Computational Thinking in Brazil

I’ve been fairly quiet recently, but at least I have a decent excuse.

Way back in November, I was asked to help write a computational thinking scheme of work for some Canadian schools called Maple Bear – confusingly, I was told that the scheme would be deployed in Brazil, but I had great fun working with David Wall on 16 simple activities to promote computational thinking and computer science. David had seen me on Twitter and wanted to work with me and I really enjoyed writing the lesson plans with him.

Fast forward to May this year and David sent me another email to see if I’d be able to travel to Brazil for two weeks of training with Maple Bear. Every year the Brazilian teachers are invited to Central training in July and January (winter and summer break) to learn pedagogical skills for maths, English and science as well as school leadership training and they’d decided that this year they wanted to include computational thinking as one of their core training sessions. David had done a two-day session in the summer (January) with some specially selected participants, but they wanted to open it up to the rest of the teachers for their winter training which meant that I was invited to São Paulo to help out.

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Maple Bear is a really interesting school group – they follow the Canadian curriculum, but don’t have any schools in Canada. From what I could see, they pride themselves on having some of the best and most well-trained staff that they can and the teachers’ passion for their students came across clearly in my sessions. I think that the schools operate as a franchise around the world, but with the majority of them being in Brazil, where they have a reputation for being some of the best schools in the country. To us Brits, it may seem peculiar, but the Portuguese speaking pupils are taught exclusively in English until they reach the age of 7 when some of the teachers deliver their lessons in English, while others deliver in Portuguese. I have to admit to being really impressed with their commitment to delivering top-quality education.

Anyway, my training was planned to be two, two-day sessions in week one at the central training in São Paulo and then two, two-day sessions in individual Maple Bear schools, one in the city of Belo Horizonte, just north of Rio and one way-up in the north-west of Brazil in João Pessoa, a tropical beach-town where winter is characterised by hot weather and torrential rain.

Needless to say, heading out to teach these teachers about Computational Thinking really got me thinking about what we mean by it. I thought about those four key-words that just trip of any CS teachers tongue – Decomposition, Abstraction, Pattern Recognition, Algorithm.

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Image credit: BBC Bitesize

We call these the cornerstones of computational thinking, but how do we put into words what they actually mean? It’s actually quite difficult to get your head around how to explain abstraction, even when you know what it means, so introducing it to people that are completely unfamiliar with the terms can be quite difficult. For me, I learn best by example and so I immediately thought of activities and examples that would describe these skills, for example, tidying your room is an overwhelming task, but folding your clothes is much less intimidating, or planning to revise for examples over the summer can see terrifying until you break it down into a revision timetable and plan carefully what topic to revise and when.

One of my favourite activities during the training was one I found on code.org – ask the group to add up the numbers 1 to 200 in their heads as quickly as possible, put pressure on them and make them feel stressed. Obviously no one is going to do it, especially if you only give them a few seconds to think about it. Now ask the attendees/students whether anyone actually tried it or whether people gave up – make it clear that it’s ok to have given up.

Now, explain that we are going to decompose the problem by breaking it down a bit. You need to write on the board:

1 + 2 + 3 + .... + 198 + 199 + 200

The next thing we want our users to do is to recognise any patterns in the sum we’ve written up – someone will eventually point out that either you can add 200 + 1 to make 201 repeatedly, or you can add 199 + 1 to make 200 repeatedly.

Now we use abstraction to calculate how many times we’ll need to repeat the sum – depending on whether you’re using 200 or 201, you either need to repeat it 100 times or repeat it 100 times and add 100 one at the end – either way you get 20100 and you’re able to write an algorithm for your sum.

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What you’ve done is apply computational thinking to a fairly complex sum in order to calculate it quickly and understand that actually, adding all of the numbers up to 200 is pretty easy.

In fact, on the final set of training in João Pessoa, I started thinking about how you could make the problem more complex and it occurred to me that you could apply the exact same method to adding all of the numbers up to 400, which would then give you the sum 401 x 200, or all of the numbers up to 600 (601 x 300). As you can see, my maths brain got really excited by the application of this puzzle.

For the first day of the training, I wanted to separate the ideas of computer science from computational thinking and so we focused on unplugged computing; I spent weeks searching through the excellent resources on CS Unplugged and Barefoot Computing as well as using the ideas we’d written into our scheme of work. I wanted to focus the training on the teachers having fun as I know that from my experience of Picademy, I was much more enthusiastic about applying what I’d learnt because I’d had time to try it out and play with it myself.

In the second half of the first day, I had planned on demonstrating how you can apply computational thinking to a music lesson by asking students to compose a piece of music and then write a pictorial algorithm for playing it back. As it happened, I’d seen some street performers in São Paulo that really impressed me by playing incredible sounds just using every day objects like bottles and pipes so and so I used this as inspiration for the teachers on the course and asked them to use items in the classroom to create pieces of music.

At each of the four sessions, I was continuously amazed with the musical talent of the teachers, but what I liked even more was how much fun they were clearly all having. It felt like a mask dropping down as the teachers realised that it was ok to relax and enjoy the activity.

At the end of the first day, I was really pleased to be able to talk about some of the people who inspire me and I ended up with three whole pages full of inspiring people from Carrie Anne Philbin to Cerys Lock! I also talked about great software and hardware like Code Club and Raspberry Pi. Check out my slides from the session here.

On the second day of training, the focus was more on software, I spent the morning introducing the teachers to Scratch and the afternoon looking at Active Lit and the amazing Sonic Pi – once again, I focused on keeping the training as fun and as interactive as possible and I love the fact that every single time I introduced Scratch, it was hard work trying to convince the teachers to go on their coffee break because they were having too much fun!! Interestingly, in all four of my sessions, only around 5 teachers in total had ever used Scratch so for most attendees, it was completely new.

I had such an amazing time meeting a diverse range of people in Brazil and I’m grateful to Maple Bear for inviting me over – I hope I get to go back as I was so impressed with how well all of the people on the training absorbed information and demonstrated eagerness to use what they learnt in their schools. I’d be really keen to hear about what lessons they have taught using unplugged suggestions or else introducing Scratch, Sonic Pi or Active Lit. I loved that each teacher seemed to take something different away with them, with some immediately planning unplugged activities, while others were thinking carefully about how to integrate Scratch into their lessons.

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One of the things that really stood out for me whilst doing this training is that most teachers naturally understand computational thinking, in fact, when you think about the day to day life of a teacher, we are using CT skills on a daily basis without even recognising it. This can be a bit of a trap because we may find ourselves thinkings “oh but I do that already” because the point is that we’re all good teachers because we use computational thinking without thinking. It is a skill that we have developed to become successful, but that doesn’t mean that our students know how to use it; it’s time that we made those implicit skills that make us good teachers explicit for our students’ benefit. We need to make it clear how to use decomposition to make a problem easier to solve or pattern recognition in order to spot how to predict outcomes. We need to make sure that children aren’t growing up with the resilience and toolkit needed to solve the most basic problems.

Our students are not mindless machines, they need to be guided and shown how to help themselves – we can no longer just learn by rote because, as we often quote (or misquote) Richard Riley, the former US director of Education “Education should prepare young people for jobs that do not yet exist, using technology that has not yet been invented, to solve problems of which we are not yet aware”.  How can we confidently prepare our learners for both jobs and technology that does not exist – it’s simple, we can’t, but what we can do is prepare them to be able to cope and to develop the critical thinking skills to manage when a situation is new or unfamiliar. As teachers, we must understand that we are no longer omnipotent and all knowing, there will be pupils, even in the primary school classroom, who know more than we do and that’s ok, because what we do know is how to guide and nurture those students to achieve and become the best that they can… and who knows, maybe one of those pupils will be the one who discovers a cure for cancer, or invents a flying car. Isn’t it nice to know that we were part of that journey?

Travelling to Brazil was an amazing experience and, as a country without any computer science curriculum, I felt honoured to be able to introduce a vision of computer science and computational thinking to around 75 teachers over the course of two weeks; I hope I get to back. Talking to all of the teachers that I met in Brazil really reminded me of why I’m doing all of this and why I love computer science as much as I do. I feel clearer in my own mind about what this journey means to me and what an impact we can make on teachers and students by simply talking about computer science and computational thinking. Thank you Maple Bear for giving me such a wonderful opportunity.

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Shakey Sense Hat Cat

[edit] As of June 2017, there is a version of Scratch 2.0 on Raspbian which makes this worksheet obsolete [/edit]

After Sunday’s coding session, I set the boys the task of making our Scratch Sense Hat Cat Shake, just like Carrie Anne’s Interactive Pixel Pet.

The first thing the boys did was to figure out how to use some of the sensors on the SenseHat – remember how in my other post, I said it was good practice to run the basic broadcast command before you do anything.

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We had found some code from Albert’s GitHub page, however, when we tried to select the sensor value for accelerometer, we only had a few choices as shown below.

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Luckily, after trying a few things, I suggested that we hit the green flag to check that the GPIO pins were on and that Scratch knew we had a SenseHat attached. When we next checked the sensing options a while heap of new options appeared, including the accelerometer (sorry, I forgot to screenshot it).

The boys had great fun playing with the sensors, but couldn’t quite figure out how to get the ‘shake’ function working so they went back to the original code for Interactive Pixel Pet.

x, y, z = sense.get_accelerometer_raw().values()

while x<2 and y<2 and z<2:      
    x, y, z = sense.get_accelerometer_raw().values()

This is what they come up with:

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A job well done, if I do say so!

Now, I’m sure some of you have spotted that I could neaten up my code by removing the ‘ledbackground’ line and that ‘clearleds’ would be better suited to the end of the repeat loop as that would leave me with a completely blank neopixel array at the end of the animation sequence, but otherwise I’m pleased with our work in recreating the pixel pet for Scratch.

I look forward to trying out some of the other sensors using Scratch in the future!

 

Sense Hat Cat using Scratch

[edit] As of June 2017, there is a version of Scratch 2.0 on Raspbian which makes this worksheet obsolete [/edit]

So, I absolutely LOVE the Interactive Pixel Pet activity from the Raspberry Pi website, and while I was playing with the Sense Hat the other day, I realised it was possible to imitate it using Scratch. So far I’ve only got it running as an animation, so next step is to get the shake function working as we’ve just figured out how easy it is to use the other sensors on the hat using Scratch.

I had a play and managed to get a very cool dancing cat on my LED matrix – I’m not going to lie, I was super excited and may have run around showing everyone in a slightly excited manner. Fortunately, my colleagues were also excited, although their contributions of dancing ‘poo emojis’ weren’t quite what I had in mind.

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Here’s a bit of background on the Sense Hat… for those of you who don’t already know, the Sense Hat was created by the Raspberry Pi Foundation and launched as Astro Pi – a competition to get your pupils’ code into space. It has an 8×8 neopixel array, a mini joystick and a load of amazing sensors like humidity, pressure, gyroscope and accelerometer.

So, the first thing you always need to remember when using Scratch GPIO is that you have to turn on the GPIO server on and, if you’re using a hat, you’ll need to let it know which hat it is by using the command “set AddOn to”.

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This is pretty important for anything using the SenseHat and it’s good practice to run it before you go any further in your code as by running it, Scratch will realise you have access to all of the sensors on the hat and allow you to access them through the drop down menu in the blue ‘sensor value’ block.

Firstly you will need to delete the Scratch Cat so that you can draw you own sprite.

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In the paint editor, you need to zoom right in as far as you can and select the smallest brush size.

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You have four squares in total to draw your image – I’ve shown this here by making the area black (you don’t need to do this, but it can help as ‘black’ represents the neopixel being turned off).

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Now you can draw your image – you have exactly 64 pixels to draw with and, as you may have guessed, one pixel on the screen represents one neopixel on the sense hat. By the way, a neopixel is a very bright LED which can be any colour depending on the mix of red green and blue. The lighter your colour, the brighter it will appear on your neopixels so try to avoid dark browns and blues etc.

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Next you need to create a second image – you need to use the duplicate command to create a second version of your image.

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Then click on the costumes tab to be able to edit it a little bit so that you can make your second sprite slightly different, thus giving the appearance of animation.

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Finally, you need some simple Scratch code to get your image moving – I’ve put a couple of broadcast commands in here to clear the SenseHat before you start and to make sure that the background is black (so turned off).

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You can experiment if you want by changing the background colour, although this will only make a difference if your sprite is ‘backgroundless’ (but you have to make sure it’s still only 8 pixels/2 squares wide).

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I’ve had great fun recreating this project in Scratch and I’ve set Stuart and Kirk on a mission to figure out the ‘shake’ control too so hopefully I can add an update soon.

<edit> Kirk and Stuart have successfully managed to get shake working and are now celebrating with chocolate cake

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Part two of this project can be found here.

All thanks to Albert Hickey for his advice with this project – he is a Scratch and SenseHat guru!!

Watch this space for some more projects using Scratch soon!

Headlines about Computer Science

It’s been well over two years since the new computer science curriculum was introduced in the UK. Not that long ago, Roehampton University released its wonderful Annual Computing Education Report 2015 which says clearly, in black and white, that the numbers of pupils taking computing compared to those that took ICT are significantly lower now and, more importantly, the proportion of females has dropped. Newspapers jumped onto headlines exclaiming that we should have stuck with the old ICT curriculum, but that doesn’t address a number of significant issues.

So, let’s look at the lower number of students studying computer science compared to ICT. There are two things to consider here – when I was at school, ICT was seen as a bit of a joke subject: not one that was taken seriously in academic circles. It was a subject where you learnt to use Excel and create a blog, but it was a bit of a ‘soft’ subject. I suspect that a number of the pupils studying ICT were doing so because it didn’t require quite as much work as, say, French GCSE. Let’s compare that to Computer Science – the computer science curriculum is as difficult as learning a new language because you are actually expected to learn a new language, whether that be Python, Ruby or JavaScript; for the controlled assessment, you need to write some code. It is therefore not a soft subject by any measure.

The other thing to consider is that in a number of schools, there is a fear of failure – I have heard no end of stories from teachers who have been told in no uncertain terms that only the ‘top’ mathematicians are even allowed to consider computer science – no school wants to have a drop in the percent of grades A*-C that they can brag about (or whatever the numbers are in the new system). That immediately isolates around three quarters of the pupils. While I agree that there is some correlation between academia and computer science, it is also true that many pupils with dyslexia and ASD are excellent programmers who may not succeed in maths or English, but would, in contrast, perform exceedingly well in a Computer Science GCSE. Why should we exclude pupils that are interested just because they aren’t in the top set for maths? Surely it’s better that a pupil gets a low grade GCSE in CS than get no GCSEs at all?

By the way, I’m not criticising the schools for not being confident enough to allow everyone to study CS at GCSE level. It’s the system that forces them to fear failure and to force their pupils to conform because of that fear of failure. What, then, can we do to fix it?

On top of that, we have that issue of teacher training. Some of the best teachers in the UK for teaching the ICT curriculum are being pushed into teaching computer science without any knowledge of the necessary skills and there is no time nor funding for them to learn. Of course, they’re not going to want difficult or potentially weak children when they are not confident themselves!

Another issue is that the new GCSE assumes that pupils have been learning about algorithms since they were 4 years old and spent most of their school life learning about coding from an early age. Except that most of these pupils have probably learnt ‘a bit of HTML’ in a ‘coding lesson’ in year 9 and that’s about it; you have no idea how many secondary-aged pupils have told me that is their only experience of coding at school… How can we expect them to study at an advanced level when they’ve missed out the easy level? It takes both an excellent student and excellent teacher in order to achieve this feat, so is it any surprise that both numbers studying and grade expectations are dropping?

What about the fall in numbers of girls?

Well, I loved maths at school, but I know I was in a minority – I was the only girl to get an A* in maths GCSE and I was the only girl to study maths and further maths at A-level. Maths is a traditionally boy-heavy subject so if we’re limiting students to top-set maths then yes, that does exclude a lot of girls. However, that’s not the main problem with the subject, let’s be honest…

Computer science has a massive image problem – when you think about programmers, most people will imagine a middle-aged, over-weight man. When we talk about successful people in the industry, most people will list off “Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg”. So, where are the women? We are seriously lacking in positive female role models who demonstrate a passion for CS and programming even though evidence suggests that women write code equally as good, if not better, than their male counterparts. How many girls out there were put off as teenagers and never really got started – I know I was! I mean, how many schools even have a female computer science teacher?

This is something I’ve been saying in various circles for quite a while, but I really don’t know what the solution is – there are some great people out there like Carrie Anne Philbin from the Raspberry Pi Foundation and groups like the Stemettes and Django Girls, but is that enough? Young women like Yasmin Bey and Cerys Lock are flying the flag for young, female coders, but they’re still not well known enough outside of our community of already-super-enthusiastic people.

My heart feels like the key is in the teacher training. At the school I used to teach at, because of my enthusiasm for coding, my Code Club was 50:50 male:female. The girls were just as excited as the boys and so far three of them have come and talked very eloquently about their coding experiences at Wimbledon Jam. I should point out that only one of the three was a ‘top set’ mathematician, but that didn’t stop the others from being passionate and enthusiastic about learning to code. I was also given the freedom to tailor my curriculum to my resources and my pupils, something not always available to state schools where results are the only thing that matters and pupils are lost in the overwhelming need to achieve.

We need to support the people on the ground level, the teachers in the classroom, to help them to nourish and enthuse both male and female students and to help them to realise that computer science is for anyone who is interested and not just one subset of society.

This isn’t a criticism of the teachers as individuals: they’re doing the best they can. However, without the right training, without the right support, how can we expect teachers in the classroom to fill pupils with a sense of wonder and excitement for CS? Something has to change.

Just so we’re clear: I’m not a feminist. I’m not saying we should be holding girls-only events and pushing a female agenda even if the girls aren’t interested, I just wish that I’d been more supported as a teenager and felt more like coding was something that was socially acceptable for a girl to do, because who knows what might have happened if I had been! I just want us to encourage and foster interest in everyone to ensure that all students get a chance to be the best that they can be, no matter what their gender, ethnicity or background.

One final, happy note – take a look at the new Raspberry Pi Pioneers competition. That’s how you encourage people to get excited about computer science! I look forward to laughing at all of the (intentionally) funny entries and hope lots of young people have fun entering!

*please note this blog reflects my personal views and not those of any company that I represent.

Picademy Take 3 & 4

My picademy training was over two years ago now, but the experience remains one of the most inspiring two days of my life. As I’ve said so many times before, it literally changed my life. So, you can imagine my delight when I was invited to Glasgow Picademy, this time as a trainer.

I got to spend four days with two sets of trainees and see them go through the same life-changing experience I did.

So, the format for those of you who don’t already know – first of all attendees are talked through the benefit of Pi and then it’s straight to work learning some basics of physical computing. Unlike my picademy years ago, this time all of the cohort stayed in one room for their workshops.

I was really lucky that I got to run the first workshop as I love talking about the benefits of physical computing – I love demonstrating the power of Scratch and introducing some simple Python, especially to complete beginners.

Over the course of the day the attendees took part in workshops learning about Minecraft hacking, Sonic Pi, PiCamera and finishing up with a look at the fantastic Pimoroni Explorer Hat and some motors to make spiny things. The last challenge for the day was a mini hackathon challenge where they had 30 minutes to create something cool with their spiny motors and it was great fun seeing all that they had achieved.

As was normal, a few people felt a little overwhelmed and exhausted after the first day and it was our job to let them know that it was perfectly normal and that day 2 was their chance to become comfortable with their new skills. Just a note of reassurance here, we’ve all felt it, that feeling of never being able to understand or keep up. In fact, there were a few times that I felt it while helping out as a mentor. Don’t worry, we all feel like that!

The first day ended with a meal in a local restaurant for all attendees and mentors – just a chance to unwind and relax – the first week, we played a game of ‘learn everyone’s name’, but the second week I was determined to know them all by the end of the first session, much to everyone’s bewilderment.

So, day 2 – the challenge! Attendees are invited to work independently or in teams to make something using what they’ve learnt. Some people choose to develop their personal skills, while others are determined to come up with projects that can be used in their classrooms and both weeks I was overwhelmed by the super projects people came up with.

First, however, we were invited to talk to the attendees about something we were passionate about – in the case of James Robinson, this was Skycademy and HAB with pi, Marc Scott talked passionately about open source and Laura Sach talked about the importance of the Pi community. I was even given the chance to discuss my coding inititive, Coding Evening for teachers. It is always lovely to hear people talk about their passions and this is a lovely part of the training as it gives the attendees the opportunity to glean some insight into us as mentors and see another side of us.

Down to the projects. I’m afraid I can’t remember all of the projects, but I can say with absolute certainity that they were all superb and inspiring. In the first week, a whole table came together to create a giant group of mostly primary school teachers who were really keen to do some work with Scratch. They came up with an excellent ‘my Town’ activity that could be built in primary schools with KS2 pupils and then brought to younger pupils so that they could use the set up as a BeeBot or Sphero map. I particularly liked the way this team worked together to inspire and support each other.

Another project which stood out was a Minecraft music mat to help inspire children with learning difficulties to want to learn – I just loved that this project was so inclusive.

A pair of primary school teachers in the first week decided to independently use Python to create a Santa photo booth and what I liked about this was that they didn’t really know any Python before they started, but that didn’t stop them from giving it a go!

In the second week some teachers used Scratch to make a flood defense scheme to tie in with the Geography curriculum in Scotland which has a huge focus on environmental issues and projects and I was impressed with the cross curricular aspect of this.

Another impressive project was a back-to-basics Minecraft resources where pupils were given complete code to auto build a house in Minecraft and were then asked to identify where they could make changes in the code to alter the output. I loved this idea as I think really basic starting points for Python are few and far between and I would defintely like to see more from this project. Other Minecraft projects included a ‘yellow brick (gold block) road’ and a Hadouken Sense Hat control game.

Projects were really broad for the both groups and showed a lot of inspiration and excitement – from photographing twitter buttons to doorbells that check who is ringing them, all of the projects were well thought out and generally quite easy to apply to the classroom. I don’t think  anyone who has attended Picademy could deny the power of project based learning after spending time exploring Pi.

There were some hilarious moments over both sets of picademies, including some innuendo (mostly unintended), some incredible successes, some moments where, in spite of failure, we all had a good laugh and even some moments where I felt like I was able to contribute and help people with their code. I will add that, perhaps my favourite moment from the entire four days was when, at the end of the two days, I was asked by an attendee whether I would get an award “for being the most enthusiastic trainer” for the two days… I feel like I must have done *something* good to receive that response!

I really hope I get invited back to Picademy, as this was a fantastic experience and I can’t wait to see where they are going next in the country – fingers crossed there will be some more courses a bit further south in the future! Please keep an eye out for future Picademies and take the time to apply as this is an experience NOT to be missed!

Thanks, as always, to the Raspberry Pi Foundation for offering such amazing training and thank you too, to Google Garage for supporting them in bringing Picademy to locations they might otherwise not have been able to. Keep up the good work!

 

CAS Conference 2016 – workshop links

I will do a proper write up soon, but for those who were in my workshop, here is a downloadable version of the two worksheets, plus a link to the prezi and links to the resources that I showed you!
Scratch workshop – Python

Scratch workshop – pi-top

Prezi – Scratch-ing the Surface of GPIO

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Pi-Stop (traffic lights)

Pimoroni Flotilla

CamJam EduKit 1 (plus free worksheets)

CamJam EduKit 3 (robotics kit – plus free worksheets)

Astro-Pi Sense Hat Kit (as sent to the ISS)

I think that was all of the things that I shared with you, but please let me know if there was anything else you wanted further information about!

Cat

Crumble Bot by Redfern Electronics

A few months ago, I donated ‘an afternoon of robot building’ to a charity auction and so this weekend I headed out to fulfil my promise.

Last month I tried out the CamJam Edukit, which I absolutely loved, but quickly realised wasn’t necessarily the right tool for using with 9 and 11 year olds so, on the recommendation of the wonderful Nic Hughes, I bought a Crumble Bot from Redfern Electronics.

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The robot is based around the crumble controller, which is a simple programmable board with simple inputs and outputs.

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Photo credit redfernelectronics.co.uk

The kit comes with an easy to follow booklet which shows very clearly how to build the robot.

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We started off by fitting the Crumble to the base unit – it required a bit of force to push the controller into the base, but with the help of big brother Rupert, Annabelle was able to push it into place.

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The boys handled screwing bolts through the motors and it was only after they’d screwed both pieces in that we realised that they had fitted them to the motor the wrong way around! As you can see from the diagram, it’s quite important that you put the screws in the right way around, otherwise you can’t attach the wheels later!!

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 08.38.58.pngAlerted to the boys desire to do everything backwards, we kept a careful eye and had to check carefully to ensure that Alexi had put the screw through the base the right way around.

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Luckily, we caught it before any further mistakes were made.

The children worked really hard and built their robot in around forty five minutes – we were really impressed with how easy to follow the directions were and how quickly we had a working robot.

Our next job was to work out the Crumble interface. Redfern have created a ‘Scratch-like’ interface to make programming the bot easy and we were really pleased when, after a few seconds, we had a robot moving across the floor.

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We’d had some great conversations so far about circuits and the need to ground the motors, we discussed how the controller is used to control the robot and now we were ready to get the robot to draw some shapes on the floor. Once we added a loop in, we discovered there were only two ways to stop the programme running. Either we unclipped a crocodile clip from the battery pack, which wasn’t easy unless we’d removed the slippery protection from the clip and risked a short circuit, or we pushed the stop button on the computer interface, but this only worked while the bot was plugged into the computer. Perhaps a future step for us would be to put in a button which ‘stopped’ the code as it was quite a pain to stop it running otherwise (saying that, it was pretty funny watching Sia dive across the floor and grabbing the robot while frantically pulling out crocodile clips).

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 08.51.06.pngThe children worked hard to figure out how to make a square on the floor and had great fun making the bot dance, but there was one more piece of kit in the box. We had one neo pixel ‘Sparkle‘. With no instructions for getting the Sparkle working, we searched the internet to find some instructions. Our vain hope that we’d be able to just drag a ‘set sparkle’ block didn’t work out.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 08.55.14.pngWe tried setting it up in various different ways and, from looking at some diagrams in blog posts, we realised that the arrows on the Sparkle were misleading and didn’t actually tell us where to clip the crocodile clips, but were to let users know how to set up the Sparkles in series.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 09.05.54

I would’ve liked there to be clearer information about how to clip in the the Sparkle and how to programme it as it took us a long time to figure out – the information is there, but it wasn’t as easy for us to find as I would’ve liked.

We eventually found some code which included the block ‘let ‘t’ = 0′ and so we tried dropping a block in the beginning of our code and this seemed to do the trick, so now our robot both drew a square and had a red sparkley light. Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 21.48.30IMG_9150

I’ve now been told by Redfern that we shouldn’t have needed the variable block to get the sparkle working so who knows what we were doing wrong!

One other issue we struggled with was that the Sparkle tended to flicker between colours for no apparent reason – to be honest, the children actually quite liked this; it wasn’t intentional and is perhaps a hardware fault that could be improved on, but nothing to worry about.

I admit to a moment of indulgence at this point – I wanted to see if I could make the Sparkle phase through different colours and so I tried the following code:

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 21.48.01.pngI was pretty pleased when the bot went through blues, pinks and reds as it drew its square and I’d love to have time to further develop this code!

Anyway, we had a super afternoon building our Crumble Bot – the children were pleased with their robot and had just as much fun coming up with code for it as they did building it in the first place. I would thoroughly recommend this for primary school teachers as the robot could easily be dismantled and rebuilt and it was great fun to do – it really emphasised the importance of physical computing to make coding relevent and fun. The Scratch-like interface for programming the robot was mostly intuitive and easy to use (although the sparkle code needs work) and the children quickly managed to achieve their goals with very little input from me. I’ve seen some wonderful projects where teachers have used this robot as a base, but have built and designed their own chassis as a DT project. It is a great way to get started with robot building in the primary school and then, once the children are more confident they can move on to more challenging projects such as the CamJam kit.

I’m really excited to see this robot in the classroom so I hope you give it a go!

Thank you to the parents of the children involved for allowing me to use photos of their children in this post.