My trip to Picademy USA – Irvine, CA

I was lucky enough to be invited to “Picademy USA” at UC Irvine this summer. This was a lottery event and out of over 1000 applicants I was chosen as one of the lucky 30 to attend. It was a great experience and I would recommend it to everyone in education.

Picademy is two full days of learning how to use the RaspberryPi micro computer in an educational environment. The first day was getting familiar with the RaspberyPi. To accomplish this we were led through several lessons. We started out with an overall description of what a RaspberryPi is, and how/why it was developed. We then covered the GPIO (General Purpose Input Output) pins, and some basic breadboard wiring. The GPIO is what really separates the RaspberryPi apart from standard computers. It allows you to easily connect with a wide range of sensors and other devices.

We were then introduced to HATs (Hardware Attached on Top). The first HAT we used was the Sense Hat. This clever little add on has several sensors built in, an LED matrix, and a tiny joystick. It is actually used on the International Space Station to run experiments designed by students. We worked with Python 3 to do some basic coding of the LED matrix. We also wrote code to read the sensor values for the gyroscope and temperature sensors.

The second HAT we got to work with was called the Explorer HAT Pro. This HAT has a built in breadboard, 4 colored LED, 8 buttons, and a motor driver. We grouped into teams for this lesson. My team built a robot chariot for a teddy bear (Babbage). We wrote the code in Python to start the motors once one of the buttons was pressed. The code made the motors turn for a set duration then stop.

After working with HATs we began working with Scratch, a block based programming language. You drag interlocking blocks onto the work area to create your program. Scratch is built into the RaspberryPi operating system. Scratch is also free to use online and as a download through MIT. We used a breadboard to wire up some LED’s to the RaspberryPi GPIO pins. We then programmed in Scratch to turn the LED on and off. The really cool part about this section was that we were shown how the blocks in Scratch related to the typed code in Python.

We continued the day with more work in Python. Learning the vernacular and the syntax. We continued to use a breadboard and various buttons, and LED combinations. All very helpful in developing an understanding of how Python works. We also got to work with a camera attached by a ribbon cable.

To finish off the first day we worked with SonicPi to learn how to program music. This was an interesting twist I was not expecting. It really shined a light on how creative you can get with a RaspberryPi.

The second day we were introduced to educators that have been using the RaspberryPi in their classrooms. The variety of uses was wide ranging. Some educators used them in after school code clubs. Others used them in day to day classroom activities. The age range was also wide, Elementary through High School. It made the experience approachable.

After the presentations everyone paired up into teams with a similar idea. My teams idea was an interactive photo-booth. We built a small replica using a cardboard box. The RaspberryPi was programmed to activate a 15 second video recording after a motion sensor was tripped. There were 3 different buttons inside the photo-booth. Once a button was pushed it would activate a filter on the camera and provide a count down for when it would take the picture. The pictures were then sent to a twitter hashtag with a random statement attached.

Once everyone finished their team projects all of us headed into the auditorium to present our projects. Each team member gave a description of their responsibilities, some area that gave them trouble, and and area of success.  After all teams presented they played Pomp & Circumstance and we had a graduation ceremony. We were each handed a certificate of completion and given an exclusive RaspberryPi Pin.

Two days went by in the blink of an eye. I continue to work with the Raspberry Pi today and have developed some lessons on my own. I hope to bring this fantastic little computer to more student in my area.

I will be posting Youtube videos covering the majority of my posts so keep in touch.


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