The Raspberry Pi is an inexpensive (about $35) credit-card-sized computer, designed to make access to coding and digital-and-physical making much more accessible. To support this mission, the Raspberry Pi Foundation conducts two-day “Picademy” workshops, to give educators of various experience levels on board with the power of Pi! I was honored to be selected for one of this year’s workshops, in Jersey City, NJ.
Picademy is not about having the most skill, or aptitude, or experience with programming. Instead, Picademy is all about being willing to learn something new, and find ways to apply that newfound skill to solve problems.
I had a good bit of experience with the Scratch blocks-based programming language going in, and that helped. I had almost no experience with the Python text-based programming language going in, and that was okay. I had some experience with other text-based programming languages, and that had its advantages and drawbacks. Drawbacks: I found myself thinking first of how I would accomplish a task with other programming languages I know, and I felt like I didn’t have enough time to break down and understand some of the sample code snippets I was typing. Advantages: programming concepts like loops, functions, and variables were familiar to me, and I was prepared for the sometimes-frustrating process of troubleshooting a snippet of code that is not working properly for that one little mistake that is breaking the whole process.
As luck would have it (it was pure luck, unless the application reviewers did a lot of homework on the applicants), I happened to be at the same session as Mike Marotta, someone I have followed on Twitter for a long time, and learned many things from over the years. Mike is an Assistive Technology expert, the 2017 ISTE Inclusive Learning Network Outstanding Educator award recipient, and he serves schools in the state of New Jersey as an Assistive Technology resource. We had never met face-to-face that either of us can remember, despite so many common interests, so this was a treat on multiple levels. We got to work together, and get a chance to get to know each other face-to-face.
You might think that an event like Picademy would be filled with people who have largely the same background, interests, and ideas for using the Raspberry Pi. But the group was exceptionally diverse. I met STEM teachers, university educators, media specialists, classroom teachers, published authors, tech directors, and professional development coordinators, and having a chance to hear some of their stories was a great benefit of the time spent there. I met some wonderful people, and my Twitter family has grown!
The group work time made this even more powerful. Day Two of Picademy was focused on groups developing their own project ideas. One workshop participant (a classroom educator from Detroit, MI) had an idea for a device that would help turn the pages of a book for someone who was unable to do this on their own. Mike Marotta and I thought that sounded like a great idea for a project, with lots of opportunity to put our newfound knowledge to work on a problem we were both very familiar with. So, we joined that team and began working with the physical materials we had available.
If you are looking for a fast-moving workshop experience to challenge you, I certainly recommend applying for a 2019 Picademy. And, if you don’t want to wait that long, there are lots of free online tutorials available right now!
I am not sure where all this road will lead me next. I want to infuse some of this into the Coding Across the Curriculum workshop I have developed. I want to make much of what I learned an integral part of the makerspace I will be helping to implement at Felicity-Franklin Local Schools starting in the 2018-2019 school year. I’ve already been asked to develop a presentation on more possible uses for the Raspberry Pi as Assistive Technology. And that’s a large part of what the Raspberry Pi is about… plenty of valuable options.
Everyone can learn to code – not just the kids!