This is a recycled post from July 30, 2017. I as the new Picademy dates have been posted, I think you need to read what this training meant to me and what it can do for you and your students.

Last Thursday and Friday I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a training session called Picademy. For those who have not heard of Picademy, it is the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s free face-to-face training program that aims to support educators throughout their digital making and computing journey.

If you have not heard of a Raspberry Pi you must have been living under a rock for the past 5+ years. The Raspberry Pi is a credit card sized computer that costs $35. (You still have to provide a micro SD card, power plug, keyboard, mouse and monitor.)(If you run the Raspberry Pi headless [without a monitor using another computer to run using VNC], you don’t need the keyboard, mouse or monitor.) It is a fully functional computer running a version of Linux called Raspbian.

During the two days of the Picademy we were trained on using the Raspberry Pi. The training focused on digital making utilizing the Pi as a tool or material in the project we were making. I’m not sure if you caught what I just said. The Pi computer is just one of the many materials we used in our digital making.

Too often in schools we use technology to be able to say we used technology. We assign digital worksheets and call it technology integration. We spend thousands of dollars on 1:1 initiatives only to have students completing the same types of assignments as before.

Digital making utilizes many materials and the Pi or other tech device is just one of the materials required to build the project. What is essential to digital making is student choice. Giving the students the choice of what to build. The Picademy facilitators gave us a choice in what project we wanted to create. We all brainstormed ideas. There were many ideas, most of which were a solution to a problem or a need in our various schools, classrooms and maker spaces. One of my favorites was the exit ticket machine. The group created a program and a graphical user interface (GUI) to ask students a question. The students stepped up to the machine and pressed a button that corresponded with their answer. It tallied the results for the teacher to quickly collect.

My group started with my idea in building a robot. I wanted to see if we could build a low cost robot that would be affordable to my students. The PiRover is pictured to the left. I had a need and my group worked to find a solution to the need.

Digital making is about students (not teachers) coming up with a solution to a problem or need and creating the solution. This is real world problem solving. The learning potential in digital making is massive.

The proof of potential learning is that every single team at the Picademy built something they had not built before. We all had to spend the 2 and a half hours learning. We had to find the information we needed to complete our projects. The facilitators were there for help, just like we are for our students. There were times that the facilitators did not have the answer. They only had suggestions or hits that might work or might lead us to our solution.

In addition to learning and practicing digital making, we were encouraged and given permission to fail. That isn’t something you usually hear. I tell my robotics students on the first day of class that they will fail more times that they will succeed. That is part of life. Think about how many inventors failed over and over again before the invention worked.

Overall, Picademy invited us to take on a maker mindset. Digital making requires a shift in how we teach. It changes the our role as teacher and the student’s role in learning. This maker mindset is where real world collides with the educational institution.

I guess what I am saying is Picademy was life changing. Life changing for me, my students and those who I can drag along with me.


Has your state adopted learning standards in computer science? Have you checked? In Ohio we adopted computer science learning standards in 2018. After studying our standards, I think a great place to start in the K-6 content or self contained classroom is algorithms.

Starting in kindergarten and first grade, the Ohio standard for algorithms states: With guidance and support, model a real-world process by constructing and following step-by-step directions (i.e., algorithms) to complete tasks. Kindergarten and first grade teachers are probably already doing this. You might not use the word algorithm, but I’m sure you work on making and following multi step instructions.

In second grade the standard drops the with guidance, but still works on creating and following instructions. It states: Model a real-world process by constructing and following step-by-step instructions (i.e., algorithms) to complete tasks.

When we get to third grade students need to start looking at errors found in the multi step instructions. The standard reads, Construct and reflect on errors in an algorithm to accomplish a given task. As students learn to create the algorithms they need to reflect on what might cause the instructions to break down or cause issues or confusion.

The change for fourth grade is that students work on an algorithm for a specific task while refining the algorithm to eliminate the errors. The standard is: Construct and refine an algorithm to accomplish a given task.

Evaluate a multi-step process to diagram the proper steps to solve a problem. You can see that fifth graders are working to continue to refine and evaluate the instructions as they create diagrams of the steps.

Finally in sixth grade students should be able to Compare and refine multiple algorithms for the same task to determine which is the most efficient. Students will compare multiple sets of instructions to decide which one is not only best, but more efficient. This takes thought and analysis.

You could integrate these standards into your ELA classroom by working on writing instructions. The refining and reflecting come with the editing of writing. Or you could integrate into the Math classroom as you work to follow algorithms to complete a variety of math problems. Students could write their own set of instructions to work through computation and algebra problems.

So, I ask again. Has your state adopted computer science learning standards?

Facing a different direction in Scratch

When using Scratch, one of the first large projects I assign students is to tell a story. Sometimes I’ll ask them to retell a chapter from the novel they are reading in ELA and other times I’ll let them tell their own story or recreate a fairy tale. Either way I find the same issue comes up time and time again.

This issue is that all sprites in Scratch start of facing right. Many times we want sprites to face each other when they are talking to each other. I find that students often want to go in and modify the sprite costume. The problem with that is the Scratch still things the sprite is facing right, so if you use the move block the sprite will move right when you want it to move left. Below is a better way to get your sprites turned around and actually move the direction it is facing.

You want to use the point in direction block. Change the 90 (facing right) to -90 (facing left). You will notice when you try this that your sprite turns up side down. To correct this issue use the set rotation style block. Leave the block set to left-right.

Try it out. Now your sprite turns to the left and will move that direction if a move block is added.

Makey Makey

I decided to recycle a post from early 2016. Scratch has changed, but the experience is the same. If you are looking for a fun activity with an elementary aged child, try this…


I recently got the Makey Makey out of the drawer to teach my 8 year old how to program using Scratch. She has had some experience using Blockly with her Dash robot by Wonder Workshop. She has also used Scratch Jr. for the iPad, but this is the first time programming for herself.

The program was simple, but the impact was great.

The program used the “when a key is pressed” event to play a note. Each key played a note in a song from my daughter’s song book she uses for her piano lessons. She had to know the keys and read the music just like when playing the piano. We wired the Makey Makey to match the program. She had to change the half notes (0.5 beat) to quarter notes (0.25 beat). That gave us the opportunity to talk about fractions and decimals.


When using the Makey Makey, you have to connect yourself to complete the circuit. This gave us the opportunity to talk about electrical circuits and why our large piano works.

We also had a problem solving opportunity. Two of the “keys” had aluminum foil touching. This made two notes play at once. We talked about why the aluminum works to conduct electricity and how the tape and cardboard kept the electricity from one key from connecting to another.

To finish our programming, she got to play her song and others. This was a quick 30 minute activity, but we both had a blast and she learned a great deal.

Start with Scratch

When starting off integrating computer science into your classroom you have lots of choices. I don’t think there is any better place to start than Scratch.

I like Scratch because it allows students to be creative. Because you can do so many things with Scratch, students can grow and grow and grow. Unlike many other entry level coding apps and programs, Scratch can be used at a very young age, but also can be used in the high school setting. Actually, Scratch is an approved program to be utilized in the AP Computer Science Principles course. I also suggest Scratch because it works great on a Chromebook, which many schools are using due to the low cost of the device.

I have personally used Scratch with 7 year olds and they did a fantastic job animating and telling cute stories. I use Scratch with my seventh graders. I ask them to be way more elaborate in their stories. I also teach students to create video games in Scratch.

No matter what subject or grade you teach, Scratch is a great tool. If you would like some professional development on Scratch, I am offering a mini course through Kent State University starting on February 10. It is a two week course and earns one CEU. The cost is $50. If your interested, either contact me or keep checking Twitter. I’ll post on Twitter as soon as the registration is open.

It’s time to take the first step

Many times in life we don’t start something because the problem is too big and fear of failure keeps us from trying. The same goes for integrating computer science into the classroom.

Lots of teachers don’t know where to start. Many don’t feel confident and comfortable with coding, especially elementary teachers.

I’m here to tell you to start with the first step. Don’t worry about getting to the top. Just focus on the first step. That’s what I did.

For the beginner, no matter what grade you teach, I would suggest you start with Scratch. Scratch is a block based programming application that is free and works on EVERYTHING! Scratch 3.0 works on Windows, Mac, Chromebook and tablets. (It also works on smart phones, but the screen is a bit small.) You can do so much with Scratch. That makes it easy to integrate into the classroom.

Do you need some integration ideas? Hit me up!

So, take that first step!