Tag Archives: schools

Skycademy – Balloons Everywhere!

via Raspberry Pi

It’s been a while since we blogged about Skycademy, the High Altitude Ballooning (HAB) CPD event we ran back in August. However, six weeks on, we have a lot to talk about!

Skycademy CPD – August

We started back in February with the idea that we’d like to train 24 educators to launch a HAB flight with their students. We wanted to engage and inspire those that attended and through them reach young people across the UK and set them the challenge of reaching near space.

Here’s a short (and, we think, appropriately dramatic) video to give you a flavour of the three days.

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During their time with us our educators received some intensive training from both Dave Akerman and myself, and in teams were provided with all the kit they’d need for their flight. The plan was for each of our four teams to launch and recover a flight the following day.

Leading up to the day we were a little nervous. With strong easterly winds, there was a high risk of us losing payloads – if we were even able to get them off the ground!

James Robinson on Twitter

Come on nearly there, bit more west would be great! #skycademy pic.twitter.com/yUwmRAb4DU

However, thanks to an slight easing of the weather conditions and us finding a more westerly launch site, we were thankfully able to launch five flights in quick succession, starting with a demo launch by Dave and me. We packed our flight with a GoPro camera to capture some amazing footage.

Richard Hayler ☀ on Twitter

First balloon away! #skycademy pic.twitter.com/LbmrhjUhMV

David Akerman M0RPI on Twitter

Quick take-off from the #skycademy launch pads pic.twitter.com/2SMNJYH0Q9

Almost as soon as we’d released our balloon, the teams quickly got to work readying their flights. We (like the balloons) were blown away by the confidence on the teams; the first two teams were ready so quickly that we launched them simultaneously.

Andy Batey on Twitter

Simultaneous balloon launch #skycademy pic.twitter.com/ibcTWUvxAe

Something we were a little nervous about doing again….

Teams then leapt into their cars and sped away to intercept their payload at their predicted landing site. Back at HQ we watched with equal amounts of excitement and anxiety as our first-time HAB trainees gave chase!

We received a whole host of amazing images from our flights as they rose to 33km


Giving our starting point of being concerned about whether launches would be possible, we were over the moon to launch all five payloads and recover…four.

Our penultimate payload, RPF-A2, was sadly under-filled with helium, which, whilst giving it a nice gentle climb to an impressive 32km, also extended its flight path out to sea. We’re hoping that one day it might be washed up on a beach and returned to us.

Helen Lynn on Twitter

Nnnoooooooooo #skycademy pic.twitter.com/tXzN6v5bjD

Steven Jenkinson on Twitter

RIP #TeamAlto #skycademy Lost at sea :( Raiding a toast… pic.twitter.com/SZBXRBM07F

Our final day saw our teams tasked with evaluating their first launch and planning their next. Over the course of the next year we will be support and funding each teacher to carry out their own independent launch with young people back in their schools and clubs.

We were so impressed by their presentations, with ideas for student engagement, plans for testing, kite flights, collaborative launches and more.

David Akerman M0RPI on Twitter

Watching #skycademy presentations pic.twitter.com/UuyIhNFmnn

We are incredibly proud to have certified our first Skycademy cohort, and are excited to see what they accomplish over the next year.

jonathanfurness on Twitter

I’ve passed #Skycademy !! Special thanks to @daveake @jrobinson_uk & all at @Raspberry_Pi for a brilliant HAB course. pic.twitter.com/b3KxbH95UI

If you want to find out more about our Skycademy CPD event, then you should check out the following:

  • Visit Twitter and look back over our #skycademy hashtag
  • Richard Hayler has written up a blog post about his experience
  • Nic Hughes has also written about Skycademy in his blog
  • You can hear all about it in a piece that the BBC’s The Naked Scientists recorded about the changing nature of science education.

Pycon UK Launches

A few weeks after our Skycademy event, the Raspberry Pi Education Team attended Pycon UK in Coventry, where we met up with lots of our Certified Educators and several of our Skycademy graduates. We’ve previously blogged about our Pycon activities, but it’s worth talking a little more about the flights we launched there.

On the kids’ day, a group of our Skycademy cohort launched an independent flight from the nearby National Space Centre (which is awesome, btw). They carried out their launch like seasoned pros, and chased down their balloon, recovering it a few hours later.

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The following day, Marc and I launched the first Sense-HAT on a HAB flight, again from the National Space Centre.

BensRpi on Twitter

Good to see #PyConUk PyCon1 Balloon is up and away. @andybateypi Track it here http://tracker.habhub.org/#!mt=roadmap&mz=9&qm=1_day&mc=52.51372,-0.58792&f=PYCON1 … #skycademy pic.twitter.com/m25WsuiGe7

We had a couple of technical issues on the morning, which meant we struggled to receive data once our flight had taken off. However, the fantastic UKHAS community were on hand as usual to help out and ensure our balloon wasn’t lost. Our flight reached a whopping 36km; along with recorded data using all the Sense-HAT sensor resulting in 200,000 lines of data, which I’m yet to analyse.

Thankfully our payload landed 20m from a little single track road, from where we were able to spot it – having narrowly avoided a parachuting centre and some wind turbines.

James Robinson on Twitter

Done! #pyconuk #skycademy #pycon1 #ukhas pic.twitter.com/e4V2OE5sI5

School Launches

Since PyconUK we’re had our first two school launches both in the East Anglia area and on consecutive days. I’ll leave it to them to tell you more about their experience.

Bourne Grammar School – 9th October

1_a_williams 2_CS_Team 3_looking at the Wash from 26km

On the 9th October, a group of budding computer scientists and systems and control engineers from Bourne Grammar School launched a helium balloon and payload 26km into the air in order to capture incredible images of the earth using a self-programmed Raspberry Pi hardware.

Systems Engineer Team Leader, Iyanu Abioye, told us, “It was our job was to create the housing for the payload which had the camera, the GPS and it would also have the parachute and balloon. The housing for the payload was a polystyrene box with a smaller one as a lid, to keep everything safe. On launch day, Sohayl Tobaria, Marco Lytle and Wojciech Marek held the balloon whilst it was being filled, added the cable ties and cut the balloon from the helium tank.

The computer science team, consisting of Andrew Ellingford, Jacob Wilson, Fabio Valerio and Josiah Gyamfi, had the job of programming two Raspberry Pi computers so that data could be sent and received from space. Andrew explains, “If this job had not have been done right, we would have lost all of our photos, data and the balloon itself. That would have been a rather expensive mistake, so, the pressure was on. At first the task seemed a bit daunting. None of us had much experience with some of the equipment like the LoRa board”, which enabled us to send and receive our data from space. However, working as a team and with the help of Mr Brown (Bourne Grammar School Assistant Headteacher and Digital Strategy & Director ICT), we found solutions to all our technological problems. Not only did we learn a lot about computing, we learnt how to use these skills as a team. In the end, it was great to watch the pictures come through online and track its position in real-time and we are proud to have contributed to this project.”

Students Alex Williams, Ben Rockliffe, Alex Wray and Luc Schoutsen were assigned as part of the chase team. It was their job to track the flight of the balloon using the GPS and radio technology on board. The chase team were then able to receive this data to learn the location, altitude, speed and temperature of the payload.

Back at school the flight analyst team, Holly Brown and Toby Pawlett were able to see the data from the balloon and see an extrapolated flight-plan which predicted where the balloon would eventually land. By calling the chase team on a regular basis, they were able to guide them to the final landing site of the balloon to help ensure a successful recovery.

Talking about the experienced, Holly told us, “We had to make sure the balloon would not land in the sea by making flight-path predictions in the weeks running up to the launch, which included where it would pop and were it would land.  In the days leading up to the launch window, we had to double-check everything to ensure the flight went well and that the weather would be suitable too, without too much wind.

The project seems to have inspired the students. Holly Brown said, “We both thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and hope to participate in any future space missions that are run at school.” The computer science team added, “We are proud to have contributed to this project”. Systems Engineer, Iyanu Abioye told us, “I feel very privileged to have been able to be a part of this and I want to say a huge thanks to Mr Brown and Mr Scott (Head of Curriculum Development for The Raspberry Pi Foundation) for putting this together for us.”

Glebe House School – 10 October

ascent-a ascent-b Google_earth_main (1)

Bill Robinson from the Glebe House School in Hunstanton has written an excellent post on their website which you can read here; it’s full of beautiful images and data that they gathered.

The year ahead

In the next ten months, expect to see a further 20+ launches taking place across the UK, led by educators and their students. If you want to get involved with our Skycademy activities there are several ways you can do so:

  • Follow our launches by checking our #skycademy hashtag and looking out for news about flights. During flights you can track using the habhub tracker
  • Help track our flights. If you’re in (or near) the UK you ought to be able to help receive data from payloads during and help keep tabs on them. To do this you’ll need some kit to build a what’s called “lora gateway”
    • A Raspberry Pi & SD card
    • A Lora Board
    • A suitable aerial
  • All of the above can be found at the HAB Supplies website, and a guide to setting up you’re gateway can be found here.
  • One of the challenges of launching a HAB flight is finding a suitable location which isn’t too near major airports, has some open space, has easy access and permission from the owner. If you think you might have a suitable site from which to launch, please get in touch.

Finally, getting Skycademy off the ground has been hard work, but a fantastic experience, and I’d like to say a huge thank you to all those individuals and organisations who’ve had a hand in getting us where we are.

Screenshot from 2015-10-12 14:53:45






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Raspberry Pi in Estonia project launch

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If you follow us on Twitter, you may have seen some pictures of me standing next to important looking people in suits, handing out Raspberry Pi kits on Tuesday. This was the launch event for an educational project we’ve been working on with the British Embassy in Tallinn over the last few months.


Back in February of this year, just after the Raspberry Pi 2 launch, we were invited to mentor at the Garage48 Hardware & Arts Hackathon at the University of Tartu in Estonia. Rachel and I attended, and were amazed by the projects the teams were coming up with – some of which used Raspberry Pi. We were there to offer technical advice as well as help prepare teams for their pitch presentations. The event was a serious competition with teams thinking about creating businesses off the back of the projects, rather than throwaway apps you might expect from regular hackathons.

Somewhat casually, it was announced that the Prime Minister would be attending the presentations and awards ceremony. At age 35, Taavi Rõivas is the youngest government leader in the European Union. It wasn’t just a fleeting visit – he stuck around all day and took notes throughout the presentations. We were introduced to him and he knew of Raspberry Pi (he has one but hasn’t got around to using it yet). He said that he’d visited the Pi factory in Pencoed and I took the opportunity to have my photo taken with him.

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The winning team was from the Estonian Army, who used a Pi to provide feedback during target practice. Read about this project and the runners up at estonianworld.com.

After the hackathon we had meetings with some Education organisations and the British Embassy and we ended up kicking off a project to get Raspberry Pis into schools across Estonia. We offered to fund half of the kits, and Transferwise kindly provided match funding to cover the rest.

We were also involved in HITSA‘s Informatics Teachers Summer School which took place in August – as well as providing match funding for 60 Pi 2s and the excellent CamJam Sensor Kits, I gave a webinar to introduce the Pi and the Foundation’s mission to the teachers. We also granted two Estonian teachers a place on Picademy North in May.

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We were then invited to an event marking the opening of the hubs, which took place earlier this week, and the Embassy had arranged for the British Ambassador and the Prime Minister to attend.

The day started with me giving seminars to two groups of children from the school (a very large school combining what we’d call Primary and Secondary); then after lunch we set up the room which soon filled with more children, teachers and the press. Transferwise handed out t-shirts they had made for the occasion and the room was coated in Raspberry Pi flyers and balloons. There was even Raspberry Pie on offer!

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The Prime Minister arrived and the event began with the Ambassador Chris giving a speech saying how proud he was to be involved in the project; followed by the Prime Minister saying a few words, thanking the Foundation and Transferwise. Then I spoke of the Foundation’s original goal to create a computer the price of a textbook to make it accessible to all, and of the great opportunities created for children all over Estonia. The three of us then joined up with Transferwise to hand out the kits to a representative of each of the 20 schools.

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The Picademy trained teachers also presented. Birgy Lorenz showed what the Raspberry Pi could do, including a demo of Sonic Pi from the kids accompanied by Birgy on a real piano; and Maria Malozjomov explained the possibilities of using the Raspberry Pi with young children, and showed a video of her children unboxing and setting up:

There was then some time for demonstrations of the Raspberry Pis we’d set up – ones for Scratch, Minecraft, Sonic Pi, Python & Picamera and one with the Sense HAT. The Prime Minister managed to get himself a seat at the Minecraft table and was seen playing with it between speeches:


Even Prime Ministers like to play Minecraft: Pi Edition

I also happened to have an Astro Pi Flight kit running a copy of the actual flight SD card with the Astro Pi competition code with me:


The Astro Pi flight kit running the MCP

The launch event ended with a mega Picamera selfie! I set up a push button stop motion loop in Python and triggered it to take a few photos with the crowd behind me:


The mega selfie moment captured

The British Ambassador Chris Holtby said:

Today has been a very exciting day, and an important day for technology in Estonian schools.  We have now equipped 20 schools and other centres all across Estonia with Raspberry Pi kits, and further schools and centres will become Raspberry Pi hubs in the next phases. Many young (and not so young) people in Estonia want to learn to program, but often the equipment and know-how is not available. This programme is aimed to help fix those gaps.

Today’s launch of the RaspberryPiEstonia programme was only possible through the hard work and commitment of great partners in the Raspberry Pi Foundation, Transferwise and Vaata Maailma Sihtasutus, and the dedication and inspiration of Information Technology teachers and professionals across Estonia. I am grateful to them all, and proud to have been able to work with them.

I am also very honoured that Prime Minister Taavi Roivas was able to join us today, and to be the one handing over the equipment.  It is important to have the support of the Government in giving this project maximum impact and making it sustainable.

Chris Holtby

After the event I gave a seminar to the Tallinn Informatics Teachers Group to follow on from the webinar at the Summer School.

See this storify of all the day’s tweets; check out the British Embassy’s photo album on Facebook; and you can watch the full video of the event on YouTube.

A great big thanks to the Krislin and the team at the British Embassy in Tallinn, the Ambassador Chris Holtby, lead teachers Birgy Lorenz and Maria Malozjomov, Mari-Liis at HITSA, all the team at Transferwise, and of course Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas.

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Naturebytes wildlife cam kit

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Liz: The wildlife cam kit has landed. If you’re a regular reader you’ll know we’ve been following the Naturebytes team’s work with great interest; we think there’s massive potential for bringing nature to life for kids and for adults with a bit of smart computing. Digital making for nature is here.

Naturebytes is a tiny organisation, but it’s made up of people whose work you’ll recognise if you follow Raspberry Pi projects closely; they’ve worked with bodies like the Horniman Museum, who have corals to examine; and with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Pis watching for rhino poachers in Kenya? Pis monitoring penguins in Antarctica? People on the Naturebytes team have worked on those projects, and have a huge amount of experience in wildlife observation with the Pi. They’ve also worked closely with educators and with kids on this Kickstarter offering, making sure that what they’re doing fits perfectly with what nature-lovers want. 

Today’s guest post is from Naturebytes’ Alasdair Davies. Good luck with the Kickstarter, folks: we’re incredibly excited about the potential of what you’re doing, and we think lots of other people will be too.

We made it! (quite literally). Two years after first being supported by the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s Education Fund and the awesome folk over at Nesta, we finally pressed the big red button and went into orbit by launching the Naturebytes Wildlife Cam Kit – now available via Kickstarter.
This is the kit that will fuel our digital making for nature vision – a community of Raspberry Pi enthusiasts using the Pi to help monitor, count, and conserve wildlife; and have a hell of a lot of fun learning how to code and hack their cam kits to do so much more – yes, you can even set it up to take chicken selfies.

We’ve designed it for a wide range of audiences, whether you’re a beginner, an educator, or a grandma who just wants to capture photos of the bird species in the garden and share them with her grandchildren – there’s something for everyone.


This was the final push for the small team of three over at Naturebytes HQ. A few badgers, 2,323 coffees, 24 foxes,  and a Real Time Clock later, we signed off the prototype cam kit last week, and are proud of what we’ve achieved thanks to the support of the Raspberry Pi Foundation that assisted us in getting there.

We also get the very privileged opportunity of appearing in this follow-up guest blog, and my, how things have changed since our first appearance back in September 2014. We thought we’d take you on a quick tour to show you what we’ve changed on the kit since then, and to share the lessons learnt during our R&D, before ending with a look at some of the creative activities people have suggested the kit be used for. Suggest your own in the comments, and please do share our Kickstarter far and wide so we can get the kits into the hands of as many people as possible.

Then and now – the case.

Our earlier prototype was slick and thin, with a perspex back. Once we exposed it to the savages of British weather, we soon had to lock down the hatches and toughen up the hinges to create the version you see today. The bird feeder arm was also reinforced and a clip on mechanism added for easy removal – just one of the lessons learnt when trialing and testing.

The final cam kit case:


The final cam kit features:


Schools and Resources

A great deal of our development time has focused on the creation of a useful website back end and resource packs for teacher and educators. For Naturebytes to be a success we knew from the start that we’d need to support teachers wishing to deliver activities, and it’s paramount to us that we get this right. In doing so, we tagged along with the Foundation’s Picademy to understand the needs of teachers and to create resources that will be both helpful and accessible.

Print your own

We’ve always wanted to make it as easy as possible for experienced digital makers to join in, so the necessary 3D print files will now be released as open source assets. For those with their own Pi, Pi cam and custom components, we’ve created a developer’s kit too that contains everything you need to finish a printed version of the cam kit (note – it won’t be waterproof if you 3D print it yourself).

You can get the Developer’s Kit on Kickstarter.

The Experience


Help us develop a fantastic experience for Naturebytes users. We hope to make a GUI and customised Raspbian OS to help users get the most from the cam kit.

It’s not much fun if you can’t share your wildlife sightings with others, so we’re looking at how to build an experience on the Pi itself. It will most likely be in the form of a Python GUI that boots at startup with a modified Raspbian OS to theme up the desktop. Our end goal is the creation of what we are calling “Fantastic Fox” – a simple-to-use Raspbian OS with pre-loaded software and activities together with a simple interface to submit your photos etc. This will be a community-driven build, so if you want to help with its, development please contact us and we’ll get you on board.

Creative activities

This is where the community aspect of Naturebytes comes into play. As everyone’s starting with the same wildlife cam kit, whether you get the full complete kit from us or print your own, there are a number of activities to get you started. Here are just a few of the ones we love:

Participate in an official challenge

We’ll be hosting challenges for the whole community. Join us on a hedgehog hunt (photo hunt!) together with hundreds of others, and upload your sightings for the entire community to see. There will be hacking challenges to see who can keep their cams powered the longest, and even case modification design competitions too.

Identify another school’s species (from around the globe!)

Hook up a WiFi connection and you’ll be able to share your photos on the internet. This means that a school in Washington DC could pair up with a school in Rochdale and swap their photos once a day. An exciting opportunity to connect to other schools globally, and discover wildlife that you thought you may never encounter by peeking into the garden of school a long way away.

Build a better home (for wildlife)

It’s not just digital making that you can get your hands into. Why not build a garden residence for the species that you most want to attract, and use the camera to monitor if they moved in (or just visited to inspect)? A great family project, fuelled by the excitement of discovering that someone, or something, liked what you build for them.

Stamp the weather on it

There’s an official Raspberry Pi weather station that we love – in fact, we were one of the early beta testers and have always wanted to incorporate it into Naturebytes. A great activity would be connecting to the weather station to receive a snapshot of data and stamping that on to the JPEG of the photo your camera just created. Then you’ll have an accurate weather reading together with your photo!

Time-lapse a pond, tree or wild space

It’s fantastic to look through a year’s worth of photographic data within 60 seconds. Why not take a look at the species visiting your pond, tree or a wild space near you by setting up a time-lapse and comparing it with other Naturebytes users near you?

We’d love to hear your ideas for collaborative projects – please leave a note in the comments if you’ve got something to add!


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