STEM, pi-topCEED and the Raspberry Pi


Back in August 2016 I got my hands on 15 pi-topCEEDs for school and that started my continued journey with the Raspberry Pi into STEM. Nearly 18 months later and my classroom set of pi-topCEEDs are still going strong and used almost every day in my lessons, clubs and outreach activities.

You can read my original review from August 2016 here.

Before we go any further I should just say that I am a pi-top champion. This review / blog post is based on nearly two years of use in the classroom and beyond and reflects my experiences.

This year as well as teaching Physics and Chemistry in my science lab I also teach three classes of Computer Science. Whilst this is great, I am actually teaching CS in a lab with only access to 15 (and not all of them work all the time) laptops. This meant that I had to improvise so I decided to write my own Computer Science scheme of work based around the pi-top. If you would like to use it yourself follow the link here

What are the advantages of using the pi-topCEEDS in my lessons? Firstly it has to be the form factor and size. I can easily store 15 devices in a cupboard along with the keyboards and mice. My timetable has some very quick lesson changes so transforming the lab is relatively simple.

Computer Science

Having the pi-topCEEDs in the classroom has meant that I have been able to do lessons that other classes are not able to do in the main school building. My scheme of work includes all the favourites such as Minecraft, traffic lights with GPIO, Sonic Pi (I found some great headphone splitters which fit in the case), micro:bit with micro Python and an introduction to HTML / CSS.

None of my pi-topCEEDs are connected to the school network and students don't need their own log-in details. It seems to work well with students knowing which pi-topCEED they used last time and coming back to it. I did notice after a while that students were leaving messages for each other about their work on the pi-topOS notes panel.

Feedback from the students has almost been universally positive about using the pi-topCEEDs in the classroom rather than the 'normal computers' they use in the main school building. Some students even admit it is nice that they are not connected to the internet where they might get distracted.

Physics teaching

I have used the pi-topCEEDs in Science lessons often where I would like to either collect data using the Sense HAT, model examples in Python (such as radioactive decay) or investigate electrical circuits with components and Physical computing.

I have also found it really useful for students to have access to open office for doing graph work and data manipulation based on results of their experiments.

There is a unit of work on the Raspberry Pi Foundation website which looks at how we can use the Raspberry Pi in science lessons using the Sense HAT, although I would definitely recommend using a female-male GPIO extension cable / device to connect the Sense HAT off the pi-topCEED. The unit of work can be found here

One of my favourite lessons recently involved students producing a reaction time game which would then calculate the thinking distance of cars travelling at different speeds.

Outreach work

Almost as soon as I got my first set of Raspberry Pi computers I started running workshops in my school and then later in local primary schools. This was often a back breaking tasks after moving 15 monitors from the car to a classroom and setting it up. The advantage of the all-in-one pi-topCEED has made this much easier. It is some of the small things that make the biggest difference when you are setting up; not having to plug in the HDMI for the monitor, only needing one power socket per pi-top makes a huge difference with needing extension reels etc.

Final thoughts

I thoroughly believe in equipping people; that could be students to engage with code and with their work, teachers to deliver great lessons or parents being able to support their children at home. The Raspberry PI has definitely contributed to a seismic shift in the way that young people engage with coding. The pi-topCEED supports this so well from the design to the excellent set of resources added into pi-topOS.

I love the philosophy behind pi-top, I love the idea that they want to equip young people.

"We make the future"

As a teacher, an educator, a parent and a champion of digital making and physical computing in schools and beyond I think the pi-topCEED and laptop v2 have a great role and position in giving young people a passion to want to make the future!


Pi Birthday Party

A second slice of Birthday Cake

After being snowed in on the 3rd March we really looked forward to the rescheduled Birthday party on the 28th April. We had a great day at Birmingham City University with well over 60 people attending the party.


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The birthday party had all the usual Jam elements including:

  • Workshops:

Remote control spaceship (Martin O’Hanlon)
Physical Computing space asteroids (Stewart Watkiss)
Physical Computing using the Micro:bit (Bob Bilsland)
Hacking Python games (Alan O'Donohoe)

  • Show and tell area in the futuristic learning space called The Hive.
  • Robot Sumo battle by fizzPOP
  • 3D printing demonstrations by Adam Woodall and Tim from
  • A great keynote talk by Pete Lomas (Co-creator of the Raspberry Pi and trustee)

We will be running more events at BCU so keep an eye out on twitter.

Many thanks to the following organisations for supporting the event:

  • King Edward VI Sheldon Heath Academy in Birmingham
  • fizzPOP
  • Pimoroni
  • Birmingham City Univeristy


No cake for us today

Pasted Graphic

No cake for us today …

Myself and Tim Wilson had our first planning meeting for the Raspberry Pi Birthday party back in late December 2017 and after much planning we had brilliant day planned for today. We had an amazing venue, great speakers, awesome workshop facilitators and loads of goodie bags to hand out to people.

We knew the weather was going to be interesting but by the middle of Thursday it looked as if we were going to escape the snow here in Birmingham. And then it came, heavy snow which grid-locked Birmingham for rush hour on Thursday night. Most of the schools in the city were closed on Friday and it continued to snow from Friday lunchtime over night.

After many tweets, emails and phone calls on Friday morning we made the decision to postpone the Birthday Jam.

The good news is that we will be back later in the spring with Birthday Jam 2.0 which we will endeavour to make bigger and better than what we had planned.


High School Musical Stage Camera

It seems like ages since I last wrote a blog post but the summer term is always a crazy time at school with revision, exams and the summer show.

This year we performed High School Musical at school, and following the tradition of previous shows I wanted to use a Raspberry Pi as part of the theatre tech.


One of the difficulties of staging shows in our theatre are where to place the band and the musical director. We decided to put the band and MD at the back of the stage in front of our cyclorama. Whilst this sounded very good we found that the cast were missing cues from the MD as they couldn't see him. I was tasked with finding a solution to this problem. After looking at various solutions involving hiring camera systems or using video cameras I decided that I would go for a low-cost Raspberry Pi based solution.

The core of the project is the motion eye home security Pi software.

Installing the SD card is simple (make sure you have the right version for your Pi!) and the front end is very easy to navigate. There are essentially three ways you can view the images:

- locally on a monitor attached to the Pi
- network connection
- wifi connection

The Pi will need to make a network connection for motion eyes to work.

To make the Pi more robust I found two cases on thingiverse and 3D printed them to make a traditional style camera.

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Testing the camera in my classroom was fun when my class walked in to see monitors all around the room displaying the same video feed they couldn't work out how I was doing it.

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We did notice a very small amount of lag on the streamed video signal which I decided would be good enough for me to have up in the control room but wouldn't be good enough for the 'live' feed at the front of the stage. To improve the lag time I ended up buying a relatively cheap HDMI splitter which handily was powered by a 5V usb cable straight from the Pi. Using approximately 30m of HDMI cable I ran the video feed to the front of the stage. Additional monitors were connected to the splitter on stage for the musicians.

Pi camera at the back of the stage

Live video (over HDMI)

This camera based system will now be a permanent fixture of all shows we now do. Ideally I will make the cabling permanent and mount the camera somewhere suitable.

The finished rig consists of:

  • Raspberry Pi 3 with camera in 3D printed case
  • HDMI splitter ( £13.99)
  • (Old) wifi router
  • (Old) TV for front of stage
  • monitors on stage
  • Laptops / tablets / phones etc to view video feed from around the stage

For a relatively cheap build I was really pleased with the final project. The Raspberry Pi camera worked perfectly for the rehearsals and shows. I was asked many times by people how I was able to get the video to the front of the stage and to the control room. This gave me many good opportunities to talk to people about the Raspberry Pi too!

If I had more time ….

We made quite a bit of use of cheap (and I mean cheap) LED strips to mark the outline shape of part of the basketball court. If I had more time I would have used a Pi to control them. Next year we are probably doing Return to the Forbidden planet and I think the Pi will definitely feature in that!



Bare Conductive Pi Cap

Making an interactive Science Quiz using Pi CAP board

Last month the team over at kindly sent me a Pi CAP to experiment with. As revision is now upon us I decided to use it to make a revision aid for year 11 to help with their GCSE Physics exam.

The Pi CAP adds high resolution capacitive touch, distance sensors and high quality audio to your Raspberry Pi. Using electric paint you can easily connect the physical world to the Raspberry Pi.


I wanted to use specifically the capacitive touch with this project but have further ideas to extend it using the audio output too.

The conductive electric paint was 'interesting' to use and I forgot several times that it actually was paint, but it is water soluble!


Creating my quiz

I started by producing my quiz board with a track of electric paint running from each answer to the respective connectors on the Pi CAP. I decided that I would 'cold solder' the terminals straight onto the paper to make this a more permanent resource.


The code was relatively straight forward and I based my quiz on the sample simple touch python script.

I wrote a simple function which gets sent the expected touch number and checks to see if it has been pressed and returns a value of True or False.

I then wrote a series of questions. To avoid issues of letting go of the touch pad being identified as an answer I called the function again after each question but checked to see if the answer was 99. This was then ignored by the function and exited.

The whole code can be found here