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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Inspiration from #ISTE17-- looking back on #MyISTE

Inspired by Kyle Hamstra's ignite on Sunday afternoon, I focused my time in San Antonio on not just attending ISTE, but experiencing ISTE, and spent the last couple of weeks reflecting on the moments and people that stuck with me at #MyISTE this year.

Digital Equity

A prominent topic of discussion at this year's ISTE was digital equity, or the lack thereof in many communities around the world. It is becoming more and more apparent that students without access to a digital device and the Internet at home are at a major academic disadvantage compared to those students who do have access to the Internet at home, and can choose to continue their learning on their own time.

From CoSN Digital Equity Toolkit
One impactful session that I attended in particular was a panel on digital equity and the homework Dr. Darryl Adams, Dr. S. Dallas Dance, Keith Krueger and Dr. Kurt Steinhaus. Each participant talked about the importance of access to student performance (Dr. Adams talked about how graduation rates increased by 20% in his district after he provided every single student in his district with an iPad and access to the Internet at home) and ways in which they addressed digital inequities and homework gaps in their own school districts as superintendents. The panel reminded me that we do not need to take 'no' for an answer; if something is important enough, we can make it happen. What each of these men had in common was their tenacity and creativity in solving a sizable problem within their school districts. I was also reminded that sometimes, "we have to go slow to go fast." Problem analysis, planning, getting to know stakeholders, iterating solutions, and providing intensive trainings for all involved (students, parents, teachers) -- these all take time and are essential to developing an effective program or solution. I can sometimes be impatient for change, so it was valuable for me to hear that the changes that these superintendents impacted did not happen overnight.
gap with

I also learned about the Digital Equity Action Agenda (from the Consortium for School Networking, or CoSN) during that panel session-- a tool that I am excited to take back to my own district. In the last 6 months or so my district's tech team made significant strides in the effort to provide digital access at home for all students, but we still have a long way to go and I think that the CoSN tool kit and advice from the panel might help us grow our program significantly in this coming school year.

EdTech Adoption Chasm

EdTech Coaching

One of the foremost reasons that I appreciate being able to attend ISTE is the opportunity to connect with others like me-- educational technology/innovation/digital coaches who strive towards goals similar to mine, and also struggle through similar challenges. It's a chance for us share successful strategies and help each other brainstorm solutions to coaching challenges we face.

Virginia Satir change process by Michael Erickson
I gathered fantastic ideas from peers about managing our newly developed online personalized PD system at the ChromeWarrior happy hour (our virtual book clubs will get their own game, rather than get wrapped into our main district game, for one...), and was again inspired to get reflecting (and get my teachers reflecting) after chatting with Knikole Taylor and Cicely Day at their "Reflective Coaching" table at the #ETCoaches playground. I got some great ideas about gamifying my coaching and trainings from EdTech Mason during his poster session and was reminded over breakfast with my #TOSAchat friend Margaret Sisler that it is indeed, as George Couros says, about "moving people from their point A to their point B." Sometimes that growth is slow moving (very slow moving), but as coaches we need to honor people's positions on the change curve during the growth process.

Digital Making & Creative Computing

Chatting with the Fullerton crew
As this was a topic I was actively searching out, it was bound to be a discussion that had a major impact on me at ISTE this year. I both presented on the topic and made it a point to connect with others in the field to gain insight on how they were growing computer science and digital making programs in their schools and districts.

As always, I was inspired my friend, Jason Chong's, ongoing work in computer science and robotics in Fullerton School District in Southern California. I had an opportunity to chat with Jason, during his poster session, about how he is growing his district's program and supporting teachers along the way. My biggest takeaway was the involvement of teachers in the process; Fullerton invested in sending teachers to workshops to learn more about robotics and computer sciences to build capacity, and then asked those teachers to work with the TOSAs on developing a district-wide computer science pathway and sample lesson plans.

Although I didn't get to see it live, I did get a chance to follow Carrie Anne Philbin's ignite talk via social media, during which she touted the importance of robotics in a real world context if we are really to make an impact, validating my passion for project-based computer science instruction. And Mitch Resnick of MIT's Scratch made some exciting announcements about Scratch 3.0, including a tablet app, new blocks and formal integration of Scratch X; updates that mean better accessibility for students and classrooms to physical computing projects with Scratch, robotics and creative computing in general.

Presenting & Connecting

I've really only been presenting at conferences and workshops outside of my district for the last two years, but in that short time I quickly learned that presenting is not just a good opportunity to share, but also a great way to connect with and learn from others. And the best part of any conference experience for me is always the people. Doing the digital making panel with Raspberry Pi and my poster session on computer science in TK-5 was a great chance to reconnect not only with the Raspberry Pi community, but also with the computer science and maker communities in general-- some of the most impactful communities that I've connected with in my career so far.

I also had the great pleasure of connecting with friends new and old in less formal settings, and often those are the moments when the most impactful learning and reflecting takes place. Dinner with the Pi-Top and Raspberry Pi teams, happy hour with PBS Digital Innovators and Chrome Warriors, cruising the Riverwalk with my #TOSAchat and #ConnectedTL and #CUE friends, meet-ups at the Bloggers Cafe and Playground sessions... often these are the moments where reflection happens, resources are shared and support systems are developed. It was during these face-to-face, unstructured moments that Rodney Turner empowered me to be bold, Sylvia Duckworth encouraged me to consider taking my CS passions to the next level, Tom Whitby had me questioning how I can get more of my colleagues connected, and Carrie Anne Philbin reminded me that it's not always about badges or certifications-- sometimes all it takes is passion for us to make a difference.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Pi Tote-- a sewing & circuitry project with the Raspberry Pi Zero W

Heads up... it's a bit of a lengthy reflection on the process I went through making my first Raspberry Pi "wearable". If you just want the final code and bag pattern, skip to the end :)

A couple of months ago, playing around with my new Raspberry Pi Zero W and thinking about some of my upcoming summer ed tech events, I decided that I wanted to make something that would fully take advantage of the compact size of the Pi Zero, that was somewhat useful, and that I could take with me and share with my maker friends during my summer tech travels.
Me & grandma celebrating!

I loved the idea of making something wearable and blinky, and also wanted to figure out a way to incorporate the use of my grandmother's hi-tech embroidery machine. Right away I thought it would be fun to embroider the Raspberry Pi logo and from there I realized that a tote bag would be the way to go for my first wearable project.

Now, I know some readers are going to chime in and suggest that I should have used something other than my Pi Zero to create my "wearable", and at first I did look around at some of my other options, but realized that the point wasn't to buy new toys-- rather, I wanted to see what I could create with the materials that I already had available to me.

Here are the materials that I used and the process that I went through to create my first Raspberry Pi "wearable"-- the Pi Tote.

Materials Used:

  • Raspberry Pi Zero W
  • 8" female to female jumper cables
  • 5 mm clear white LEDs
  • 1 yard of heavy cotton fabric for main outer pieces of bag
  • 3/4 yard of patterned cotton fabric for inside pieces of bag
  • 1/3 yard of solid cotton fabric for bottom of bag
  • Embroidery thread and Brother "Dream Machine 2" embroidery/sewing machine 

My Process:

Step 1
Grandma researching
My 1st step was learning how to use my grandmother's embroidery machine to upload a custom design & embroider it in the desired size. Although my grandmother uses the machine regularly, she had yet to create her own designs, and so we did a little reading to see how we might upload our own image and convert it into a pattern for embroidering.

After some playing, we had our image uploaded to the machine and converted into a line drawing. I embroidered my first design and, happy with the outcome, I took it home to start experimenting with the electronics, while I set my grandmother with the task of finding a simple tote bag pattern that we could use to sew our own bag which would include a pocket that I could use to conceal the computer and cords.

Step 2
Embroidered Raspberry Pi logo prototype in hand, I started exploring the different ways that I might be able to make my raspberry light up.

The first iteration involved programming random pulsing LEDs on the Sense HAT's LED matrix, but the square shape of the matrix didn't allow for much flexibility in where the LEDs would be placed and trying to shine the matrix through the embroidery only provided a dull glow from the fabric.

Picademy inspiration
I started thinking about how I could use individual LEDs to light up my design, but wasn't sure at first how I'd secure the LEDs to the bag while connected to the computer. Then I remembered the day 2 project that my team created at the Picademy that I'd attended in April 2016-- Babbage the teddy bear with light up eyes & ears. We'd connected LEDs directly to chained jumper cables, with resistors linked in the chain, and strung the LEDs from our Pi and through the teddy bear. I could do something similar with my bag!

I cut a couple of holes around the edges of the embroidered logo, popped a couple of LEDs through the holes from behind the embroidered patch, and connected the cables to the Pi. I ran a simple blinking program to test the lights and decided this design was a winner!

Step 3
Next I focused on coding the LEDs to blink. I wasn't sure at first how exactly I wanted the LEDs to look, so I started by just making sure I could get them all to blink one at a time. After some consultations with my very creative family, I decided that what I really wanted was for the LEDs to pulse randomly inside the raspberry (which also meant a couple of changes to the embroidery design later).

I'd never used a pulse command, but hoped something existed and went to the gpiozero documentation to see if there was something there that I could use. Indeed, I quickly found information on how to pulse an LED. I tested one and had no problem getting it to pulse-- woohoo! Off the top of my head I didn't know how to make an action happen randomly, so I started off by coding my LEDs to pulse one after the other. This looked okay, but program was getting long and messy and it still wasn't exactly what I wanted.

I started googling for the Python commands that would help me pulse my LEDs randomly and wasn't finding what I wanted. Luckily, it didn't take long for me to remember that Ben Nuttall included tutorials on the 'random' commands in his PiCamera worksheets, so I headed to the Raspberry Pi website to look back at the "Getting Started with PiCamera" lesson. I ended up creating a list of my own for the very first time (called 'lights' and which included each of the LEDs I had connected to the Pi) and programming my Pi to randomly pulse an LED from the list in a forever loop. This program ended up doing exactly what I wanted and was, thankfully, a much neater bit of code than I'd started off with!

Step 4
With my code ready to go, I needed to get moving on the bag itself. My grandmother found a pattern we thought might work for a couple of beginners (my grandmother is a very skilled seamstress, and was a great resource for helping someone like me, with a only a couple of sewing projects under her belt, but she'd never done a bag so we wanted to start with something simple). I picked out some fabric I liked and we started working our way through the pattern. Several days into the cutting, pinning and sewing, as we were working through the steps, we realized that the pattern we'd chosen was not as intuitive as we'd hoped and when we hit a wall that we were struggling to get over, I scrapped the half of the bag we had done and started searching out an  easier pattern... on YouTube.

The first video that popped up looked super simple (a pattern from DIYer Loepsie), so, with just a week before ISTE (the first event at which I wanted to be able to use my new blinking bag) I went back to the fabric store and we started again. I had to do a few calculations in order figure out how much material to buy (a good math test for myself!), especially after making one small adjustment to the measurements provided in the video (I used three fabrics instead of two), but otherwise the instructions in the video were super simple to follow (much more so than the original pattern we bought) and in about 3 hours, we had a tote bag made!

Step 5
Several iterations of raspberry
I decided during my electronics tests that rather than place the LEDs around the outside of the embroidered raspberry, I wanted to insert the LEDs inside the raspberry, so I needed to make a couple of adjustments to my embroidery design. I went back into my digital file and erased out some holes in the design where LEDs could be placed. It took a few tries and test runs to get the holes the right size-- not too big, not too small-- and a thread ripper to jab through the material to open up the holes.

Step 6
Once my design was ready, I embroidered the final Raspberry Pi logo onto a swatch of outer fabric to make into pocket for the bag. The size of the swatch was measured with the intention of having enough room to house my Pi Zero W and the jumper cables needed to attach the LEDs onto the pocket.

Adding the pocket onto the bag design turned out to be a pretty simple endeavor. We sewed lining onto the back of the pocket, hemmed the edges and then sewed three sides onto the center of the bag.

Step 7
The final step was to string the LEDs through holes & test the final product. I ended up sliding the LEDs through the holes on the front of the bag and then attaching the cables from the back side of the pocket. This kept the LEDs securely in place and prevented a lot of sliding around.

The first time I connecting everything, I used a 4" female/female cable attached to an 8" male/female cable attached to the LED (mainly because that's what I had in my tool box). With this setup, the cables proved to be too long and took up too much space in the pocket for me to be able to hide everything as neatly as I wanted. With the pocket so tightly packed with equipment, it also made it difficult to maneuver my hand around and get the LEDs secured. So I did have to do a little more shopping; I purchased 8" female to female cables so that all I needed was two jumper cables per LED, rather than four. This proved to be a much cleaner setup, and left enough room for me to squeeze my hand into the pocket and get all of the LEDs connected to the Raspberry Pi.

Step 8
Editing rc.local file
Initially I planned to use VNC viewer and a portable cell battery to run program headless. The cell
battery worked fine, but while at ISTE I tried connecting to VNC viewer to no avail. Not sure if it was the spotty wi-fi network, but this kink in my plans led me to researching how to program my Pi to run a specific program on boot up. This was something I'd tried learning several months back with no luck. Somehow, this time around, and on a time crunch, I was finally able to find the directions in the Raspberry Pi documentation that allowed me to set up my Pi to run my pulsing light program on boot up by adding just one line of additional text to the rc.local file.

Just a couple of hours before the Raspberry Pi Jam at ISTE, I had my blinking tote bag running beautifully!