Author Archives: Marc Scott

Announcing the first ever European Astro Pi Challenge!

via Raspberry Pi

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Right now, 400km above the Earth aboard the International Space Station, are two very special pieces of hardware. Two Raspberry Pi computers are currently orbiting our planet, each equipped with a Sense HAT, a camera and a special aluminium flight case – and children all over Europe have the chance to program them.

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Last year, in collaboration with the European Space Agency and the UK Space Agency, we ran a competition that allowed students all over the UK to design experiments to run on the Astro Pi units. We sent their code into space with British ESA astronaut Tim Peake, who had a great time running all their programs. The data collected was then transmitted back down to Earth, so the winners of the competition – and everyone else – could analyse the results of their experiments as well.

Tim is safely back on Earth now, but French ESA Astronaut Thomas Pesquet is soon launching to the ISS, and he’s keen to see what students from all over Europe can do with the Astro Pi units too. So ESA, together with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, are launching a brand-new Astro Pi Challenge, and this time it’s open to children from every ESA member country.

Earthlights 2002

Children from across Europe can enter the European Astro Pi Challenge
Photo: Earthlights 2002 by NASA

This is an amazing opportunity for students all over Europe. What better way to learn about computing, science, and space than actually being able to run your very own experiments on board the International Space Station? Imagine being able to say that you played a part in a real ESA mission, that programs you wrote were executed in orbit, and that results from your experiments were analysed by children all over the world!

Astro Pi Mission

This is “Astro Pi Mission” by raspberrypi on Vimeo, the home for high quality videos and the people who love them.

If you’re a teacher or a student from an ESA member country, this is how you can take part:

  1. Assemble your mission team, which must include at least one support teacher as well as students under the age of 16.
  2. Use the Mission Plan Template to design a sample mission that showcases your approach to running a space mission, and demonstrates that you can break down your big idea into specific steps. Note that you don’t need to address the challenge at this stage. Submit your mission plan and register your participation**.
  3. If you’re picked to continue to the next phase, you will¬†receive an Astro Pi kit and a mission challenge designed by Thomas Pesquet to test your team’s ingenuity and skills.
  4. If your solutions are picked, then your code will be beamed up to the ISS, installed on the Astro Pi units, and run by Thomas Pesquet.

To help you learn all about the Astro Pi units and gain the skills to use a Raspberry Pi equipped with a Sense HAT, we have a variety of resources that you can begin to work your way through. Just go to our resources section and have a look through the Astro Pi and Sense HAT resources. Even if you don’t have a Sense HAT yourself, you can still learn how to use one with either the stand-alone, desktop Sense HAT emulator or Trinket’s web-based emulator.

** Related links:

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The Digital Eagles have landed

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Like many institutions, Barclays Bank recognises that digital literacy is an essential component of modern life. It was for this reason that, back in 2013, the bank launched its Digital Eagles initiative. Branch volunteers offered to give up their time and skills to teach members of the community how to get online, perform web searches, use email and video chat, and of course how to use online banking.

The Digital Eagles have since expanded, and the project now includes an initiative to get kids coding, called Code Playground. This is more than just a website, however. Digital Eagles now run monthly sessions at branches and other venues, all over the country, where kids aged from seven to 17 can come along and learn the pleasures of coding.

So what has this to do with Raspberry Pi? Well, where there’s kids and code, the Raspberry Pi is sure to follow. Last week, the Foundation’s education team hauled themselves down to the marble-and-glass palaces of Canary Wharf to deliver workshops to a group of specially selected Digital Eagles, that they might then cascade the training down to their colleagues, and bring Raspberry Pi to Code Playgrounds all over the country.

jodie on Twitter

@Digitaleagles @Raspberry_Pi..looking forward to our training! RaspberryPi is coming to a code playground near you! pic.twitter.com/eNbcucz2sk

It was a spectacularly successful day, as we ripped through sessions on physical computing with Scratch, the new GPIO Zero library, hacking the world of Minecraft, and motion-triggered animations with the Sense HAT.

I should, by now, be accustomed to the excitement and sense of achievement that people get from blinking an LED with the touch of a button and a few lines of Python, yet each time I see it happen it brings a smile to my face and renewed enthusiasm for the Foundation’s educational mission.

Charlotte Snell on Twitter

Loving my @Raspberry_Pi training today just made my traffic light flash using Python & a button @Digitaleagles pic.twitter.com/EozSuI4DfO

The Sense HAT, in particular, went down a storm. The unique combination of sensors and the LED display means that you can jump right into physical computing with ease. Several of the Digital Eagles mentioned that they thought the little device would be a perfect addition to the Code Playgrounds, and couldn’t wait to get using it with the kids who attend.

Charlotte Snell on Twitter

So my bear gets angry when you shake him! @Raspberry_Pi training for @Digitaleagles #CodePlaygrounds pic.twitter.com/bk7kSWUXgp

So now it’s over to the Digital Eagles! Soon, Raspberry Pis, Sense HATs, CamJam EduKits and a variety of other goodies will be wending their way to Barclays Bank branches the length and breadth of the country. There the Eagles will be able to pass on their new-found skills and spread the joys that the Raspberry Pi can bring to the next generation of eager coders. We’ll be sure to report back to you on their progress and successes in the near future, so keep checking the blog for updates, or maybe check out a Code Playground near you!

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Major League Hacking Local Hack Day

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18,000 stickers, 2,000 selfie-sticks and 8,000 slices of pizza hurtled across the planet last week to 14 different countries. It was a day that almost 4000 students had been eagerly awaiting.

Major League Hacking (MLH) have been organising hackathons in the USA and Europe for several years, but Saturday was an event with a difference. Local Hack Day was a 12-hour mini-hackathon on school campuses all over the world, and was billed as “the largest student hackathon ever”. The vast majority of the events were organised and run by the students; bringing together their local hacker community to develop, share and celebrate their skills in building awesome technology.

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Of the 87 venues that participated in Local Hack Day, 58 of them, in places as far apart as the US, Canada, UK, Puerto Rico, Bahia, Mexico and Limassol, were able to accept under 18s. This is a huge deal. For your average kid, attending hackathons is not easy. With the exception of tailored events such as YRS Festival of Code, most hackathon venues won’t allow under 18s to attend for child safety and safeguarding reasons. MLH have continuously strived to include the next generations of young hackers, and the Local Hack Day was an extraordinarily inclusive event, letting those children whom identify with the hacker community to participate or even help organise the global event.

At the school where I used to teach, Bourne Grammar School, just such a young lad exists.

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To say James is a keen hacker would be an understatement. It’s not just that he enjoys technology and programming, probably more importantly, he recognises the importance of the hacker community and is eager to get involved. It was James who¬†learned about Local Hack Day, and proposed that his school host an event, but that wasn’t enough; he wanted to be the one to organise it all. The head of Digital Strategy at the school, Stephen Brown, was more than happy for James to take centre stage and run the whole day, and what a stunningly successful event it was.

As James’ former Computer Science teacher, I was invited along (although I’m not sure whether I was wanted for my skills as a mentor or my ready access to Raspberry Pis. I suspect the it was the latter). I took my son, Jimi, along with me, who, at eight years old, must have been one of the youngest attendees across all the venues.

hackers

There were around 25 attending the Bourne Local Hack Day this year.

Having arrived, grabbed their swag and stickers, the kids soon got down to the important job of hacking on their projects. There were a tonne of amazing ideas, from the basic to the bizarre. We had computer games being made using anything from the Unity 3D games engine to the Raspberry Pi Sense HAT. There was some back-end work being completed on an app that enables people to brag about their latest purchases; a “Nandos cheekiness” measuring tool; a machine-learning algorithm to teach a computer to perform basic arithmetic using neural networks; and a selfie stick that automatically posted pictures to Twitter and tagged them using the Clarifai API. Jimi even got in on the action, combining his love of conkers with his love of physical computing.

kid with breadboard

Jimi tangles with a breadboard

Fuelled by drinks and crisps, kindly donated by the local Tesco, the kids worked solidly throughout the day, only breaking at 6pm when the pizza arrived. There followed a quick diversionary game of Age of Empires, where the teachers showed the kids who the real gaming champs were, and then it was back to hacking on their projects before the 9pm deadline hit.

The winners with their Raspberry PI Selfie-stick

The winners with their Raspberry PI Selfie-stick

The chosen winner at Bourne was the Raspberry Pi/Clarifai Selfie-stick, which was a lovely little hardware hack, but this was definately an event where the taking part was more important. Hackathons are amazing events, where inspiration, teamwork, genius and insanity all seem to combine to produce awesome projects, and it’s important that children get to experience them as well. So thank you MLH, and I look forward to Local Hack Day 3, whenever that may be.

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