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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Intro to RaspberryPi Physical Computing Task Cards

A couple of week's ago my district hosted our 3rd Annual STEAM Showcase-- a festival of student STEM, music and art presentations, as well as hands-on learning and activities led by students, teachers and community partners.

I setup a hands-on Pi-Top station in our coding playground and wanted students and parents to be able to experience an introduction to physical computing with the Raspberry Pi, so I created self-guided "Physical Computing with Scratch" task cards and set up the breadboards ahead of time. Families had so much fun programming LEDs, buttons and PiCameras in Scratch that the last attendees didn't leave until almost an hour after the event!

Below is a link to the cards I created, including the Python version. Enjoy! And check back later, as I I plan to update the task cards in the coming months with a couple more activities.

bit.ly/physcomptaskcards 







Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Culture, Relationships & Innovation-- Reflecting on CUE17

Culture, relationships and innovation were three of the prevailing themes at this year's CUE conference, and the ones that resonated most with me during my time in Palm Springs.

From design thinking to personalized learning, digital storytelling to STEM, UDL to the arts, the common thread running through most presentations this year was that relationships and culture are the backbone of innovation in our educational systems. 

I think Thomas Murray wrapped it up best in his session on the last day of CUE-- "Innovation cannot happen in a toxic culture."

Toxicity is non-issue at CUE events, and as such, the innovation & ideas seem to endlessly flow over the course of our 4 days at CUE National. Surrounding myself with positive, passionate, like-minded people always seems to unleash my creativity.

On a similar note, Taylor Mali compared CUE National to the Blind Melon music video, "No Rain"-- "When I'm with teachers, I feel like I've found my community of bee people."

People and relationships are indeed my favorite experience at a CUE conference-- being around my bee people or, (as Jon Corippo likes to call us) my fellow lone nuts, had me re-energized and inspired by week's end. Whether it was participating in the inaugural TOSA Playground, or the impromptu Raspberry Jam that my #Picademy friends and I were able to arrange on the fly, being with my tribe always reminds me why I do what I do.

So how, then, does that all translate back to my school sites and district? 

For me, I think that's where empathy comes in. Both Jo Boaler and George Couros centered their keynotes around innovation via empathy. As a Teacher on Special Assignment (or ToSA), a huge part of my role are the relationships that I develop with the teachers I support, and being able to empathize is a huge part of the work that I do for, and alongside, my teachers.

This, however, is not the same as succumbing to the naysaying and negativity that can sometimes run rampant in staff rooms. On the contrary, this means empathizing with how others might be feeling and using that information to shift the conversations and emotions in the room. As we talk about innovating education, we have to think first about the culture at our sites and in our district. Thomas Murray reminded us that it's everyone's responsibility to set the culture of a classroom, site and school district. It is a culture of creativity, problem-solving, and support that will breed innovation.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Future Meteorologists-- Building & Programming Digital Weather Stations in 5th Grade

Recently a 5th grade teacher asked if we could use the Raspberry Pi to have students build something for their weather unit in science. With all of the weather happening in California this year-- and damage due to flooding, mudslides, potholes, collapsing roads, and more-- weather is very much a relevant topic for us right now.

Using SH pinout map to connect
Excited about the idea of connecting our project to current issues in our community, I thought a digital weather station would be appropriate, built around the essential question, "Why is it helpful for a community to be able to predict coming weather?"

I worked with a small group of students who, after some whole group exposure to programming with Raspberry Pi, were some of the students most interested in doing more coding & physical computing work. We used the Sense HAT with its built in, and easy to program, sensors so it was just a matter of helping the 5th graders program the HAT to collect some atmospheric data, share that data on the LED matrix and then decide what other features to include.

At the start of our project, we hit one major set back-- trying to figure out how to connect the Sense HAT to the Pi without, 1-- sliding it directly onto the GPIOs (the heat of the Pi itself interferes with the temperature sensors on the Sense HAT) and 2-- without using up all of the GPIO pins (the students were using a really nice Raspberry Pi touch screen display, that needs two pins for power). I decided to have students use individual jumper cables to connect their Sense HAT to the Pi, but it took me a long time to figure out how to do this properly, and that set us back a week or so. Once I finally figured out how to set this up, I created a pinout map for the students to use and we were on our way again!

Students planning their LED pictures
I played around with the idea of having certain weather pictures show up on the LED matrix depending on the current air pressure-- a sort of weather prediction (not the most accurate, but we used the average San Jose air pressure as a benchmark and had certain pictures show up based on higher or lower air pressure readings). The students liked that idea, so we moved forward. To help students understand the way the LED matrix works, I created a planning doc that students used on their own time to "draw" their pictures ahead of time, plan their variables and record RGB codes so they were ready to write those into their code with me.

Students also wanted to include the Sense HAT joystick into their project somehow, to make it a bit more interactive, so we added a line of code to make a joystick press the event that would run the program (actually, this is only partially working the way that we want, so it's still a work in progress).

This being their 3rd Raspberry Pi/coding in Python project, I wanted students to be able to work more independently this time, with their teacher and I acting more as coaches. I put together a hyperdoc that students could use to try and walk through the project themselves, including both science resources about weather concepts (science images & media courtesy PBS & PBS LearningMedia site) and step-by-step directions for writing the code.

Next steps for this project-- we made sure to have all collected data print in the shell window in addition to the LED matrix so that students could collect the data at the end of each day in order to
organize, analyze and graph the information.

Their classroom teacher also wanted to make sure that students focused not just on their final project, but also on the learning process and reflecting on failures that finally led to their success. We asked students to keep track of the challenges they met along the way (which were numerous) and I included independent reflection opportunities within the hyperdoc.

As always, it was great to see the kids so excited about their completed project, once we got everything up and running. Next steps are preparing students to share their work and process at our district's upcoming STEAM showcase!

If you want to try this project with your students, below is a link to the hyperdoc that we used. Feel free to make a copy and edit it to meet your own needs.


Hyperdoc: goo.gl/lgw4D6
(click link above to view/make copy of original document)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sense Hat pinout for Raspberry Pi

Recently I wanted to attached a Sense Hat to my Raspberry Pi without using all 40 GPIO pins. My plan was to attach an additional output device to the pins to use at the same time as the Sense Hat. I'd also read that if I was going to use the temperature sensor on the Sense Hat, the temperature of the computer itself tends to interfere with the temperature readings of the atmosphere when the Hat is plugged directly onto the GPIO pins.

One option-- buy a pin header with extra long pins. Easy access to GPIOs! As I mentioned above, though, if you want to use the Sense Hat for reading the temperature, the Pi itself can interfere when your Hat is too close to the Pi board. If you don't need any of the other GPIO pins, it is also easy enough to use a GPIO cable extender to connect your Sense Hat without attaching it directly onto the Pi itself.

But, if you want to attach additional outputs to your Raspberry Pi, using all 40 pins for the Sense Hat can be a bit of an inconvenience. The good news is, the Sense Hat really only needs 11 of the pins in order to work-- the trick is knowing which ones!

As I started Googling around, a number of people recommended just using the Sense Hat schematics to figure it all out. If you are an electronics novice, though, like I am, the schematics can be tricky to navigate. Pinout.xyz is a helpful site and got me close, but unfortunately, the Pinout site did not include 2 crucial pins in their diagram (I think assuming those with more experience would already know to include those). Luckily, I found some help from the Raspberry Pi community on the official website discussion forum. From there, I created my own diagram to help me remember which specific pins I needed in order to use my Sense Hat without using up all 40 GPIO pins.

That diagram is below for your use!

(It does not matter which 3.3V, 5V or ground pins you use just as long as you include those.)

What it looks like all hooked up:



Sunday, February 19, 2017

Kinder Breakout FAIL-- my First Attempt In Learning

Today I tried my first BreakoutEDU with a class of Kindergarteners. It was, well, interesting, to say the least.

We did not breakout... we didn't even get close. Students were engaged, and enjoyed the game, and there was some learning happening, but it was a bummer to have only solved one clue in 30 minutes. And while it would be easy to get frustrated with this minor set back, I am choosing to use this as a learning opportunity.

(HUGE thanks to @annkozma723 for sending me her K/1 remix of Patty Harju's game very last minute-- great game for littles!)

First off, the Successes:

  • I found a Kinder class to play with! 
    • Love when a teacher is willing to let me take a risk in their class and try something new.
  • The Kindergarteners were engaged
    • This particular learning situation had them hooked and ready to work
  • Students persevered
    • This was the first time that this class of Kindergarteners were presented this type of open problem solving. Sometimes, it is easy for students to get frustrated when they're not sure what to do, but this group as a whole stuck with it, showed grit in the face of a difficult problem and kept trying without giving up!
  •  Students got along well and tried to help each other
    • The class I was working with was at one of our sites with traditionally more challenging student behaviors. In reflecting on the game afterward with another TOSA & one of my assistant superintendents, both commented that it must have been very challenging behavior-wise with the Kinders. 
      • On the contrary-- except for one minor behavior infraction (and nothing I wouldn't expect normally in a Kinder class) they were so excited about the challenge that they tried hard to be focused and on their best behaviors!
Challenges & What I Learned:
  • Students struggled with the lack of step-by-step directions
    • Although this is the ultimate point of the game-- getting students to think more creatively and try to solve problems on their own-- I think this group needed more scaffolding up front then I provided. 
    • I would also do (or at least start) the Breakout whole class next time. Next time I think I might start by solving the first clue whole class first, so that they better understand how to think about the puzzles & challenges.
  • The box
    • They were intrigued by the locks, and so excited that all they wanted to do was play with the locks (even before they had a code to use)
    • Next time I'll keep the box up high and be in charge of trying the combinations that students come up with
  • The Kindergarten students needed more instruction on how to work together as a team
    • Although they did get along well together during the game, they didn't have strategies for working as a team on a project
    • Next time I visit a classroom of students that I don't know well, I'll come with very specific rules or strategies for working in teams
It's always a challenge to walk into a room of students that you've never met before & try something brand new with them, especially when that task doesn't look like more "traditional school work." And although the situation felt a little like a fail at first, I now see the experience as a "FAIL"-- First Attempt In Learning. I have better ideas as to how to scaffold the experience for young students experiencing their first BreakoutEDU, and am still excited about the learning opportunities that the game can provide for our littlest learners.