Beyond Minecraft to Strictly Sonification

Sometimes it’s a chance remark in a conversation that becomes significant later on. In the last couple of weeks we’ve been building on the school and community project launched when the Tour de France departed from Leeds earlier this Summer.

Specifically those ripples of excitement generated with a few Raspberry Pi computers strategically stuck in windows and  in trees along the Moortown dual carriageway. And nearly from the top of roundabout telegraph poles – that was the risky night-cam project which was thankfully delayed.   You might remember the Tour de Pi timelaspe project, but how did it impact on the community and where would we take it next?


More than anything the TDF gave us that real world scenario to plan a project using Pi and to explore and plan through computational thinking. This was with a group of young but very imaginative children who quickly realised that the final output may not be the most important element of the project.

It didn’t work – it failed. OK, only in parts did it not deliver and the final video was a bit of a fudge as a homework piece. But a very creative output, nonetheless.

How did it fail? Only one camera captured the planned section of the publicity caravan. Timings had been calculated, literally, to the nearest millisecond but with a wi-fi failure and a camera ribbon coming loose in transit, not everything recorded as planned.  Sadly the peloton rode past the Pi unrecognised.

With an ambitious community project comes risk and thankfully there’d been contingency planned for possible technical hiccups. Photographs and video taken by the families involved to capture the day.  And the debugging alongside the ‘what happened there?’ investigations afterwards were all important parts of that evaluation process.

It didn’t matter in the slightest. We had the Tour and we had a taste of using Raspberry Pi within the community. Witnessing an excitement of computing through Pi from families curious to know exactly what it was. A timelapsed community moment captured forever but more so a legacy to build on.

Fast forward through holidays and now’s a perfect time for those families to look at the wider use of Pi. And for some to reminisce about their own days with ZX81, Spectrum and the like, and to watch how this next generation are interacting in a similar way.

Over the last couple of weeks some of the children have been exploring some of the different ways that a Raspberry Pi can be used and what kind of activities they can do with it.  They’re in Year 4 now, 8 about to be 9, and web browsing and Scratch are familiar territory to this group. The ability to hack into Minecraft has been a particular focus for some – ‘I can’t do that on an iPad’.

But what about that move beyond Minecraft to explore sonification as a digital story telling tool?

   large-comic-arrow-pointing-right-166.6-10773   midi

Next steps exploring through computational thinking with more real world examples.  Strictly Come Dancing and an awesome Paso Doble from Kevin and Frankie:

k and f

Click to launch the video

The chance comment mentioned earlier was from a dad saying that one of the girls has been collecting data from the series by inputting the scores into a spreadsheet. And that’s where the visualisation piece through dance and sonification started.

  • How would a perfect 10 sound?
  • Would it be different from a range of scores from another contestant still finding their dancing feet?
  • How could a range of scores from one couple over the first 3 weeks sound as a composition?
  • How could that data be visualised in a different format to that of the spreadsheet?
  • How creative and tuneful can a list of numbers between 1 – 10 be?

There was a bit of a ‘wow’ moment, but then intrigue into how Sonic Pi could help and exactly what was possible.   Here’s what’s achievable from start to finish in an hour.  That’s jotting down the scores, converting to midi notes, watching the Geek Gurl Diaries and even watching a section of Sam Aaron’s presentation when live coding possibilities creates even more excitement.


Developing visualisation literacy and getting creative through sonification.  At the age of 8.  It’s not finished yet; nowhere near where she wants to take it.  But it does make me think what I could do next with this health data being generated……..

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