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Monday, May 9, 2016

How I learned magic at #Picademy

Two weekends ago, I had the pleasure of attending the 2nd U.S. cohort of Picademy, hosted at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. A week has come and gone since then and my mind is still spinning with all the Raspberry Pi goodness I was able to soak up that weekend!

Going in to the weekend-long training, I was totally unsure of what to expect. Would I be the only elementary teacher in the room? How would my coding skills stack up against others? And would I be the only person in the room that didn't even own a Raspberry Pi yet? I was anxious with anticipation all day Friday. But as soon as our Friday evening reception began, I knew I was with my people. Teachers representing a variety of grade levels (K-20) and coding backgrounds were in attendance (and this was still only about half of our cohort) and the common thread that had brought us all together was our passion for coding and computer science in schools, and for helping students get excited about learning and making.
Saturday morning I was chomping at the bit to get going! And the opening talk by James Robinson (@legojames, one of our Raspberry Pi coaches) had me even more inspired to get Raspberry Pi into my district. "Coding is the closest thing we have to magic..." Yes! Let's let kids create, build, tinker, innovate and make. More importantly, let's inspire kids to love learning!

After the opening talk, we were off. Our Saturday sessions were a fantastic example of what instruction should look like in every classroom-- a little information, and then some doing, a little more info, and some more doing. We spent more time playing, experimenting, and figuring things out with our neighbors, than we did listening to an instructor talk at us. We hit roadblocks often, worked through multiple iterations, and usually didn't quite "get it" the first time... and that made the learning and the "a-ha!" moments that much more satisfying. I haven't exclaimed out loud in my 12+ years as a student as often as I did in just one day of Picademy. It's pretty rare that I see my elementary students jump for joy at solving a math equation on a piece of paper. What if I gave them the opportunity to experience math via coding and creating, the way that I was able to experience it an Picademy? How might their opinion of math change then?
After a day full of workshops on Saturday, our new found knowledge was put to the test on Sunday. We were told Saturday evening to design our own project, find a team, and plan to make something on Sunday. Yikes! I felt pretty confident with the Scratch stuff... I use that with students all the time, but other than that... And I had no idea what I wanted to make! All I knew was that I'd like to focus on something for my primary students... lucky for me, I spent Saturday working near two other primary level tech coaches who also wanted to work on a lower elementary level project. So, although we didn't have anything in mind at the time, we at least had a team on our way out the door Saturday evening.

Sunday morning I lucked out-- one of my teammates, Michael Luetjen (@criticalclick), came to breakfast on Sunday morning with an idea for the team. We found a couple more elementary folks and Team interFace was born!
Our project went through a number of iterations before we were able to settle on something that we thought was doable in the short amount of time that we had to design, build, test and revise a project before presentations. We evenput our coach, and @RaspberryPi founder, Eben Upton (@ebenupton) to work in order to figure out how to build the tool that we wanted to build. In the end, we were able to build a bear (RIP Babbage) who's eyes and ears lit up when young students successfully plugged in the peripherals to their computer (monitor, mouse, keyboard, etc.). It was so thrilling to present our project to the entire cohort at the end of the day-- the team was pretty proud of everything that we had been able to accomplish in just 6 hours, and the whole time that we were sharing our work I kept thinking about my students having the opportunity to feel the same way that I did in that moment.

I'm still having withdrawals from our Picademy weekend and all of the excitement, but I'm trying to turn my focus, now, to the ways that I can bring more computer science and Raspberry Pi to my teachers and students.  First steps-- a summer STEAM academy in my district where our district's STEAM ToSA and I will show teachers how they can integrate 3-D modeling, 3-D printing, coding and, of course, Raspberry Pi, into their classrooms to hopefully inspire the next generation of creators.

... Interested in applying for the next Picademy USA cohort? Visit their website for dates and to apply:

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