The buzz and excitement relating to Picademy started early - about a month beforehand when we all got our e-mails from Carrie Anne inviting us. This started a sharing of email addresses and twitter handles and a general session of planning. The majority of us decided to stay at the same Travelodge which was bizarrely situated on the edge of a brand new housing estate bordered by the busy A14. The day before Picademy, most of us met for the first time in the bar and shared a few beers, laughs, tweets, food and (semi-)watched the World Cup Final (Germany won 1-0 if you don’t remember). This was a great start to the two days and meant that when we got to Pi Towers we already knew each other a bit.
The official start of Picademy was not great for some of us as we seemed to have found the only taxi driver in Cambridge that had never been there before! As none of us in the taxi had been to Cambridge before either it was a surprise that we only arrived five minutes late. Tip: Use Panther cabs they know how to navigate.
We were split into groups (Teams Python, Scratch, Minecraft and GPIO) of about 6 delegates each and opened our goody bags.
I had heard about these goody bags before I went to Picademy and how good they are - they did not disappoint - BUT we had a big surprise - the day we went to Picademy was also the day that the Raspberry Pi B+ was launched and we all had one in our bags! Wow! Thanks Eben!
The majority of the day was spent in our groups in four hands-on workshops which allowed us to learn, explore and investigate some of the many features of the Raspberry Pi.
Our first was using the GPIO (general purpose input output) pins on the Pi delivered by Clive Beale. These allow the Pi to control and to interface with physical devices and objects. We used Scratch GPIO to control LEDs and a new bit of kit called a pi-Stop which has 3 LEDs and can be used to simulate traffic lights.
I’ve used GPIO pins before but only with resistors so was interested to see how easy it was to directly attach LEDs. I was nervous before about “bricking” the Pi but as long as you can count pins you should be OK. Tip: Use a Raspberry Pi leaf which sits over the pins and labels them for you.
The second workshop was delivered by Craig Richardson and was about MinecraftPi. Confession time: I don’t like Minecraft! I find that the perspective of moving Steve around makes me feel ill, I also do not find the keys intuitive to use. However I did find the worksheets extremely useful and for some reason built a glass house full of lava and also had Steve (the Minecraft avatar) walking around dropping blocks of explosive TNT.
These things were achieved with very short pieces of Python code. But the best bit was when I was shown how to change the perspective in Minecraft and then I could see Steve as a whole figure - suddenly my queasiness went. I am not a convert to Minecraft (and doubt I ever will be) but I can see that the lads back at school who are obsessed will love the ability to “instantly” build and change things.
Up next was Carrie Anne with Sonic Pi - billed as “a bridge between Scratch and Python”.
This is a fantastic bit of software that allows you to create music ranging from a simple tune to multi-threaded compositions. Personally, I need to spend more time with Sonic Pi and go through the lesson plans as I found just playing around with it difficult. There are plans afoot for Sonic Pi competitions with great prizes so listen out for them. Tip: Use good quality headphones and/or speakers.
Our final workshop was related to using the Raspberry Pi Camera.
It’s a small camera capable of taking HD images and video. It is quick and easy to use from the command line but we also learnt to write some python code to take photos in response to a button which we wired to the GPIO pins using a bread board. The worksheets were simple to use and this has inspired me to use one back at school, which I have done already. The students want me to help set up a motion detector spy camera - that’s a few lessons for next year planned then!
We then had a demo of Github by Ben Nuttall and how to use it back in our classrooms. To be honest this was a lot to take in at the end of the day but have since been able to set it up at school and will be looking to use it next year. Next was off to dinner (via the pub) at a local restaurant overlooking the River Cam. This was a good chance to relax together, share ideas and thoughts about the day and meet some more of the people behind the Raspberry Pi.
The day started with inspirational talks and videos about the vision for Raspberry Pi, art and community related projects from Rachel Ryans, Eben Upton and Matthew Manning. We also had the chance to meet some interns who are working with Alex Bradbury on an educational coding game for the Pi. As a group we discussed their game ideas and gave them some advice and pointers as to how we could envisage their game being used in the classroom.
The main part of the day was given over to us having the opportunity to create a Raspberry Pi based project. As a group we decided to make a Babbage bear that takes your photo and then tweets it.
To do this we had to beg for a Babbage bear that we could take apart so that we could insert a camera behind one eye, an led behind the other and a button on one paw. We also decided to bling up his t-shirt with some wearable tech (LEDs to you and I).
We wrote the code for each part separately and then combined it to create a bear that when you pressed the button on his paw his eye flashed repeatedly faster until it took a photo (with combined shutter sound). This photo was then stored in a folder on the Pi and tweeted using Babbage Bears own twitter account (@BabbageBear). The tweeted picture was accompanied by a random message - some positive some not.
When we came to demo it to the rest of Picademy all worked except the flashing LED as the pins had got bent together during surgery! We wanted to add another paw button which when pressed would read out the last mention that Babbage Bear got but the text to speech module we were using didn’t work properly and we ran also out of time. A big mention should go to Ben Nuttall who gave us a lot of help especially with getting the tweets working.
Lance Howarth the CEO of the Raspberry Pi foundation gave us another inspiring and interesting talk and then we demoed our projects to each other. These were varied and ranged from (amongst others) a cat detector, a compliment cam and a robot controlled by both Scratch and python. The last part of Picademy was when we received our Certified Educator badges from Eben.
Picademy was a hard two days of CPD but was definitely the best I have been on. It is difficult to mention the best thing about it because there were so many! Unlike most CPD I have been on we were not just talked at - we were hands on developing and creating nearly all the time.
We had so many opportunities to networking and share ideas - I have not used Twitter so much and am seeing more value in it now. The time simply flew by especially when we were working on our projects during which we were writing code, debugging, bouncing ideas around, sharing, creating, swearing, laughing, tweeting, eating sweets, learning, googling, performing bear surgery and collaborating. Although the two days finished last week for Picademy#3 it hasn’t stopped - ideas are still flowing and the tweets and emails are pinging about the internet.
If you get the chance - go on Picademy - it’ll change you!