Exploring paper circuits before a live data feed

I’ve got an idea in mind to create a piece of artwork to visualise some live data, and wanted to see how quickly we could create a starter paper circuit.

Ordering Chibi Lights from the good folk at Pimoroni meant a first attempt notebook circuit within 24 hours and a whole lot of ideas to follow up.

A completely different context here, with a Spanish and dance theme explanation to follow 👠



Context with data or data for context? And make learning that context.

Pedagogy before technology and learning before data.

As an educator that’s always going to be my perspective, and in recent years an exciting (sometimes puzzling and frustrating) arena with data has been developing in education. Purpose and context are paramount to the effective use of big and small data in schools, and obviously centred around it’s impact on learning.

Successful intervention strategies have been guided, and learning gains demonstrated, by data in schools. Nothing new there.

The most positive digital storytelling examples with data, perhaps small data on a spreadsheet, have visualised impact on learning.  Nothing new there.

Now as teachers embrace more online tools, students create more digital learning footprints and leaders incorporate more data systems to inform their visions for learning, the big data phenomenon is reaching schools.

With the Codifying Learning project in Hull, our on-going focus is to explore learning analytics in primary and secondary school settings.  The context? A learning context supporting learners to learn and teachers to teach.  Nothing new there.

What is new are the tools and dashboards that can additionally support questioning and decision making in schools.

Big data and small data impacting on learning to support personalise pathways to success. Just an example of course.  Context with data or data for context?

That’s for school leaders to decide once they consider the needs of their students and use the data to help decide on their own questions.  Nothing new there.

Postscript: Context around spending 12 months learning to dance was research into learning analytics and taking models from outside of education which impacted on performance.  Learning. Nothing new there.

Back to Uni & making way with a new MakerEd Research project.

Last year’s Jam Packed Tour was an amazing experience.  That’s a description in the cold light of day, and along the way I was known to have use figurative language comparisons along the lines of ‘bonkers, crazy and nuts’.

Not least that Alan and I had agreement from our employers to be released from commitments on ‘JP Fridays’ with our full-time role.  That was just the start of the fun*.

Throwing open the proverbial school doors with invites to community events on the Friday evening and Saturday more than cemented those initial Jam Packed aims and intentions at submission stage.

Along with Dave’s pedagogical and programming experiences in what I now know are generally (TNT) explosive situations, we soon realised what was possible with such a small team as we collaborated with the community.


Manchester Makefest

The tour gave an opportunity to engage with thousands, literally thousands, of learners, teachers and friends (old and new) from the Tech, Education and Maker communities.  Some were established advocates and specialists, whilst others took the chance to come along and explore the community for the first time.

And that gave me so many moments to ask everybody questions, learn from each conversation and give another clear perspective and focus for personal next steps.


Jam Packed Friday in Salford

Some of you know that, many moons ago, I started teaching with a Business Tech BEd. At the same time as following a traditional path teaching ICT I took the opportunity for personal CPD and eventually became a SENCO.

That background with special educational needs and inclusion in schools should go some way to explain my passion and commitment to extending opportunities for all.  And that’s where I became fascinated by the Maker Movement and Digital Making projects in education.

What’s next, then?

I’m excited to have been granted another sabbatical from work this year and have joined a small research team at Leeds University.  Most definitely a part-time commitment, this means that there’ll be a couple of us working with a small number of schools (teachers and students) in Leeds.  Note the similarities with a small team and huge development opps?!

The title of the research is ‘Digital Making across the curriculum: a socio-material intervention’.  In essence, it’s aim will be to identify ways that teachers explore the role of digital making in school, and within their curricula areas.

There’s more to add than that, but we’ll share through social media over the coming months.

That should also explain the recent travels to the FabLearn15 Conference at Stanford University.  As much as I’ve dreamt about visiting the resident sealions at Pier 39, and reflecting with a glass of wine, it was a personal development journey focused on digital fabrication activities in education 🙂

FabLearn summary gallery

And it was fun*.  Even now I continue to wear the rose tinted JP spectacles and the memory that with a small team, a round of large Americano coffees with extra shots and cake, anything is possible.

Exploring recycled treasure at Scrap Leeds

I managed to pop into the Scrap Leeds Creative Reuse Art Project in Farsley this week, having heard so much about their amazing projects and space in the city.

Wow, what a treasure trove for creatives and makers!


Annual membership £6/year

Now that I’ve got my membership I’ll be popping back again soon to join the community making use and reuse of recycled materials at home, in schools, across the city and through workshops at the space.

I got the chance to take a peek at the fantastic Tinker Lab upstairs. A host of MakerEd projects are ever evolving and I really wanted to explore the robotics art projects on display.


Robot Art


Tinker Lab


Artistic Iterations

Now always on the lookout to extend a Maker library, I’m probably late to hear about Rusty the Squeaky Robot and the resulting adventures at a faraway planet.


Rusty the (Yorkshire) Rusty Robot

I’ve proudly come away with the book about Rusty who was designed and created in Leeds.  We’ll be checking out the games and the storytelling from the accompanying app too.  A true Yorkshire robot!


With a bagful of treasure, a headful of ideas and a bucket load of enthusiasm I came away from Scrap Leeds seeing again how the Maker community continues to grow and create such a buzz around the city.


George & Mildred: Camels in Residence

Link to full photo gallery from my visit here

Strictly More Pi – Take Two

A year ago I asked the question, ‘Will I ever know what it’s like to dance like a dancer?’ It feels timely now to explain the non-stop questions that have followed and the resulting decision.

Initially rhetorical, I managed the answer on Monday this week. That was 24 hours after competing at the UKA Premier Medallist of the Year Festival at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool. Scroll and whizz to the bottom for the result, and you’ll see why it also took another 2 days to get back down to earth and be able to hold a conversation again.

Or read on to hear how the first iteration of ‘Dance Bot’ grew wider in so many ways; not least with the team of support which grew and with whom I have such deep respect for.


Empress Ballroom 4th October 2015


Initially realising the significance to me of the meta learning approach from Tim Ferriss; deconstructing learning and concentrating on ‘material not method’, went hand in hand with the first Raspberry Pi-Cam and Google Glass project with my fab-u-lous teachers at North Leeds Dance Academy.

Using an AR perspective with Pi-Cam, gyro data for a performance analysis focus and reviewing a partner’s steps through Glass, the road to ‘More than steps in the ultimate dance algorithm‘ for me began.


Lightbulb learning to learn moment

It was possible and if I pieced together a work-life balance that was about to significantly change again with the Jam Packed Computing Tour then I could actually learn substantially more through dance along the way.  That was always the fundamental aim.


As an educator the prospect of learning something new gave me opportunities to test ‘learning to learn’ strategies and explore my own preferred styles and retention.   To turn the blurred lines of opportunities from a range of tech interests from work, additional projects and social circles made sense when they became the tools to realise the ultimate dance algorithm.

Using data analysis with collection through physical computing and wearable tech projects was important to me to integrate performance analysis and data science techniques.  I wanted it to inform my progression of learning and lever next step questions.

So you think you can dance? Me, myself and Pi?

Step by step data approach

That alongside performance techniques that I knew I needed to incorporate into ‘Dance Bot’, including psychology and attitudes to successful learning approaches, was a tough gig for any teacher.

Not least, knowing that I wanted to question every step literally every step of the way as a learning tool and track impact of those personal gains.

Towards Outstanding through Outstanding Teaching:

To my teacher’s surprise early on, my confidence with dancing weaknesses was perhaps a little too strong. Flat refusals to learn using some strategies (knowing they wouldn’t make a difference to my understanding) were recognised from the start and luckily the somewhat hidden-before-then data geek in him emerged too.

I renamed the low benchmark as ‘towards outstanding’ and each lesson became more and more in awe of the range of successful teaching styles and visualisations used at the academy.


Learning to Learn with NLDA

The tech and performance strategies were always tools in addition to the teaching styles delivered across the academy, so on the basis of a deconstruction approach using data, only the latter was bespoke.  And my preferred learning style with progression, of course.

It was my intention to use tech to enhance my own development which encompassed dance performance and activities relating to learning. Often directly linked to work and other projects.  For that I’m grateful to the team of teachers who supported me with the approach and gave me the opportunities to tinker through dance.

Using data to improve performance:

Realising the elements of the deconstructed dances which would impact most on specific and overall performance meant that I could explore projects with a range of tools:

  • Physical computing devices with an accelerometer and gyro to impact on parts of a dance such as the spin turn. I have a track record of over-thinking and ‘bottling it’.
  • Wearables to track, collect and analyse posture and body balance. My top line and frame were fundamentally flawed at the onset; now they’re ‘towards outstanding’ 🙂
  • Wearables collecting data with sleep patterns and general health and movement tracking.

And other tech tools:

  • Circuit tools and electric paint with dance shoes to act as a trigger to support me with heel and toe. Yes, really, it was very much needed!
  • Wearables to bling up the dress with LEDS – when the rules say no rules it makes you start to think!  In the end the dress didn’t hold any LEDs as it was still the accelerometer that held more impact with the turns.
  • Google Glass for partner perspective.  Again, back to the Four Hour Chef re-reads and experiences.
  • New Spotify Playlists – really, the roads to Hull and Salford this last year have paved the way to many a counting the music and hearing the beat sessions. El Tango de Roxanne became a firm favourite!

The wider team:

Spending more time at the dance school and touring with Jam Packed Tour gave more opportunities to engage with a range of people about their learning to impact on my own progression.  I’ve taken advice from dancers and non-dancers upwards of 3 years and perhaps the latter’s advice of ‘high on your toes and smile’ was one of the most significant for performance!

I asked some of the children at a recent exam about their learning focus, as a way to explore my own potential marginal learning gains, and got incredible insights that I’ve used at competition level.  As I’ve deconstructed particular dances, their pointers about performance, posture and reach have been powerful.


Marginal Learning Gains

Through Jam Packed there was also the visualisation moment of truth when I learnt that the morning shower was the best time and place to run through my finest performance. One of many learning nuggets!

Sounds insignificant but we shared an empathy with the meta learning approach for like-minded individuals with a computational thinking focus.  The world of flamenco dance merged with Maker and added to my dance performance…..


Visulalisation Techniques

I also met a number of fellow ballroom dancers, young and more mature, on the tour and swapped stories of learning gains and difficulties as I asked for tips.

Those additional variables to add to the steps in the algorithm became increasingly important as the significance of the overall performance itself became clear.

The thoughts, anecdotes and tips gleaned from others including contemporary dance teachers, computer scientists, a psychologist, a team of medics including a psychiatrist (yes – that became more useful towards the end), family and friends all fed into the design of the ultimate dance algorithm.

‘Hold your nerve’:

It was perhaps 3 weeks ago on one of my lonesome commutes to Hull that the enormity of that support team hit home.  As the year progressed the team increased and general conversations which had started with ‘Have I told you that I’m learning to dance?’ had shifted towards specific questions about my latest focus.

The realisation was pivotal because in that moment I dismissed everything I’d read and assimilated through reading The Chimp Paradox and momentarily resorted to Take That to clear my head.  A mistake that didn’t take long to remedy and which impacted highly last weekend.

As last minute doubts, uncertainties and fear of forgetting the routine set in I managed to counteract the negative thoughts. Probably a little too much as the final positive self-statements were closer in accent and confidence to a Jack Nicholson performance rather than my usual talking manner.  Must’ve been the dutch courage (gin).

Just one of the strategies used with the intention to meet the judge’s criteria on the day, and keeping my mind focused was tantamount to success. I never did find a tech support tool to help me keep my head left and attention on the dance straight and narrow!

Moment of clarity:

Ten minutes before I danced I asked a young dancer from the academy about her thoughts each time she steps onto the floor. With a look of puzzlement (why do I need to ask, it’s common sense?) she told me, and as a junior champion I hold her opinion highly:

‘Nothing, I don’t think anything.  You know your steps, you know your routine and you just do what you have to do.  There’s nothing else to do, is there?’

At which point The Chimp Paradox came back as a strategy and not as a voice.

Teaching. That’s been the crucial element for me with the biggest impact on my own performance and confidence in my abilities.  I knew that anyway and I’d been on a learning journey with data to support those decisions.

For that reason I will forever be in awe of the oustanding teaching, energy and motivations from Nicola, Mark and Ashleigh x

What happened, then?

In simple terms:

4 dances in 4 stages resulting in 4th place in the final.

#a-maz-ing 🙂


Waltzing into the final


Not an LED in sight!


4th – eek!

Where do I need to be and how do I get there? I knew that as soon as I left Winter Gardens. Put simply, the deconstructed elements make it clear for me to understand after listening to exceptional teacher guidance.

Does more noise mean more collaboration at the Leeds’ Raspberry Jam?

Absolutely not?

But could it mean more Maker style Meet ups as we move forward?

When the team from York Hack Space joined us at this weekend’s Raspberry Jam our Maker Space got a tad more ambitious.


An increased range of activities and projects, incorporating Raspberry Pi and Arduino as the basis to hack with, gave way to more conversations, thoughts, ideas and inspiration towards next steps for everyone.

And actually, some new boards for some to consider too, but all to encourage collaboration and supporting ideas to share.


Robotic Art – click for more info

What could happen next? Who helped who?

  • A year 8 student brought along a Raspberry Pi photo booth project that inspired a couple of teachers to consider projects with that theme for enrichment activities.
  • Another Year 8 student gave us an update about her Raspberry Pi robot project and what her future plans hold.  Extending her remote control hack?
  • Using Raspberry Pi with a 3D printer project to explore and stretch the Cannybot activity ideas developed during the day. Racing corner might appear at the next Jam!
  • The Water Color Bot from Super Awesome Sylvia gave another area to consider STEAM, different themes for projects and to launch numerous conversations about engaging inclusive and opportunities through computing. At it’s most basic level, from plug-in, design and print, to hack opportunities each idea shared an enjoyment whilst developing and extending skills.
  • Arduino-based pledges to explore and hack with electronics activities – lights, camera, action.

Toolbox to launch a 1000 ideas

  • Wearable Tech plans using a range of tools as inspiration and stimulus.*  Time to say thank you for those #ProjectBlackpool ideas for me!

And what about the post title about noise?

Well we used the Raspberry Jam as a testbed for a data project and to explore more ideas for an upcoming community project in the city. Digital storytelling using data as a focus but with a creative output.

What will be that creative output?

I have no idea!

That’ll be decided by the group of young people who will build and hack their own project around the technology we provide, through a toolkit, and which they could add to.

The community had their own ideas at the Jam and it also gave more activities to explore after the Raspberry Pi workshops.  The Leeds’ Maker community will also be involved with this local project in September.

What we’re excited about most of all is the students adding their ideas stamp and creativity which they’ll share at a Leeds Jam. They’re Smart Citizens of West Leeds and one device they will use is the Smart Citizen kit:


Smart Citizen

But will they build a project indoors or choose to create and make an external collaboration to tell their story?  Whilst I don’t think they’ll be showcasing though a spreadsheet, we’ll wait to see where they export their csv data and the resulting visualisations and models.

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 07.51.35

Excel for a reason!

There were peaks in noise levels at the Raspberry Jam.  The data confirms that and also guides us as to when the device was internally mounted and when we hacked the deckchair outside, and planned a storytelling idea overlooking Leeds Dock.


Click for more info about Space Hack

More noise through more conversations or challenges and shouts with Space Hack?  I like to think they’re both the same 🙂

More resources:

Codebug – interactive coding and wearable tech

Bare Conductive – electric paint and Touchboard