Picademy – The Raspberry Pi Academy

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It’s been almost a week since the Picademy began, and for me I suppose it held a different meaning to the majority of teachers that attended. I’ve had a Pi since day 1 when I was frantically clicking just like everyone else to get hold of one. Again, like most, I plugged it in, thought “Kewl!” And then it sat there for maybe a month or so until I cracked to open to have a real go at what it could do. For me, being a child who coded back in the 80’s and spent most of my young life on Donkey Kong, Space Invaders and the like, one of the first things I got it doing was retro gaming, this provided a spark of interest amongst the children in my school, most of which had never heard of the likes of Frogger! I digress, back to Picademy!
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As a lead teacher at Picademy, I was invited because of the success I have had in integrating the Pi into the Tech-Dojo events I have organised at Ysgol Bryn Elian and for some of the innovative tasks I have had children complete using Scratch.
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So bright and early on Monday 14th April 2014, we all waited in anticipation of what lay ahead. The agenda for the day was absolutely jam-packed, and rightly so. So much to cram in that was fun, relevant, useful, and had a deep learning outcome. We played with the PiCamera initially, something I’d yet to have a go with, I’ve got to say, the libraries of software that comes with this is impressive, with lots to do and learn along the way. It was at this point that my focus in Picademy took hold.

I was completely immersed in watching how teachers learn.

They obviously learn in the same way children do, and face the same issues children do, and experience the same things children do. Fear of embarrassment, exploration, discovery, awe, wonder, intrigue, sense of achievement, but then teachers have that extra facet to their learning, application. The conversations throughout the tasks often centred around where the best learning outcome was in the task for children. Of course there were many. Creativity, coding, and problem solving to mention a few.
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Working with another Wales based colleague I guided him through coding in Python where we encountered syntax errors and then shared the joy when we were successful.

We then moved on to physical computing and experimenting with the GPIO pins on the Pi, coding traffic lights. A task I’d already completed with my Year 7 class using Scratch last term. Again, seeing how teachers tackled this was really intriguing. Here we were, only two sessions in and complete novices were confidently plugging in hardware.
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This was a completely new experience for most of the teachers, but one which they all found a lot of fun and extremely rewarding. I heard lots of of people burst out with “Yes!” a few times when it worked as they wanted it to.
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Next up was Minecraft, the tasks provided by Craig Richardson were absolutely brilliant and allowed all to code Minecraft using Python. Dave Honess couldn’t overstate just how much children love Minecraft and that by using this as a hook, once again, deep learning could take place. If you haven’t seen the Minecraft work by Craig before, it is seriously top drawer and well worth a peek! You’re children will love it!
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What followed in the afternoon was a session using @SamAaron‘s Sonic Pi. Sam is one of the most inspirational, motivated coders with an absolute passion for what he does it was a pleasure to be in his company. He provided a session on Sonic Pi before everyone got coding music. It all went a bit disco/90’s rave by the end of it, but some great music was being coded across the room.
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The second day began with talks from Eben Upton, Matt Manning, and Sam Aaron, before a day of hacking and making got underway. Lots of great projects took shape and teachers were busy playing with components, LED’s, PiCameras, and breakout boards. There was a real buzz in the air as everyone started hacking their projects.
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Here is a video of our bullet-Time Babbage project, unfortunately, not the desired matrix style as we ran out of time, but not forgetting, the production as well as the filming of the video was all done on a Raspberry Pi!

For the Foundation, it’s vitally important that the whole Education arm is sustainable, particularly as far as educational resources are concerned. For that reason, we enjoyed a session on GitHub from Ben Nuttall about how best to go about documenting lesson plans and schemes of work. Lincoln even made an appearance here which he was very pleased with.
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The event was wrapped up by Carrie Anne Philbin who did a superb job in putting this quality CPD together. Attendees shared their experiences of the two days before eagerly heading off on their individual journeys to a life of Pi.

For me personally, I look forward to mirroring the success of this event when I take Picademy to the teachers of North Wales this summer. One thing is for sure as far as the Foundations core aims are concerned building and getting the Pi to where it is now was the first part of the job, now, it’s up to educationalists alike to populate a wealth of resources to really take the movement forward so that computer science can once again become commonplace amongst our young learners.

Look out for more Picademy events in the future!

Escape from Byron Bay now available on the AppStore!

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Escape from Byron Bay can now be downloaded for free from the AppStore. The game is compatible with iPhone, iPod, and iPad.
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This game is set in the beautiful location of Byron Bay, the far North-eastern corner of the state of New South Wales in Australia. After visiting there in 2005, the place left a lasting impression with me as it’s one of the most unique places I have ever been. Byron Bay is a small town with about 5000 residents. There are many bars, restaurants and shops with a really relaxed, laid back feeling, everyone seems ultra-chilled out, what could possibly go wrong in a place like this?

Streets of Byron Bay

When I began planning my first text adventure I felt it was important to have the location clear in my mind before I could attempt to script a game. What appealed to me about setting it here was the fact that such a laid back place could be literally turned upside down with what happens in the story.

The game starts with you playing Hudson Brune, a 34 year old pioneer in genetic engineering working for BrynEli-Med. You initially find yourself alone in a car park looking for a way out of what was a bustling tourist attraction. A medical experiment gone wrong has resulted in the inhabitants becoming infected. You now realise you have to get out of this place, but how? A small set of interconnected puzzles will ensure your safety, but beware, the solution is not an easy one unless you look EVERYWHERE!

Enjoy playing the game, I hope you manage to escape, please take a moment to comment when you have played the game!

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Computer Science comes home!

Today was the day we were told what we knew was coming. ICT lessons had become boring, pupils were not as engaged as they might be and the move towards more computer science based lessons is on the horizon. Thankfully, I was in the crows nest with a telescope some time ago and saw this coming. For a while now I’ve been using Scratch and teaching a little HTML and JavaScript. 

In my opinion, qualifications such as the OCR national had become a qualification for the school rather than the individual. Trudging through MS office for years to get the equivalent of a million GCSE’s seems a little pointless and hardly preparing our children for what lies ahead. Who knows what the technological landscape will look like by the time the enter employment. The likes of the OCR National sit well with those comfortable in teaching “what they know” with little requirement to spread your wings further than a 4 bit binary number!

Here in Wales, we are fortunate to have time on our side in that we don’t have to run with this for some time, however my feeling is why delay it? Let’s do it now, embrace it, get brilliant at it and most of all enjoy it. It’s the curriculum I’ve been dreaming of anyway so for once I get to open my presents BEFORE Christmas.

Today took me back to 1987 where I was a 14 year old nagging my parents for the brand new Spectrum +3. Thankfully they heard my plea and I was furnished with one for Christmas. On that epic first computer of mine I learned to code in BASIC. I spent hours typing code to see an array of beautiful graphics displayed on the screen. I went on eventually to develop a Football simulation game and a fruit machine game, both of which I submitted to Future Publishing for them to include on the cassettes on the front of their Spectrum magazine.

Now, at 38 years of age, I’m learning to code in Python, a language I dabbled with when working for a software house in Bangor shortly after completing my Computer Science degree at University in 2005. I aim to be teaching this to a group of MAT pupils this year and then to Year 7’s starting September 2012.

I’ve often lamented about the work of Alan Turing, particularly when working on my own Artificial Intelligence project making a Tutorbot, looking at his famous Turing Test, today, he would be a very happy man indeed. The field he excelled in has been put centre stage for ICT teachers across the country to grab with both hands, never before have we had so much freedom to develop a curriculum suitable for the requirements of the future. So long as we make the right choices through careful decision making during curriculum redesign I feel excited about the future. I’m excited to be teaching a subject I have passion for. I am now a teacher of Computer Science and ict (small ict).

The only ones that should be scared are the ones who are too comfy to move with the times, my advice, we are moving without you. Our children deserve it, the success of our future requires it.

Let’s get out our coding manuals, Computer Science is coming home!

What will I learn tomorrow?

It’s amazing how much the little things matter, especially when you’re only two.

This summer we didn’t go/aren’t going anywhere on holiday, mainly due to the fact we have quite a bit going on right now with the business and also because we are toilet training Lincoln! Despite this we have gone on lots of days out and had lots of fun. Last week we went to see Bob the Builder live show at the theatre, Lincoln enjoyed it, especially the songs. We’ve also done some spontaneous walking and grabbed the odd iced-cream. It’s little things like this that Lincoln recounts with pleasure. He held on to his iced-cream like it was gold! He looked so cute toddling along with it, although I did have to keep it under control when it started melting, Lincoln wasn’t keen on this bit!

In addition to our days out, we’ve spent a lot of time playing in Lincoln’s new play room and in the garden. One of the biggest tasks I had to complete this summer was sorting the garage out as it had become a dumping ground, this was another job that Lincoln loved helping Daddy with, we got everything out and put it on the garden, sorted the “stuff” from the rubbish and put it all back tidy. Lincoln was in his element. The job spanned more than the time I set aside on Sunday so i finished it today, during which I introduced Lincoln to some basic DIY. He spent ages with a little screwdriver putting screws in a piece of wood. Who would have thought something so simple would have kept him amused/engaged call it what you will, for so long? I suppose to him, it was new, and he’d seen Daddy fix things in the past, he loves getting involved and amongst what you’re doing (with the obvious H&S precautions, no getting up and walking around with a screwdriver for instance!!). All the time I am teaching/playing with Lincoln I realised I was potentially learning about how he was using the information I was giving him.

It got me thinking, It’s not what is taught that’s important it’s how you teach it, content is important no doubt, and how it can be applied to other scenarios is also key, but as I get closer to the new academic year that will bring new pupils, new challenges and new questions, it’s nice to be brought back to basics and reminded that HOW you teach a topic, skill, or piece of information is vital. Making it fun, engaging, interesting, valuable, or desirable is the way to produce deep learning. Not learning a fact or skill to be regurgitated but learn it in a memorable context adaptable to many situations.

I wonder what else my little superstar will teach me tomorrow?