PatrickFerrell
Raspberry Pi Certified Educator
Raspberry Pi Certified Educator
Posts: 3
Joined: Sun Jan 31, 2016 7:02 am
Location: Houston, Texas

My Picademy Austin Thoughts

Tue Dec 27, 2016 2:39 am

I was lucky enough to be selected for the Austin 2016 cohort of Picademy, and it certainly lived up to expectations. I am not deeply experienced with the Raspberry Pi, but I do use them in projects and teach Raspberry Pi classes once or twice a month in our public library makerspace at the Clear Lake City-County Freeman Branch Library (Harris County Public Library). With some prior experience, I was hoping not so much for a lot of new information on the Raspberry Pi, but rather new ways of looking at how to introduce these computers to others. Picademy absolutely met that criteria.

Picademy Austin was held at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, and this was a fantastic site. Not only did they have great facilities, but their on-site hosts/staff were knowledgeable, helpful and non-judgemental when helping us newbies navigate our Raspberry Pis (while racks of supercomputers whirred away in a nearby room). The food was good too – it was interesting to watch a northerner’s first experience with a breakfast taquito. Yes, we do eat them with our hands.

As I write this, it’s been three weeks since Picademy, and my mind doesn’t hold details well. But what I went for was inspiration and insight, and those stayed with me. Here are a few key take-aways:
  • FAIL: “First Attempt In Learning” – In our library makerspace I often talk about the benefits of ‘failure’, also known as ‘unexpected outcomes’. We are just a couple of miles from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and “Failure is Not an Option” bumper stickers abound. But in any good makerspace, failure is simply proof that we’re trying (and learning) new things. It was nice to see this message affirmed and reinforced at Picademy. (Even though I talk a lot about the benefits of failure, that doesn’t make it any easier. Several times I think I held back on trying something new during Picademy for fear that it wouldn’t work and I'd look foolish. My ego too often gets in the way!)
  • Sonic Pi – I’ve known about Sonic Pi and have played with it some myself, but I’ve not tried to introduce it in a class. This is partly because I didn’t have enough headphones, and partly because I didn’t see the benefit of learning Sonic Pi when I could be teaching straight Python (or Scratch for younger students) instead. However, watching the adults at Picademy have fun working with Sonic Pi reminded me that our classes and programs are best when we focus on process rather than product. And any programmatic experience that engages the students (of any age) is beneficial. And so I’ve ordered extra headphones and will offer our first Sonic Pi class in January.
  • Build Something! – I love physical computing. It’s why I think Raspberry Pi has a place as something other than a slow-ish (by modern standards) computer. But when I’ve taught our “Raspberry Pi 101” class in the past, I always start with the technical details, because that’s how I like to learn. (I also want to know how a resistor works, and then why I need a resistor, and then how electroluminescence works before I wire up a simple LED circuit!) But Amanda’s“Physical Computing” session reminded me that most folks don’t think that way. How many people have I lost in classes by explaining the different parts of the Raspberry Pi board when I could have engaged them right away by blinking an LED at the beginning of class rather that at the end? So I’ve restructured my Raspberry Pi 101 class and purchased some of the Low Voltage Lab’s Pi Traffic Lights so that we can spend more time lighting up LEDs. (I’ll still start with how to use a breadboard to wire up an LED, because I think that’s a basic skill for anyone working with circuits.)
I left inspired to keep exploring the Raspberry Pi and finding new ways to incorporate them into our classes and programs. Right now we’re having a weekly program where folks drop in to help design and build an automated egg incubator, and the brains of that contraption will be a Raspberry Pi. Then we’ll likely try a similar program and work on a weather station. The other great inspirational benefit was all of the amazing educators I had the opportunity to meet. One of the biggest resources a makerspace can provide is a community, and Picademy helped grow mine. Some of us from the Houston area are planning a Raspberry Jam to help solidify and expand our new community. Watch for more information on that coming soon.

I’d like to say thank you to the Raspberry Pi Foundation and to Matt Richardson, Mattew Buckley, Amanda Haughs and everyone else who either participated or helped produce this amazing professional development opportunity. I'm particularly grateful for the talented Aaron Graves who partnered with me on our Day Two team project. I look forward to sharing more in the future.
Patrick Ferrell
Innovation Lab Trainer
Jocelyn H. Lee Innovation Lab
Clear Lake City-County Freeman Branch Library
Harris County Public Library
Houston, Texas

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