Our Lady’s RC Primary School, Whalley Range loaned 10 Scratch Picoboard kits, which were used within Code Club (an after school programming club for pupils in Years 4 - 6) and also as an extension of a Computing project that pupils in Year 4 had done previously.
Piloting the use of the Picoboards during code club sessions enabled us to ’tinker’ with the
hardware and pupils were able to explore its capabilities as they developed their own independent
projects. Some pupils connected their Picoboard and used it as a controller for existing projects
that they had made, others used them as stimulus for creating brand new projects from scratch.
A major advantage of us using the Picoboard kits within the after school club, is that it enabled us to iron out any technical problems (the main one being the struggle we had with installing the extra driver needed to enable it to communicate with the Scratch interface). With help from out technician, we eventually got them working, but this took quite a bit longer than we had hoped!
However, once they were connected and working properly we were amazed with the different things you could do with them. (If possible, I would advise testing out any kind of physical hardware such as this during an after school club like we did, rather than risk trying to fix any technical issues within an actual lesson).
One of the main things that I liked about the Picoboard is the number of different functions it has. In the past, we have done some projects using the Makey Makey kits and although these were easier to set up (you don’t have to install any additional software to run them), there is actually a lot more that you can do with the Picoboard.
The pupils particularly liked the slide function, incorporating these elements into their programming scripts and using them to get their sprites to ‘glide’ ‘turn’ and ‘move’ in various ways. The Picoboard also has a button on it, and again pupils could very easily incorporate this into their script by instructing their sprites to respond in different ways when pressed.
In Year 4, pupils had previously made their own racing car game based on Phil Bagge’s smoking
car project, so we saw this an ideal opportunity to connect the Picoboards, asking pupils to adjust their programming scripts accordingly. Pupils successfully programmed the slider to navigate their car sprite around the track, and some also programmed their car sprite to do other things such as make a beeping sound or move faster once the button was pressed.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get chance to explore the sound sensor. If we had more time I would probably have challenged the pupils to see if they could perhaps get their car sprite to change colour in response to it hearing a loud sound. Similarly we didn’t get chance to test out the light sensor either, which we also could have easily incorporated in to the project if we had more time.
Next time we use the boards I would like to explore using the sensor functions more, perhaps by challenging pupils to make their own burglar alarm which responds to the light sensors being triggered (an idea that Nick Cook introduced in his workshop 'burglar alarms to data logging with Scratch and Picoboard’ at last years CAS Manchester conference).
The PicoBoards also come with a USB cable and four sets of alligator clips and these can be used to measure the electrical resistance in a circuit. Unfortunately we didn’t get chance to explore this in much depth, however I could see this being a fantastic cross curricular way of merging the teaching of Science (electrical circuits) with Computing.
Overall, we found the Picoboard kits to be a fantastic resource and they were incredibly engaging for the children. I was amazed by the different things you could do with them and if you are a school that uses Scratch a lot (like we do), this could be a great way of introducing pupils to the world of physical computing and will also enable them to stretch their learning further.
CAS Master Teacher, Our Lady’s RC Primary School, Manchester