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!

Digital Leaders at iNet Wales National Conference

The Digital Leaders from Ysgol Bryn Elian presented their achievements to date at the iNet Wales National Conference on Thursday 6th October 2011. Not before a first class trip on the train to Cardiff where the event was held.

The three young leaders and I gave a presentation at the conference to teachers from across Wales on how the Digital Leaders programme was progressing including how it started and what has been involved. They discussed their work on E-safety, the VLE and an insight into Ysgol Bryn Elian’s new 3D technology.

A video of my youngest Digital Leader (my son Lincoln aged 2 confidently using an iPad) helped pose the question “When does Digital Literacy begin?”

After a few questions at the end, the leaders were interviewed by another school on what they had achieved, then it was back to the train station to rush back to school as they were also representing the Ysgol Bryn Elian at our annual open evening.

As a teacher of ICT it’s great to have such a dedicated group of youngsters who really want to make a difference in their school. The three representatives along with the rest of the YBE Digital Leaders worked tirelessly during our open evening to showcase the 3D technology and the new Augmented Reality resources available for 10 subjects. They were presenting to parents with such confidence they made me very proud.

I look forward to continue working with these dedicated pupils for a long time to come.

Well done guys, you ALL did a fantastic job!!!

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!

Had I known, I would have stuck reindeer on the front of my car!

The term was almost over, almost without any great discomfort. Mary had almost finished classes and we were looking forward to spending time together for Christmas. All we had to do was get through Friday and Saturday and we were home and dry. I set off promptly to school on Friday as I needed to stop for fuel, after filling up at the garage I text Mary to say it had snowed a little so go careful. Within 3 minutes of me sending that text, I’d spun around on black ice on the Rhuddlan flyover and crashed my car. What are the chances?


Thankfully, I wasn’t at fault. Just before my spin on the ice I noticed a crash on the side of the road, and two minutes AFTER my crash, another car entered a spin not dissimilar to mine and crashed into a BMW 10ft away from where I did.


As I made the call to my wife to now say go REALLY careful, I was passed by two fire engines, an ambulance and two police cars, a little further down the road a car had spun and landed on its roof. What had happened? Were we in a scene from casualty and didn’t realise it? Or we’re we all just being stupid on the same day? The answer to these questions is no.


The problem was that despite numerous warnings of bad weather, and a 25% increase in salt/grit, the council in its infinite money grabbing, tight-arsed wisdom decided to save the salt for a colder day. The result, the worst black ice I have ever encountered on a road that I’ve been driving on for over ten years! This could all have been avoided had the gritters put a shift in the night before. The good news is no one was hurt. My car has seen better days but it’s drivable with just an unsightly dent in the door. I dread to think what could have happened in different circumstances with a different mix of vehicles.


I got to school in time to see the end of morning registration, and a fun last day was had by all, especially the chocolate consuming pupils. A few hours later I made “the call” to the insurance company, with a bit of luck the weather and no grit combo as well as the fact that there were 4 other crashes within 15 minutes will ensure I don’t get tagged as the guilty party.


The rest of the weekend panned out pretty much as planned and we can now begin to enjoy the run up to Christmas with a very excited little boy. And if anyone wants to stick a new car under my tree I won’t complain 😉


Merry Christmas everyone, that’s probably all from me for 2011 so Happy New Year, stay safe and have fun!