nature of a field notebook.

At this stage, we’ve got a working submission part of the app, working calculations, and Matt and Luke are tidying up how the data is presented back through the app. Fran and Alex are off to the field to re-test.

Future plans (and subject to additional expertise) would be to improve the local storage of data, convert the app to a standalone HTML5 web app using something like jQuery mobile, bring the calculations currently handled by Python into the core web app code, and maybe even add a beautiful, map-presentation of data into the app!

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#FSCHack Day, Day Two

Live blogging by Rowan Stanfield.

9.30am – As far as I can gather, the last of the hardcore coders got to bed around 3.30am, having pretty much worked straight through from yesterday morning. A few of us had ventured out with bat detectors after the pub, and having being foiled several times by mobile phone signals sounding somewhat like bats, actually tracked down the real thing.

This morning the judges are doing the rounds, finding out about all the projects that are on the go, and meeting the teams. We’re aiming towards a 3pm show and tell presentation of all the hacks, so everyone is deadline focused, quietly cracking on.

10.30am – Looking remarkably chipper and animated considering the late night after a full day of planning and coding yesterday, the Outlandish Ideas team took five minutes out to chat to me about what they’ve been working on and how their historical river data project is going. Here’s a podcast of that conversation:

12.30pm – I’ve spent the morning mostly talking to FSC people: Brian Whalley, who is a trustee, shared some thoughts from the organisation’s perspective, and as a retired educator himself, and Harriet White, who teaches here at Slapton and is one of the main organisers of the event. I went down to a nearby pond with Brian, who was testing out an underwater camera contraption which is basically a small camera inside a waterproof casing, attached to a plank of wood. The footage came out a little murky and there wasn’t much action going on in the pond, but it was interesting to contemplate what would be possible in terms of studying pond life using a simple piece of kit like this.

Here’s my interview with Brian on the Hack Day in general, with apologies for the sound quality/wind noise – we were outside and the wind has picked up a bit since yesterday. Pond Life snippets to follow.

At midday the judging team assembled in the canteen to discuss the process and categories for judging the hacks later today. On the panel we have: James Richards, Director of Chromatrope and interactive education consultant; Harriet White from the FSC; Emma Bee of the British Geological Survey and Met Office; Mark Jacobs of the BBC Natural History Unit and Academy; and Adam McGregor of Rewired State – with Hack Day co-organiser and BBC R&D person Ant Miller as chair.

The judging panel discussing logistics ahead of this afternoon’s presentations.

Right now, the teams have broken for lunch – a healthy looking spread of jacket potatoes and salad, which should keep them going for another few hours of hacking this afternoon. We’re all really excited about seeing the outcome of all the hard work and ingenuity that’s been ploughed into the challenges over the weekend.

2.45pm – With only 15 minutes to go until the presentations and judging takes place, I sat down with the #FSCHack judging panel to hear how they’re feeling about the event, and what they’re hoping to see from the hacks. Here’s what they said:

4.15pm – The presentations have now all taken place and the judges are off deliberating. There’s been a lot of enthusiasm for all the projects, and it’s going to be a tough call to choose between them.

We’ve also just checked in with the Kent outpost of the FSC Hack Day, who were unable to get to Slapton, but have carried on hacking regardless. Here’s a guest post on what they’ve been up to.

Earlier I went back to talk to the FLAIR team, to see how things had progressed since I spoke to them yesterday:

5.20pm – It’s all over. Well, for this weekend at least. The prizes were awarded thus:

Best in Field – FLAIR (Field Log Analysis Instant Resource)

People’s Award – The Bat Men’s Heterodyne Bat Detector

Best Build – Outlandish’s River Cruncher

Best Potential – Andy Piper & Neil Ford’s (with help from Bristol Hackspace) Floggr

For everyone else there was a wealth of positive feedback from the judges, who were universally impressed and inspired by the quality of hacks that have emerged from this weekend.

We’ll do a complete write up with the judge’s notes shortly, along with some audio from the ceremony (currently uploading).

Meanwhile, thanks to everyone who helped make this such a fantastic event. Do stay tuned for news of the follow up event in 10 days, and hopefully more FSC Hack gatherings in the future.

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