1. Getting Started

In this lesson students will learn about the Raspberry Pi computer and the components provided in the kit.  Having a completed kit as an example will be helpful but not necessary.  Begin by showing this short video about a raspberry Pi.

If the boxes have not been assembled have students refer to this post for building instructions.

The kits include these parts:

Raspberry Pi 3 + support
  • Raspberry Pi 3
  • Micro SD card 16GB – With Raspbian
  • Micro USB Cable
  • USB Power Supply 3 Port
Screen / Interface Parts
  • LCD 7″ 1024×600 with speakers
  • 30CM HDMI Cable
  • Keyboard – wired compact – full size keys
  • Mouse – wired retractable cord
Accessory Parts
  • RPi Compatible 5MP Camera – Not official
  • RPi GPIO Reference Card
  • Jumper Wire 20pcs 20CM 2.54mm M-F
  • Jumper Wire 20pcs 20CM 2.54mm F-F
  • Jumper Wire 20pcs 20CM 2.54mm M-M
  • Alligator clip jumper 2 pieces random color
  • Breadboard 400 holes
  • 5x LEDs 5MM
  • 4x Push Buttons – Breadboard Compatible
  • 20x 100R Resistor
  • 20x 330R Resistor
  • 20x 470R Resistor
  • 20x 1K Resistor
  • 20x 10K Resistor
  • 20x 100K Resistor
  • Piezo passive speaker
  • PIR infrared motion sensor
  • Ultrasonic Distance Sensor
  • DHT11 humidity + temp sensor
  • RGB LED Ring 12 pixels – WS2812
  • 2x 9g Servo
Growth Mindset
  • 2x Brushbot kit

The video below introduces the various components and describes how to to power on the Raspberry Pi computer.

LCD setup 7″ 1024×600

Screen manufacturer page

The config.txt file on your SD card must be modified to include these lines in the HDMI section – this tells your raspberry pi the correct resolution to use.

  • If you are using one of the pre-configured SD cards or images from our kit then this has already been done for you.
hdmi_cvt 1024 600 60 3 0 0 0

RPi Python: LED Ring Clock WS2812


Have Raspbian Stretch installed, running, and connected to the internet.
You should refresh on how to easily edit files and navigate the filesystem using a terminal in these tutorials:
Terminal Intro
Editing Files Intro

Next some configuration,
To correctly output PWM to control the LED ring we first need to disable the native Raspberry Pi soundcard, to do this navigate to /boot/config.txt and comment out the line ‘dtparam=audio=on’

# Enable audio (loads snd_bcm2835)

^ so it looks like this.

Next step is to install some utilities we will need for setting up our led control libraries and the python environment to talk to them; open a terminal and enter

apt-get install gcc make build-essential python-dev git scons swig

this installs some compilers and utilities we will use in the next step

Next navigate to the folder where you want to setup your LED script in a terminal, use ‘mkdir’ to create a new directory if you want; here we will download the library using git
For more help on navigating and creating directories from within the terminal, see this article -> click here

git clone https://github.com/jgarff/rpi_ws281x

Enter the new rpi_ws281x directory and use the ‘scons’ utility we installed earlier to start building the library into something we can use:

sudo scons

Next enter the python directory, and run the setup and build scripts:

sudo python setup.py build install


First off here is a link to the finished project as a reference
To test it, download the file, rename to clock.py, and run as sudo python clock.py

Next to writing the actual script itself…
The first step is a bunch of boilerplate, like telling our library how many LEDs we have and what pin to use ect.
We start off by importing the libraries to control the leds, and read the date and time from the system

from neopixel import *
import time
import datetime

next are the constants that tell which pin to use, and which kind of led ring we are using

LED_COUNT          = 12          # Number of LED pixels.
LED_PIN            = 18          # GPIO pin connected to the pixels (18 usesPWM!).
LED_FREQ_HZ        = 800000  # LED signal frequency in hertz (usually 800khz)
LED_DMA            = 10  # DMA channel to use for generating signal (try 10)
LED_BRIGHTNESS = 10         # Set to 0 for darkest and 255 for brightest
LED_INVERT         = False   # True to invert the signal (when using NPN transistor level shift)
LED_CHANNEL        = 0           # set to '1' for GPIOs 13, 19, 41, 45 or 53
LED_STRIP          = ws.WS2811_STRIP_GRB   # Strip type and colour ordering


As a brief overview, the important ones for us are:
LED_COUNT: the number of LEDs to try and address, if you have a bigger led ring than normal you might change this; 12 is for the one we gave you

LED_PIN: here we use 18; other pins might be tricky so its probably best to stick with 18

LED_BRIGHTNESS: on full brightness the leds can be super super bright, so we lower it all the way down to 10. Wear sunglasses if you turn it up

Finally with strip we setup the strip using all the constants we just defined.


Now we can actually start writing functions and logic for our program. Python scripts usually execute straight from top to bottom in sequential order; but we can essentially jump around our control flow using functionsFunctions take arguments, do things based on these arguments and then exit back to where they were called.

We’ll start with utility functions that will make controlling the ring easier later, before we write the actual clock part. (remember to use tabs for indentation levels).
We start with a function to clear all the leds, essentially turning them all off

def clear (strip):
 for i in range(LED_COUNT):

Let’s go through this function line by line: First we define the function and give it a name ‘clear’, followed by a list of arguments it takesLet’s go through this function line by line:

def clear (strip):

 Next we start a loop to address all the leds, this pattern will appear alot so pay attention!

for i in range(LED_COUNT):

Notice we use the LED_COUNT variable we named earlier, the loop starts i at 0, and then runs its block over and over until ‘i’ reaches the LED_COUNT value


Here we actually start setting the led colors, we gave this function an argument called ‘strip’ and here its accessing some functionality that the ‘strip’ object holds. In this case ‘setPixelColor’. The ‘setPixelColor’ function demands a pixel number and a color as its arguments so that’s what we give it. We create a color out of R G B values (red green blue) using the ‘Color’ function.


Finally we actually get the leds to update on the physical ring.

And that’s the end of our first function!

Next we’ll make a ‘fill’ function which does almost the same thing; except instead of setting all the leds to off it’ll set them to a color we give as an argument.

The new function will follow the same basic pattern as our old one.

def fill (strip, pixel, color):
 for i in range(pixel):

If you compare this and the old function side by side it should be easy to see how they match up and differentiate.

Now we can actually test out our functions and make sure they work.If you compare this and the old function side by side it should be easy to see how they match up and differentiate.

On the line below our functions we can start writing code that will actually execute.


We’ll go over the first few lines to get an idea of how it works:


First we use the ‘begin’ method on our strip to get it ready for any commands


Next we actually call our fill command from earlier, sending it the strip, the number of pixels we want, and a color.


Next we wait for half a second so we get a chance to admire our work.


We repeat the process again for another flash, this time a different color.  Of course it would be more impressive if it flashed more than twice, but we don’t want to just keep copying and pasting the same function calls over and over either. And eventually we want our clock to be running indefinitely not just for a few seconds; so we will setup an infinite loop.


When running this script, you can use Control-C to interrupt and exit the program.A while loop repeats everything in its block until the statement we give it isn’t true; ‘True’ is always true so in this case it just loops forever.

Otherwise it’ll just keep flashing your led ring forever!.

Now we have some nice utility tools setup we can actually start writing the clock itself.

First we need to get the time! Luckily we imported the time library earlier.

So start off by erasing our While loop from earlier, because we’ll be writing another one.

 now = datetime.datetime.now()

Below our other two functions but above our while loop we’ll put our clock function.Here we fill a variable called ‘now’ with the current time every .5 seconds, but we don’t do anything with it yet. For that we need another function.

def clock (strip, now):
 hours = now.second%2
 hourPixel = (now.hour % LED_COUNT) + 1
 minutePixel = (now.minute / (60/LED_COUNT) % LED_COUNT) + 1

 hourColor = Color(255,0,0)
 minuteColor = Color(0,0,255)

 if (hours):

hours = now.second%2This turned out to be a pretty simple function so ill go over it section by section.
The most criptic part is the first line:

This is where we work out if we’ll show the hour or the minute hand; the modulo operator is explained in more depth below but basically we are testing if the time in seconds is an even number or not. If it it’s even we set hours to 0 (false) and if it’s odd we set hours to 1 (true).

Next we calculate the hour and minute pixels; which again is explained in the last section below.

hourColor = Color(255,0,0)
minuteColor = Color(
Here we set the colours we want to use for the hour and minute hands using RGB values

if (hours):
An if statement runs its block of code only if the expression its given is true, the hours variable is set if the seconds are even remember, so every other second we choose to display the hours or the minute hand.
Then we call our fill function from ealier with the desired results.

Finally we put our clock function in our infinite loop from earlier, and our clock is done!

 now = datetime.datetime.now()

And here is the final project again to help fix any errors in your own:Remember to run the script as sudo, like at the start with the strandtest.py example!


Calculating hourPixel and minutePixel:

Looking back over our long clock() function, the most complicated part is the ‘hourPixel’ and ‘minutePixel’ logic; so i’ll go over them in depth here.

hourPixel = (now.hour % LED_COUNT) + 1

hourPixel is a variable which holds a number, the number being which pixel we want to illuminate upto to represent the hour hand of the clock.
We start off with the hour in a 24 hour clock format from now.hour

So if it was 2pm the now.hour would equal 14.

To emulate a 12 hour analog clock we need to convert 14 down to 2.

The ‘%’ operator called ‘modulo’ returns the remainder after doing an integer division; this is very useful for testing if a number if perfectly divisible (the remainder would be zero) and for creating ‘circular numbers’ which never pass a certain value.

If we look test out the modulus operator we can see the pattern:

1 % 12 == 1

2 % 12 == 2

3 % 12 == 3

11 % 12 == 11

12 % 12 == 0 (perfect divisible)

13 % 12 == 1

14 % 12 == 2

So if we enter ‘13’ hours (1pm) into our modulo operator we get a nice conversion straight to 12 hour time (1).

Because our led ring is addressed from 1 instead of 0, (lighting up the 0th led doesn’t work with this library) we add 1 to the result.

So a straight conversion from 13 hours to 1pm, turns into the second led on the ring.

Leaving us with our final algorithm

hourPixel = (now.hour % LED_COUNT) + 1

The math works in the same way but with slightly more complicated variables for the minutePixel algorithm, it’s a good exercise to try and work out how it works yourself.

minutePixel = (now.minute / (60/LED_COUNT) % LED_COUNT) + 1

Further Exercise Ideas:

  • Change the colour of the hands depending on if its AM or PM
  • Add a seconds hand to the clock
  • Display the hours and minutes hand simultaneously with different colours for overlapping areas (see github for a hint!)
  • Make a stopwatch
  • Make a counting down timer with minutes and seconds
  • A rainbow effect on the hands

RPI Python: DHT-11 Temp / Humidity


Readers should be familiar with navigating using the terminal and editing / running python scripts.
Tutorials are available here:
Terminal Intro
Editing Files Tutorial

Hardware setup:

Carefully observe the ports and connect the positive line to the 5v, negative to ground, and the data out line to pin-14 also known as TXD on the raspberry pi GPIO.

Software Setup:

Step one is to download the DHT-11 Python library, which is very small and simple to use

Navigate to whatever directory you want in the terminal and use

git clone https://github.com/szazo/DHT11_Python

To download the library.

Then navigate into the directory with cd, and look around with ls

We can already run the example dht11_example.py with

sudo python dht11_example.py

You should see the temperature and humidity displayed on the screen every few seconds.

Use Ctrl+c to kill the process and get back to the terminal.

Next we can move on to writing our own program that uses the sensor.
If you need to see an example, here is the full project we will be writing in this article finished.

First we need some boilerplate

import RPI.GPIO as GPIO
import dht11
import time

#warmup our GPIO pins 

#get ready to read data with pin 14 
instance = dht11.DHT11(pin=14)

Next we can start writing our own code. Similar to the clock tutorial we will use a infinite loop to keep our code going

while True:
result = instance.read()
if result.is_valid():
 print("Temperature: %d C" % result.temperature)

Our code actually does less than the dht_11 example, but it’s a bit simpler.

result = instance.read()

First we store our input from the sensor in the ‘result’ variable

if result.is_valid():

Next we use an if statement to only proceed if the result is valid

print("Temperature: %d C" % result.temperature)

In our if block we print the temperature using the print function, the ‘%d’ acts as a placeholder for a number (digits), followed by a list of variables to fill the placeholders

print("number %d %d" % (1, 2))

For example would print “number 1 2” to the terminal

Our output should look something like

"Temperature: 20 C"

After exiting the if block we wait for a full second before running the loop again


Remember to exit the program while its running use Control-C to escape
Here is the full example code from this tutorial

Growth Mindset: Brushbot competition

This is a continuation of the brush bot activity from the previous class.  It may be helpful to have some sort of prize, a 3d printed item or a certificate.

Begin by asking if students got their brushbots to work?  To move in a way they wanted?  What variables were they able to change?  Ask if they feel like their minds grew and what did they notice about themselves as they were building and testing their robots.

Setup and run the 750 mm races and the Sumo competition.  Here is a link to some rules.


Most importantly have fun, cheer on everyone, and ask questions for them to describe why and how it works.

For the race, I often have the students calculate the cm/s to get the speed.

Growth Mindset: Building a Robot

For this lesson, you will want to have enough Brushbot kits for every student you are working with.

Time: approx. 30 min.

Part 1: Growth mindset and fixed mindset are some patterns that researchers have observed in students.

Here are a series of statements that can be used to assess a person’s fixed or growth mindset.  I like to review them before presenting the activity and encourage students just to note where they fit.  The actual survey can be found here.

The RSA animate video below has an excellent overview of how Growth and Fixed mindsets express themselves and are developed.  To use this with a group of students, plan to pause the video at 4:23 to allow students to talk about the issues raised.  Be careful not to equate a fixed mindset with bad and a growth mindset with good.

After watching this video, allow time to review the questions outlined previously and reflect on why mindset is so important.  Using daily reminders about growth mindset and keeping company with those that support your growth mindset is important.  Make a commitment as a class to support a growth mindset environment and see every setback as a learning opportunity.

Pass out batteries – identify batteries as a technology that today looks common but, was once a science experiment. Have students hold the battery between their thumb and forefinger and envision a tiny bit of electricity moving through their hands.

Pass out the kits – take out the cell phone motor and have students get it moving with the battery.

  • This a moment pregnant with learning potential.
  • The flow of electricity, what is causing the motor to vibrate…
  • What happens if the wires are switched to the opposite side of the battery.

Leave the students with the idea that potential energy is transferred into kinetic energy and that they have the tools in the kit to turn this energy into a robot.

Leave the students to work on their project. This is hard to not help, but control yourself and let them do the exploring. Ask questions to help guide frustrated engineers. Remember, they are learning to exercise growth mindset.

Once it works, have them observe how different ones perform. What can be done to compensate.

At the end of the time help them disconnect their robots and take them home to prepare for the next day’s competition.