Author Archives: Dana Augustin

From inspiration to innovation: Hands-On Coding blocks

via Raspberry Pi

Marcos Navas is a Union City Technology Facilitator with Union City school district in New Jersey and an active member of the maker, STEM, and coding communities. He was part of the first cohort of Raspberry Pi Certified Educators in the United States. Recently, he completed a fellowship with IDEO’s Teachers Guild and launched Hands-on Coding, a company that makes physical coding blocks for learners. Hands-On Coding blocks allow students to physically build computer programs and act out their code in the real world. They turn the human into a computer and teach children not only how to solve problems, but also how to express themselves.

In this blog post, Marcos shares how his experience at Picademy helped him successfully combine his skills as a teacher with an entrepreneurial drive.

Marcos Navas — Hands-On Coding

At Picademy North America

The day before my flight to San Jose Airport to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, I was busy in my garage makerspace. It’s strange when and how inspiration strikes, but it did — at 1am while I was preparing for Picademy. While looking at the Raspberry Pi and all the coding languages, I began thinking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could hold the code in my hands and manipulate it?” So I began tinkering with the 3D printer and created a repeat block — and that’s how the story of Hands-On Coding begins.

A girl playing with hands-on coding blocks at a desk

The following day, I was part of the first cohort of Raspberry Pi Certified Educators (RCEs) in America. I walked into a room full of innovative and creative teachers from all over the country. Over the next two days, we were introduced to the world of Raspberry Pi and the coding basics we needed to create our first project. It was here that I understood the power of coding and how it is the language of the future. I truly believed then — and now! — how impactful coding could be if integrated into schools.

With so many talented people in attendance, I decided to share my 3D-printed coding blocks. After receiving many “oohs” and “aahs” from my peers along with several order requests, I realized that my idea could turn into something much bigger!

Marcos Navas selfie — Hands-On Coding

FAIL: First Attempt In Learning

One of the major takeaways from Picademy was Carrie Anne Philbin’s intro slide titled “FAIL: First Attempt In Learning.” But, for me, the word ‘fail’ turned into ‘fear’: being new to coding and the Raspberry Pi was daunting. Through persistence, though, I embraced growth, and worked my way out of those fears; I began to gain more confidence, which led to new ideas and experiences. And I learned that changing my perspective on failure was the key to embracing it. Some time after Picademy, this same message was repeated to me by Reshma Suajani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, who saw my coding blocks and said: “Don’t let the fear of failure get in your way.” So I let failure drive me instead.

kids playing with hands-on coding blocks

Hands-On Coding blocks

After Picademy, I met with Sam Patterson, another amazing RCE, at his local makerspace. During our conversation, I handed him one of my first coding block prototypes and asked for his thoughts. His words got me thinking about kinesthetic coding and the physical movements of acting out code to build understanding.

Two years later, in July 2018, after developing partnerships, distribution channels, and a fantastic shipping department (me), we delivered our first Hands-On Coding blocks! Hands-On Coding now consists of me and my partners Laura Fleming and Joann Presby, and our goal is to revolutionize coding by making it a more physical and tangible educational idea open to various types of learners. We hope to teach the fundamentals of computational thinking and computer science through the use of blocks and the absence of any technological device; you don’t need to learn coding in front of a screen. Our endgame is to help humanity learn to design solutions to problems in our world.

Kids playing with hands-on coding blocks

After Picademy

My experience at Picademy was just the start of my journey. I not only gained an understanding of the importance of coding in education and the versatility of the Raspberry Pi computer, but also grew out my shell and gained the confidence I needed to put ideas into actions. I became a TED Innovative Educator and an IDEO Teachers Guild Fellow, I launched Hands-on Coding, and I created numerous relationships and ambassadorships with an array of edtech companies. I understood that just because I am an educator or teacher that doesn’t mean I can’t follow my own dreams and aspirations and be a teacherpreneur! I do not have any secrets or magic to this process. Rather, a dream, action, and hard work can lead you to many worlds of possibilities.

Picademy and online training

Keep up to date with Picademy, including the release of 2019 dates, by following the #Picademy hashtag on Twitter. You’ll also find more information on our Picademy page.

Our free online training courses offer another way to learn about introducing coding into the classroom, and much more. And you can discover more stories and support from educators like Marcos in Hello World, the computing and digital making magazine for educators, which is available for free.

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Tackling Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome with Fesentience

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In today’s guest post, we’ll hear from Prastik Mohanraj. He’s a part of the Fesentience project team at the Engineering and Science University Magnet school (ESUMS) in Connecticut, USA, and a student of Raspberry Pi Certified Educator Leon Tynes. Prastik shares his story of creating an incubator device using the Raspberry Pi to help young infants suffering from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

Fesentience – Our Product

Booth video displayed at Mini EXPO. Turn subtitles on when displaying.


Our project, called Fesentience, is to create a device that uses the principles of biomimicry to simulate the maternal womb. By integrating Raspberry Pi and Python programming, we can design a product that houses various systems mimicking the maternal womb, with parameters such as a mother’s specific resting heart rate and blood pressure that we can set via code.

Fesentience Raspberry Pi Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome infant incubator

The product is targeted towards infants suffering from a condition called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS. Newborn infants exhibit NAS if they were exposed to addictive drugs while in the womb. Infants with NAS suffer from withdrawal effects, which can be extremely devastating since they may hinder essential post-birth developmental processes. This may lead to the onset of conditions such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, where the infant dies without any prior physiological indicators.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome treatment

Current treatments for NAS include providing kangaroo care, which is a form of touch contact for the infant; weaning infants off drugs slowly by using morphine, fentanyl, or other replacement compounds; and simply housing them in incubator cribs. However, none of these treatments approach NAS in what is scientifically shown to be the best way: providing persistent maternal involvement, or having the mother directly in contact with the infant for prolonged periods of time. The problem with such maternal involvement, though, is that in many cases, it is simply not possible for the mother to be with the infant.

NAS and Raspberry Pi

We made Fesentience to address this difficulty and act as a substitute for the mother. Our incubator device mimics the various biological systems of the mother according to parameters unique to each mother. Hence, our product can fully mimic any particular infant’s mother during its treatment.

Fesentience Raspberry Pi Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome infant incubator

The prototype includes a light system that can display various shades of light; we chose shades of blue light to prevent the occurrence of jaundice in infants being treated. The product also includes a vibration motor to vibrate in a pattern mimicking the mother’s heartbeat; a balloon that inflates and deflates through the use of vacuum pumps to simulate the mother’s respiration; and a speaker to play the mother’s voice in the form of lullabies or songs for the infant. We are planning on adding a thermal system that sets the temperature of the device to the mother’s resting body temperature and modulates it in accordance to physiological temperature fluctuations. These systems are set up so that the infant can clearly sense their outputs and feel like its own mother is directly next to it.

Fesentience Raspberry Pi infant incubator

The final Fesentience product we will develop is a set of appendages to be fitted onto an incubator; we may possibly designing our own incubator housing these appendages in the future. We used the Raspberry Pi microcomputer and Python programming to control Fesentience.

Fesentience Raspberry Pi Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome infant incubator

Many stages of this project were difficult. First, we had to learn the details of NAS by reading numerous scientific papers and conducting interviews with experts. The most difficult part was designing the algorithms for the device, and figuring out how the device would mimic various biological features within a secure and compact system. We had to understand how the features would interact, and how they should physically be placed inside our final device to let the infants become imbued by these sensory stimuli as much as possible. Once our first prototype of Fesentience is done, we will market it to our community and to provide it to hospitals and treatment facilities for infants suffering from NAS and related conditions to make a positive impact in the medical world.

To learn more about the Fesentience project, check out their webpage.

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Puerto Rico’s First Raspberry Pi Educator Workshop

via Raspberry Pi

Earlier this spring, an excited group of STEM educators came together to participate in the first ever Raspberry Pi and Arduino workshop in Puerto Rico.

Their three-day digital making adventure was led by MakerTechPR’s José Rullán and Raspberry Pi Certified Educator Alex Martínez. They ran the event as part of the Robot Makers challenge organized by Yees! and sponsored by Puerto Rico’s Department of Economic Development and Trade to promote entrepreneurial skills within Puerto Rico’s education system.

Over 30 educators attended the workshop, which covered the use of the Raspberry Pi 3 as a computer and digital making resource. The educators received a kit consisting of a Raspberry Pi 3 with an Explorer HAT Pro and an Arduino Uno. At the end of the workshop, the educators were able to keep the kit as a demonstration unit for their classrooms. They were enthusiastic to learn new concepts and immerse themselves in the world of physical computing.

In their first session, the educators were introduced to the Raspberry Pi as an affordable technology for robotic clubs. In their second session, they explored physical computing and the coding languages needed to control the Explorer HAT Pro. They started off coding with Scratch, with which some educators had experience, and ended with controlling the GPIO pins with Python. In the final session, they learned how to develop applications using the powerful combination of Arduino and Raspberry Pi for robotics projects. This gave them a better understanding of how they could engage their students in physical computing.

“The Raspberry Pi ecosystem is the perfect solution in the classroom because to us it is very resourceful and accessible.” – Alex Martínez

Computer science and robotics courses are important for many schools and teachers in Puerto Rico. The simple idea of programming a microcontroller from a $35 computer increases the chances of more students having access to more technology to create things.

Puerto Rico’s education system has faced enormous challenges after Hurricane Maria, including economic collapse and the government’s closure of many schools due to the exodus of families from the island. By attending training like this workshop, educators in Puerto Rico are becoming more experienced in fields like robotics in particular, which are key for 21st-century skills and learning. This, in turn, can lead to more educational opportunities, and hopefully the reopening of more schools on the island.

“We find it imperative that our children be taught STEM disciplines and skills. Our goal is to continue this work of spreading digital making and computer science using the Raspberry Pi around Puerto Rico. We want our children to have the best education possible.” – Alex Martínez

After attending Picademy in 2016, Alex has integrated the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s online resources into his classroom. He has also taught small workshops around the island and in the local Puerto Rican makerspace community. José is an electrical engineer, entrepreneur, educator and hobbyist who enjoys learning to use technology and sharing his knowledge through projects and challenges.

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