On Monday 27th April, I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the 8th Picademy, a two day CPD course focusing on all things Raspberry Pi.
Arriving on Sunday night, I was glad to find that a group of teachers were staying in the same hotel as me ahead of the course, so we met up, had a drink, taught David what a skip was and wondered about what we might find out the next day. The next morning, our questions were soon answered.
We arrived at Pi Towers to be greeted by the team, as well as several other teachers and educators who were all as equally excited as we were. The introductions helped to settle everyone and it was over to Carrie Ann to introduce herself, the team and what we were going to be doing over the next two days.
Our first session was with Sam Aaron as he demonstrated the uses for his program, Sonic Pi. Once loaded onto the Pi, it could easily be used with children as young as 5 as the most basic command is play (choose). This plays a sample from the library, which can be added to using sample websites, or even your own recordings.
It can then progress to introducing the sleep command to rest between samples, before loops, live loops and edited samples can be tinkered with. This really got me excited as a music fan, and would be a brilliant way to introduce the importance of correct syntax, as well as concepts such as loops and conditionals.
Check Sam’s videos which show the true potential of Sonic Pi.
I want to use this with my children just to let them explore music, particularly as it is something that we don’t teach with any confidence at our school
Scratch GPIO uses the same well-known blocks as its big sister, Scratch. The difference here is that it can talk to and receive from other hardware, such as buttons, buzzers and LEDs. We played around with LEDs initially, and the excitement from getting a light to flash was genuine – imagine what it would be like in a classroom of primary aged children. From there we programmed traffic light sequences and then used header leads to form a circuit to control a sprite – essentially, building a control pad.
I’ve spent this morning investing in cables, LEDs and buttons for the children – I know they would love this aspect and it could tie into Science teaching too. Where we go from there is up to the children.
Ben showed us how to use Idle to write commands that allow us to hack into the Pi camera. We started by taking selfies, then edited the script so that a picture was taken every x seconds. Clearly, this could be furthered to use timelapse for all kinds of different projects. We have a summer fair fast approaching and I may ask the children to program a timelapse there (thanks to Steve for the idea and sharing what he had already done).
We have recently had a woodpecker take residence on our school grounds, which is quite rare for the middle of the city. I’m thinking about setting up a camera to film the bird’s comings and goings…
Pibrella is an add-on board which is connected to the Pi’s pins. We were very quickly programming motors and Les shared some of the projects he had done with it. The next day we were shown some brilliant practical ideas that used the Pibrella in ways that children would definitely love.
I have to admit to suffering from some kind of mental fatigue here – I need to do more research on the Pibrella!
Our final session of the day was with Martin O’Hanlon, one of the authors of Adventures in Minecraft. The Raspberry Pi has its own version of Minecraft and allows users to hack into it. Martin showed us houses that followed him, blocks of his choosing and how to quickly manipulate Steve’s co-ordinates to benefit the game player. We had Steve falling from on high, building things instantly and creating rainbow bridges within minutes. Such fun, and obviously Minecraft is beloved of so many children.
Minecraft is one of the main reasons our Digital Leaders wanted us to try the Pi – now I know a bit more I feel I can teach them, rather than being taught by them!
The day ended with a quick brainstorm of potential projects for the next day. Following this, the team were kind enough to treat everyone to dinner by the river. This was another opportunity to meet lots of new people, and the jaunt to the pub later afforded me a chance to try some lovely new beers.
The morning started with talks from James on Pi in the Sky, a project that I really want us to try at our school. Using add-on boards, radio transmitters and helium balloons, James and his class used a Raspberry Pi to take photographs from high above – the video below shows how amazing it must have been to be involved.
Sam Aaron gave an inspiring talk about programming and how it should be an opportunity for children to be creative – I really wish someone had recorded this.
Then was the acid test – what could we make using the tools we were shown yesterday?
There really were some brilliant ideas – Babbage Bear was programmed to send out messages on an LCD screen; Minecraft and Sonic Pi were combined to put music (and musical instruments) into the game and earthquake detectors were built. This was all in two or three hours – the enthusiasm and dynamism here was incredible.
I relied on Sam more than I should have done, but he helped me to build a program in Sonic Pi. I wanted children to be able to put their writing into the code, which would then play back music to suit the mood of the text. This worked fairly well, but I do need to explore samples further. I am also going to try this with the children to see what they think, and will write a blog post based on those experiences.
After the presentations were made, everybody was officially enrolled into the hall of fame as Raspberry Pi Certified Educators. I couldn’t stop thinking about all I had learned, and all I want to explore in the coming weeks. From starting the two day course as somebody who lacked confidence in using the Pi, I definitely feel as though I can apply it in so many different ways. The Raspberry Pi Community is incredible – already, I’ve seen tweets, blog posts and newsletters that help those of us who are still learning, which is exactly the kind of attitude I’d want among my children – desperate to do more, willing to try new things and sharing what they learn.
A huge thank you to all at Raspberry Pi, particularly Carrie-Ann, Sam, James and Martin for the help they gave me. Thank you too to David, Alex, Steve, Elani, Mark and Laura for their company to and from the hotel.
Getting started with Python picamera – Ben Nuttall
The Picademy experience – David Saunders
Picademy – Laura Holdsworth
The Time I Went to Picademy – Steve Bagnall