Getting Ready For Summer Session

Hi T3Alliance Instructors,

Many of you are getting ready for your summer programs to start up in the next few weeks. Here are some guidelines that may help you as you as you get ready for the summer program.  After having spoken and worked with several of you, its apparent, that there is a lot of variation on the lengths of your programs.  In an ideal classroom, you would have space for kids to spread out on a table and have adequate lighting.  In addition you would have access to a projector or a TV that is capable of HDMI input.  I also like to have a second projector that is capable of casting a live video of the desk in front of me.  Sometimes this is called a document camera, but it can be as simple as a webcam. 

1. Begin with brush bots and growth mindset.  

Watch the growth mindset video yourself, find another way to introduce growth mindset to your students so that they get the idea that there is no “right” way to do things.  You will want to prepare for this by having some sort of things to make their brush bots into a competition.  You can rush brush bots, but if you can dedicate the time, let them work together, and step through the various aha moments.  With speed racer kids, ask them to modify their design to make it faster or better in some way.  If you want you can introduce math by measuring the amount of time it takes to travel a certain distance and have them submit a picture or a video in some way.  

Growth mindset is the thread that will move through the entire T3 alliance program.  After you teach about it, point it out when you see it in your students.  Gently point out their fixed mindset if you feel they are ready for it.  Its not always easy for individuals to reframe their core beliefs about how they learn.  Much of their internal framework for how they think about growth and fixed mindset will be based on what they have grown up with.  

The T3 Alliance program is not as much about the technology as its about how students relate to technology and their community.  Growth mindset is present at the moment when a student gets stuck and figures out a way to move past that moment by leveraging resources instead of feeling overwhelmed and giving up.  

2.  Build the boxes for the Pi’s,

The fastest students will be able to put the Pi Box together in about half an hour.  You will want to check that they keep track of the tiny screws and might want to have a extra screwdriver with a larger handle on hand.  You should think about power strips and the way that you intend to have students connect to the internet.   If you can, you may want to have students on your own wireless network.  Speak to someone who knows about networks and security and can understand what you are hoping to do with the raspberry pi.  If you need help understanding what to ask them, reach out on the forum and someone will respond with some specifics.  If you have students who go really fast, I would put them on a quality control team.  Have them help other students in a growth mindset inspired fashion.  When all the boxes are assembled get their attention and preview what you want them to do once they turn it on.  You may want to hold the power strips until you are ready to take them through the overview videos and show them some of the various tools. This is a moment when you can have them unpack the various sensors and talk about what they are called and loosely describe how each one works.   Students will be chomping to turn them on and see them work. 

3.  Explore and Play

Before this session, think backwards about what you want them to be able to do.  If you have a google apps account for every student, you may want them to log into the chromium browser and access their email and google drive accounts.  If you don’t have internet yet, you may just want them to use programs that are available without internet.   

Students will first be ready to connect to the internet, and then they may quickly gravitate to the game areas.  Other kids may try to log into instagram, and other social media platforms.  You should have a place for them to go once they do log in.  Have them follow your actions on the projector as you guide them. is pinned to the chromium web browser – although its not intended as a student site, it does serve as a good spot for them to go and find a tutorial that you want them to use.  If you would rather send students an email with their tasks, or direct them to your local UB website that can be accomplished.

I try to quickly survey who has played Minecraft in the past and get an idea for the various skill levels.  Students who are brand new at the game will need someone who is willing to work with them.  It could be you, or it could be one of the other students.  Its an opportune time to remind them of growth mindset as they learn to build in this sandbox game.  Expert minecrafters will quickly find that the Pi version of Minecraft is limited when compared to the computer version.  Hint to them that they will be able to “mod” this game by programing it, but that first you want to build something as a community. 

Networking with an IP address) is the first thing kids will want to learn so that they can join their friends games.  One Pi can host up to five users.  Each user is called Steve in the game.    I use this instance of time together playing to remind kids that they can either be a helpful person or a “destroyer” of structures that have been built by others.  In Minecraft speak this is called griefing.  Again refer back to growth mindset and how we can either cultivate an environment where classmates feel safe to take risks, or we can make it into an unsafe environment where risk taking is scary.  

Play with Minecraft can take as long as you allow.  At times I have had students share the worlds that they build by letting me join their world and showing it on the projector.  Other times I have let a competition happen where they had to build a specific type of item.  Try to foster communication and a sense of fun with the group.  When you feel that its time to move on, introduce them to the lesson on modifying their Minecraft world with Python.

4.  Play with programing

All programing languages are essentially a set of instructions that determine how a computer behaves in a specific situation.  In the T3 alliance program we introduce one of the more advanced programing languages, Python, and move towards easier to understand visual programing languages.   Python is complicated but there are several reasons why I start with it in my program.   Students love “tweaking” their Minecraft program, and they learn what a “complicated” program looks like.   Much of the professional programming community in the world uses complicated languages like python, java, C++ and others.  Students understanding that although it is specific, it is not that complicated is really important.   There are many online resources for learning various programing languages that go into much more depth than T3 alliance will do.  Our goals are to empower students to learn and to give them enough of a reference to understand what they are learning about. 

Python can be used to modify a Minecraft world.  Students enjoy playing with the variables in the python code and seeing the immediate effects in their games.  You may want to empower your speed racer kids to help others learn to tweak their code.  At the end of this unit you can either have a show n tell event or some sort of a build off competition.  If you choose to skip this unit, you can, but you may want to skip letting students play Minecraft all together.  

Scratch is a visual programing language that uses block type elements to program an animated character.  There is a large body of online lessons and a large community dedicated to the learning of programing though this method.  Scratch can either be used through the internet via, or it can be used directly on the pi.  The pi has two versions of scratch.  Scratch 2.0 is identical to the online version that uses Flash, the older version of scratch uses fewer resources and correlates with some of the tutorials available for the pi that are found online.   Students can play with scratch for as long as you allow.  Follow the lesson on the T3alliance website for a basic project that gets them to a basic level.  You can add challenges and twists to this learning in whatever capacity you have energy to support or time to allow. 

5.  Play with circuits and sensors

The Raspberry Pi is special because of a set of pins that can be configured to collect and send information.  Scratch 2.0 is an easy way to begin the process of hooking up with the pins and setting up simple sensors.  Go through the tutorials on the T3alliance website and help students light a bulb and set up a button.  As students figure out how to do each of these steps, there is a degree of play involved that can help build a growth mindset.   When a bulb doesn’t light, there are connections to check, when a button isn’t sensing, check the code.  This is a point when having a document camera can be helpful as students learn to connect little wires and understand the difference between the specific GPIO pins.   When a student gets something to work, celebrate it and encourage them to share with others.  

Node Red is a graphical programing tool especially suited for wiring together hardware devices.  Its just a wee bit more complicated than scratch, but the number of things that can be done with it is incredible.   I  suggest immediately repeating the circuits that were used with Scratch to help establish a foundation.  The Node Red tutorials on the T3alliance website are a great help guide the group.   Having one Pi on a projector or TV that can be switched back and fourth between the T3alliance tutorials and the Node Red interface is handy.

Move through the sensors in the kit and the Node Red tutorials for each of them.  After you demonstrate (or share an online tutorial) how to combine the first set of sensors the students will be experimenting with each new piece of equipment.  This is a valuable learning time where students need to feel comfortable to share their successes and frustrations with each other.  As an instructor you will have a time where a student asks for help and you can’t figure it out.  This may be a moment for sharing the problem with the class and allowing students to troubleshot.  

6.  Remote sensors

Node Red is particularly powerful in its ability to access sensors over the network.  Students will enjoy manipulating the Pi’s of their classmates remotely through the network.  There is a tutorial on the T3alliance website that goes through the steps involved in setting this up.  Naturally when students play with this capability for a bit they begin to think of possible uses for the networked Pi technology.   Encourage these discussions and let students try out scenarios in the classroom.  Together you are setting the stage for the most important part of the T3 Project. 

7.  Design Thinking 

Design thinking is a five stage process that one follows in order to find an elegant solution to a problem.  The stages are briefly: 

1. Empathize – understand what the needs are of the person or group that is being helped.

2. Define – define the problem and check back that the understanding incorporates everything it needs to. 

3. Ideate – brainstorm solution ideas, put everything on the table, and then narrow it down to a few. 

4. Prototype – build your solution idea quickly to see if it will work

5. Test – Test your solution, share your results, and redesign or improve accordingly. 

This process is both simple and powerful.  The same general structure will work for any size project. 

I am actively organizing the learning materials for this last unit.  Students will need some direct instruction regarding this process and lots of time to practice.   Over time the complexity of projects that students are willing to tackle will increase.  The partnerships that develop within the community as students use this process will be precious.  As instructors we will be tasked with engineering opportunities that are just the right size for the students we are working with.   A set of guidelines and flowcharts will be forthcoming soon. 

Here is a link to the first day slideshow that I plan on using when summer session begins on June 12th.

Here is the general syllabus that I intend to share with students.