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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. 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.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Physical Computing in Grade 2-- From analyzing primary sources to creating them!

I've been excited in the last year and a half to introduce primary-level students and teachers to programming and digital making with Scratch Jr., Scratch and, most recently, Raspberry Pi. My most recent project was with a grade 2 teacher interested in seeing how well her students would do with physical computing. She'd done some physical computing on Raspberry Pi for the first time over the summer at a workshop that I'd co-hosted, and she loved the idea of bringing some of the work we'd done together into the classroom, but wasn't sure what that might look like with 2nd graders. And so, we partnered up and brainstormed ways that we might integrate some physical computing and digital making into her class.

The result?

A 3-day project in which 2nd graders built push-button cameras with Raspberry Pi computers and programmed them using Scratch.

The project aligned with a grade 2 language arts and history unit on understanding how the past can influence the present. 2nd grade students began with a short analysis of two primary source artifacts (photographs from the March on Washington 1963, courtesy of PBS LearningMedia*), and a discussion on what we can learn from the artifacts that we analyzed.

Then, we asked students if they could design a modern-day camera to capture the best artifacts possible, what features would that camera have. Their responses ranged from making sure our camera had a lens and button to including a verbal and visual countdown so that people knew when to smile.

Once students had generated a significant list of features that they wanted our camera to have, I announced that I just happened to have some of the tools that we'd need to build our own cameras (wink, wink!), and we jumped right in to our project.

I started by introducing students to the Raspberry Pi computer, some of the parts of the computer that they'd need to know, and a couple of safety tips. I asked them what was missing from our computers & what we'd need in order to use our computers (the students did an excellent job of naming all of the peripherals that we'd need in order to communicate with, and receive information from, our computers!) Then we started passing out peripherals and put students in charge of arranging keyboards, monitors, mice and cords while I attached Pibrella hats onto the Raspberry Pis. (Pibrellas are a great alternative to connecting individual LEDs and buttons to the Raspberry Pi-- perfect for physical computing with young students.) Once teams thought that they had everything hooked up correctly, the classroom teacher and I checked their station set up before letting them power up their Pi.

From there, we walked through programming our devices whole class. A little lesson, a little programming, another mini-lesson, some more coding... and so on. Until every team had a functioning push-button camera!

(Prior to this unit, students had done some introductory lessons with their teacher on as well as a lesson with me on using Scratch.)

The excitement in the room was contagious as students learned about how a computer works; discovered how coding is used to make electronic devices function; explored math topics including algebra, algorithms, and fractions in order to program their cameras; and saw their creations some alive. The selfies were just too cute!

If we had had more time, I would have loved to integrate some of the additional features that students suggested-- i.e. adding an audio countdown to camera (easily programmed in Scratch), putting our camera on motorized wheels, creating cases for our cameras, etc. But with the limited time that we had, the 2nd graders impressed me immensely with what they were able to accomplish, and the knowledge of coding and computers that they demonstrated after just 3 days of learning.

*PBS LearningMedia is a fantastic free resource for videos, primary source artifacts, audio clips, lesson plans, educational games, interactive media, professional development, and more!

Lesson Materials:

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Teaching Kinders to Speak Math

Color-coded lesson chart
One of the challenges that many of our students have in math is being able to read the problems and use the academic vocabulary--especially in our primary classrooms. Last week I partnered with our literacy TOSA, Eve Lindsay, and a Kindergarten teacher at one of our Title I schools to teach a math unit, with a focus on language acquisition.

Our district currently uses Eureka Math in K-5, so we used the materials that we already had and designed a lesson around the math standards that the classroom teacher was preparing to teach:
  • K.MD.1-- Describe measurable attributes (in this case capacity)
  • K.MD.2-- Compare objects based on measurable attributes
  • SMP 6-- Attending to precision
Our plan was to build in language supports and embed differentiation that would meet the needs of all learners, from those that spoke no English to others who were reading at almost a 2nd grade level. Below are lists of the math and language acquisition strategies that we built into the unit to help students better understand the math content and to give them the language that they would need in order to read simple math prompts and engage in math conversation.

(Click here to view our full unit plan)

Math Strategies:

Realia, images, resource chart
  • Realia-- using real life objects to let students explore the idea of capacity
  • Choral counting-- students need LOTS of practice counting, so we embedded opportunities for students to count as often as possible
  • Number line-- during whole group lesson & independent work
  • Math lesson chart-- document big ideas on a chart while teaching so that students have a resource to access during independent work time
  • Hands-on/concrete exploration-- give students time to play with manipulatives (or in this case rice and cups) to help them construct meaningful understandings of abstract mathematical ideas

Language Strategies:

TPR for academic vocabulary
  • Total Physical Response (TPR)-- linking a physical movement to academic vocabulary
  • "Say it with me"-- a lot of choral speaking during whole group lesson
  • Counting syllables-- have students count syllables with teacher as they say new word
  • Sentence frames-- we had these available during whole group and independent work time in various forms so students could access them as needed to put together entire sentences using academic vocabulary
  • Vocabulary-- color coded word cards & images to support the meaning
  • Color coding-- we color coded important vocabulary on the lesson chart and used the same color coding on sentences frames and worksheets to help students remember the words while they were learning to read them
  • Repetition-- we opened and closed every lesson with a review of vocabulary, reciting meanings and acting out TPR every time


  • Realia/hands-on-- the rice, the scooping and the pouring gave students some much needed sensory time and a chance to work on motor skills
  • Cutting/Pasting-- we changed a circling activity to a cutting/pasting activity not only so we could customize the images that students compared, but also to give the Kindergarteners a chance to practice using scissors and glue, and more work on their motor skills
  • Writing-- our day 3 activity also asked students to write the words more/less so that they had a chance to work on not only spelling, but also fine motor skills involved in using a pencil and forming letters
  • Movement-- strategies like TPR get kids up and moving! Activity helps get the wiggles out and keeps the blood flowing... less chance of students getting tired and distracted when they're moving.

Hands-on learning
Using data from a pre-assessment that we gave at the start of the week, and teacher feedback regarding students that she was concerned about academically (either in math, ela or both) we put together a short list of focus students whose growth during the week would help us determine the success of our unit.

Feedback from the classroom teacher was so complimentary! By the end of the week, our target students were already using complete sentences (without prompting!), including academic language, to accurately define the mathematical concepts we'd introduced that week.
Specific growth that we noticed among the majority of students included:
  • A shift from depending mainly on the terms bigger/smaller toward using more specific adjectives to compare the size of objects (i.e. taller/shorter, heavier/lighter, more than/less than)
  • The ability to identify (either by pointing, choosing, or with words) items that have capacity and those that do not
  • The ability to identify (either by pointing, choosing, or with words) which of two items has more capacity and which has less capacity
  • Students were able to, at the minimum, use the words "...has more capacity..." accurately when comparing two objects
At week's end, 22 out of 24 students completed our culminating task with proficiency. We determined that only 2 students would need additional instruction in describing and comparing objects using measurable attributes. A huge win? After just 4 days worth of TPR, repetition and realia work, students were able to use new academic vocabulary correctly and independently, and they were able to identify that academic vocabulary on paper when prompted.

Success story! 
This Kinder has very little English, but was using brand new academic vocabulary correctly, 
and without prompts or supports, after just 4 days of instruction!