Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Time I went to Picademy...

Having heard about this amazingly inexpensive and useful computer called the Raspberry Pi about 2 years ago, I finally decided to undertake some formal training in order to fully understand exactly what it was capable of doing, especially in my classroom. Enter Picademy!

I have always loved Twitter as a means of finding out what other professionals are doing to engage their pupils, but one day I caught a glimpse of a hashtag that really interested me... #Picademy. I follow quite a few Raspberry Pi enthusiasts so #Picademy seemed to be popping up everywhere! From a small amount of research, I discovered that it was a fantastic two days of CPD for educators who wanted to extend and develop their knowledge of computing and the new curriculum through the use of my new favourite 'toy', the Raspberry Pi.

I completed the application process to join Picademy #8 which included writing a blog post on 'Being a 21st Century Teacher'. I then had a long wait ahead of me to hear whether I would be selected to attend. I regularly headed back to Twitter to discover a whole host of amazing Picademy applicants, including David Saunders and (past Picademy attendee) Cat Lamin. Through my discussions with these two technology gurus, I was starting to get very excited about attending. So I think it's fair to say that I was bouncing off the walls upon receiving my acceptance email. The beautiful thing about Picademy is the community spirit. It's like one big family of incredibly creative people and I'm very happy to finally be a part of it.

So what did I get up to in two days of Picademy-ing... In a very small nutshell, the first day consisted of workshops with various experts, some of which were from the amazing community that I just mentioned! The final day was our own to take what we had learned and turn it into a Raspberry Pi project of our choosing.
Carrie Anne greeted us as we arrived at Picademy #8


According to, Sonic Pi is 'audible computing'. Sounds intriguing, huh? A more detailed description is also provided on their website:
I had heard of Sonic Pi before Picademy but hadn't really seen exactly what it could do until the seriously brilliant Sam Aaron conducted his workshop with us. It's just fantastic to see coding being seen as an art form, and Sam is incredibly passionate about its use! And you can't help but agree with him.
Sonic Pi's nice and simple user interface
He took us through a thorough demonstration of what Sonic Pi could do, starting with three basic commands: 'sample', 'sleep' and 'play'. With these three commands in hand, Sam says you can start creating all kinds of music immediately, and the best thing to do next is to play around and see what you can do! We were then shown some more advanced tricks up Sonic Pi's sleeve, like loops and even live loops. The latter being when you can actually perform a piece and tweak it on the fly! But it didn't stop there... You can control Minecraft with Sonic Pi! More on that on day 2...

Sonic Pi is a beautifully simple, but powerful piece of software from a passionate creator. I will definitely be taking this back to school and bringing music alive through our computing curriculum.

Every child's favourite video game character hasn't gone unnoticed by the Raspberry Pi. A version has been ported to the Pi, and while it isn't the 'full-fat' PC version, you have the wonderful opportunity to hack it to pieces! Martin O'Hanlon, co-author of 'Adventures in Minecraft' (get it!), showed us how to do just that using the Python programming language.
Picademy rocks!
While O'Hanlon's book takes you through a whole range of Minecraft hacks and activities, we focused on some 'simple' elements: typing a chat message on screen (see image above); identifying Steve's location, and then changing it; identifying a particular block, and then moving a block to a different location. We achieved all of this by completing a couple of tasks (click the titles for links to GitHub code):
  • Don't Look Down - throwing Steve into the air by finding his current location, then changing the y coordinate value.
  • Duplicator - copying the block that Steve is standing on and placing it on top of his head. We did this by identifying the location and type of block beneath his feet, then adding that same block type to the location above his head.
  • Walk on Air - placing blocks beneath Steve's feet so he could 'walk on air' by looping the placement of a diamond block in the location under Steve's feet.
Martin has created a very handy Minecraft worksheet which goes through some of these tasks and a few more to boot. After completing these tasks, Martin challenged us to create a Rainbow Bridge based on the Walk on Air project. I actually shocked myself by completing it! My Rainbow Bridge code:
Rainbow Bridge code
Rainbow Bridge

Three of the first day workshops revolved around physical computing. We learned about the Pibrella, the PiCamera and using the Pi's GPIO pins to attach LEDs. Ben Nuttall had the job of showing us how to setup and use the PiCamera with the Raspberry Pi.
Picamera selfie!
Below are the slides from Ben's presentation:

I have already done a little time lapse photography with the Picamera but I am looking forward to doing some more with the children at school. Here is a time lapse video of my school's Summer Fayre last year:

Big Les Pounder walked us through attaching a Pibrella to our Raspberry Pi. This cool little board sits on top of the Pi and consists of a button, three traffic light coloured LEDs and a buzzer for you to interact with. Les also showed us how to add additional components to the Pibrella, like a motor! We basically followed this tutorial on the Raspberry Pi website.
Lastly on day one, Clive Beale showed us how to use python to turn on an LED attached to the Raspberry Pi's GPIO pins. He also had one of the best props I've ever seen for demonstrating this too... I really wanted to take them home!
Land of the Giants?
Using the GPIO on the Raspberry Pi is what this amazing little machine is all about. Being able to turn an LED on and off seems so simple but it completely opens the doors to a wealth of other projects that can gradually increase in complexity. Instead of LEDs, attach motors and you have a drivable vehicle...
Look ma, no resistors!
So that was a whirlwind tour through day one... But that was only the beginning! Day two promised to be just as exciting.
Back at the hotel after a looooooong first day!


As I said at the beginning, day two was generally about being let loose on all the hardware to create an interesting project. Our experts were on hand to impart any relevant knowledge (as well as irrelevant!) to assist us in our quests. At first, I wasn't very sure what I wanted to do. Dave Honess gave a few of us a quick demonstration of Astro Pi, a board that sits on top of the Raspberry Pi and is full of sensors that will soon be making the long journey to the ISS with Major Tim Peake.
Astro Pi in all its glory
As exciting as the Astro Pi was, I finally decided to do something with Sonic Pi and Minecraft. I was so impressed with Sam Aaron and Sonic Pi on day one that I felt I had to dig a little deeper with it. With the help of James Robinson, Sam and fellow Picademian, Alex Young, we set about exploring how we could incorporate the use of coded music into the phenomenon that is Minecraft.
Introducing the Sonic Minecraft Keyboard!
Alex and I thought it would be really cool if different pieces of music played when Steve stood on different terrains. If Steve was taking a walk in the desert, a summer time tune could play. Alternatively, when he was hiking through the arctic lands, a chilly winter theme would be heard. This would allow for dramatic storytelling to take place in the Minecraft world. Imagine Steve walking into a dark, scary cave just as a haunting piece of music begins to play...

Unfortunately, we didn't quite get that far! However, we did create a 'keyboard' to test different sample sounds that worked a treat. The completed code can be found here.

At the end of the second day, all attendees had the opportunity to share their projects to the group. When I said that the Picademy community is full of creative people, after watching all the presentations, I was definitely not wrong! I am well and truly honoured to be part of the Raspberry Pi Certified Educators family. Well done, everyone!
Picademy #8