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Astro Pi workshop

I am always keen to develop my range of workshops and activities for schools and events and was asked to do 4 x 2.5 hour workshops at school during 'activities week'.


I decided to do a new workshop this year based around Astro Pi and using the Sense HAT

The presentation can be found here


Session outline

  • Welcome to workshop (slide 1 and 2)
  • Quick recap about Tim Peake (slide 3)
  • Watch launch video (slide 4)
  • If this is the first time some people have seen a Raspberry PI show the video on slide 5 and slide 6
  • Quick build activity (15 mins) - Minecraft in Space (slides 7 and 8)
  • Extension - Minecraft coding with Python 3 (slide 9 if needed)
  • Introduce Astro Pi with video on slide 10
  • Hello World (slide 11) - don't give away the excitement about what is about to happen!
  • Continue story of Astro Pi with videos on slides 12 and 13
  • Sense HAT sensing and human senses (slides 14 and 15)
  • Measuring temperature (and pressure etc) (slide 16)
  • The end of the story (or is it?) (slide 17)
  • Pixel Art - (slide 18,19,20)
    • Students can try the sample code of the Mario Cube
    • Students then design their own pictures on the Sense HAT templates
    • Extension: Animation


Raspberry Fields

Raspberry Fields
A Festival of Digital Making - Cambridge
30th June - 1st July 2018


It is about 24 hours since I got home from Raspberry Fields and I thought I would put down a few thoughts about the weekend and particularly what I got out from volunteering at the event.

Raspberry Fields was a ticketed two day festival of digital making held at the Junction theatre in Cambridge. In their own words it was a

"chance for people of all ages and skill levels to have a go at getting creative with tech, as well as a celebration of all that our digital makers have already learnt and achieved, whether through taking part in Code Clubs, CoderDojos, or Raspberry Jams, or through trying our resources at home."


My weekend in numbers:

  • 206 miles driven
  • 24 hours spent in the theatre
  • approx 18 hours spent on stage or in the wings
  • 20 talks supported with 22 people miked up
  • 2 hot dogs eaten
  • More bottles of water drunk than I can count

The weekend started at 4.30am on Saturday morning with the drive down to Cambridge from Birmingham. After a safety briefing I was able to rig up the main stage for the presenters. At one point we had three laptops, one raspberry Pi, a monitor, TV and projector running from my table!


Most of the two days was spent introducing the next speaker and ensuring that they could present as smoothly as possibly. My perfectionism definitely helped with this!


Every singe talk was really great and having listened to every one I felt really privileged to be part of such a great community.

  • David Furguson -if you have not yet started using PiBakery for imaging and configuring your SD cards you really need to do it now!
  • Lorraine Underwood - such a talented maker but also so willing to share the FAILs along the way.
  • Martin O'Hanlon - great things you can do with a Blue Dot
  • Andy Melder - wow, such amazing collaboration across so many sectors!
  • PJ Evans - how not to boil your fish and great way to get started with home automation
  • Koichi Nakamura - if I had not seen this for myself I would have never believed you could do deep learning inference on a Raspberry Pi
  • Richard Hayler - always a pleasure to hear about CoderDojo
  • Karen Mouws - coding can and should be inclusive
  • Naturebytes - great seeing the animals 'captured' with a Pi
  • Penny Cater - drones, say no more!
  • Alan McCullagh - the real story of Babbage the bear (and Babbage!)
  • Masafumi Ohta - it was great hearing about Pi community and projects in Japan
  • Femi Owolade-Coombes - I love hearing what you have been up to and the journey you are on
  • Paul Fretwell - how to get started with robots, very useful and informative
  • Mike and Tim - the making of Pi Wars and an important announcement about Pi Wars 2019
  • Jonathan Pallant - I had not heard of Rust - now I want to try it
  • Nicola Curnow - I was fascinated to hear about the work of digital inclusion in Austraila

All the talks were recorded and I will post the link here when they are up on YouTube.

Both days were wrapped up with entertainment with Saturday finishing with Neil Monteiro helping a Pi get into Space followed by Ada.Ada.Ada which really was a spellbinding interactive show about Ada Lovelace. Sunday ended with the Brainiac Live show, this was an explosive finale to the weekend.



What did I get out from it?

It was great hanging out with old friends from the Pi community and also making new friends too. I genuinely feel that the Pi and community has given me so much over the last six years that giving back some time was just something I was proud to do.



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.


IMG_6908 IMG_6919IMG_6921 IMG_6923IMG_6926 IMG_6931IMG_6933 IMG_6925

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.