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……..

So you think you can dance a Traditional Waltz?

Video overview – Watch the Waltz routine here:


How does Mark move through the Waltz?  Through Google Glass:


How does Ashleigh move through the Waltz?  Through Raspberry Pi Cam.

It’s a slow motion video (90fps) so it’ll run for a longer duration than the actual dance routine and that’ll stop any complaints of motion sickness from viewers and learners!

Performance data from the Piborg motion & direction sensor on the Pi to follow.   They’re advanced dance steps 🙂

So you think you can dance the Tango?

Video overview – Watch the Tango routine here:


How does Ashleigh move through the Tango?  Through Raspberry Pi Cam.

It’s a slow motion video (90fps) so it’ll run for a longer duration than the actual dance routine and that’ll stop any complaints of motion sickness from viewers and learners!


Performance data from the Piborg motion & direction sensor on the Pi to follow.   They’re advanced dance steps 🙂

So you think you can dance the Viennese Waltz?

Video overview – Watch the Viennese Waltz routine here:


How does Mark move through the Viennese Waltz?  Through Google Glass:



Strictly More Pi

I love dance.  And I love everything about North Leeds Dance Academy.  Nicola’s driving vision through enthusiasm and the warmth of support from the whole team.  That’s from Ashleigh, Poli, Steve and Mark.  And that sense of belonging and sharing achievements and successes throughout the year.

So why so many months spent on the wrong side of the dance studio door?

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

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

First things first, and that’s to recognise the taxi and chaperoning duties that parenthood brings to a week’s already chaotic schedule.  That’s my OH and I scrambling around to this, that and that other, but predominantly dance classes and then listening to the progress in learning from the other side of the door as Ashleigh says….one more time:

“Cha Cha Cha, two, three”

“Forward, back, side, close, side”.

And then there’s the excuse of erratic working hours.   But more than anything it’s a personal recognition of strength, absolute weaknesses and preferred learning style. Actually when it comes to dance it’s been borderline fear, too.

Is this heading towards a rare light bulb moment, then?

Of course I recognise the steps above from Cha Cha.  I can count them in the music.  I can count them in my sleep. I spend the week daydreaming about dance and often with Ashleigh’s commentary in my head.  I can spot a great dancer’s ‘top line’ and look out for heel turns and toes.  I know when a straight arm is excellence and a weak arm is bad.  Really bad 🙂


Of course I can because I’ve spent close to two years soaking up the knowledge and watching others learn.  But I’ve done it at the same time as planning to support teachers with the new Computing curriculum and through my personal development focus of learning and pedagogy.

I’ve sat and listened and worked at the same time, so let’s be honest, I’ve been absolutely clueless about my own dance journey.  Younger members of the family have described it as embarrassing.

two one

four three

But with every cloud there’s that silver lining

For me that’s been the insight of how computational thinking and its cognitive and educational implications equate to problem solving for all and helps teachers understand these processes as algorithmic.  And the meta learning approach from Tim Ferriss, which made me stop in my tracks about deconstructing learning and concentrating on ‘material not method’.  Maybe I can do this after all?

Tim Ferriss - The Four Hour Chef

Tim Ferriss – The Four Hour Chef

Will I ever know what it feels like to dance like Ashleigh? 

Sounds like a real life problem to me, and the answer was staring at me from the bag on the floor.

Me, myself and Pi.  That’s the way!

asheligh pi

Use the tech and follow the algorithm……manageable chunks. Deconstruct the learning.

Ashleigh and Mark - Watch and learn!

Ashleigh and Mark – Watch and learn!

Lights, music, Pi-cams, sensors and sequins at the ready.  Want to know EXACTLY how it feels when you dance a Waltz or a Tango properly?

tango 1 tango 2

Through an augmented reality view to help sense the queasiness when you nail the movements as they should be?  And I really shouldn’t move my head for a Viennese Waltz?

How does that feel, then?  How fast should I be moving for the quick step?  Can that be measured?   What about the force through the turns of a Tango routine?

And to really dance you should recognise the moves and viewpoint of your partner.  So what better way than to introduce Glass into the mix for yet more perspective.  But not for a Tango.  That’d simply be nuts.

to use 1

For every project you need to ‘put a band together’ and for Strictly More Pi I am immensely grateful to Rob Martin for questioning my every motive, idea, hair brained scheme and rationale that I threw his way. And for bringing so many more ideas to the Strictly table.   For helping to share the excitement through Computing.  For encouraging me to get far too animated about collecting data to improve performance. And talking algorithms.  Repeatedly.

And most importantly?   To do it through dance 🙂


‘Team North Leeds Dance Academy’.  It just got bigger!

How did we do it?

Take a look at the step-by-step guide from Rob’s blog.   To launch, click on the image below – it’s not as scary as first looks…..

'How to guide'

‘How to guide’

The start of the journey

And so it began. Tuesday 8th July 2014.

‘Me, myself and Pi’ sat on the train and London bound. Heading eventually to Essex to share our recent escapades and to start to explain to a group of technical folk just how exciting life with Pi can be.

To try to explain exactly what a Tour de Pi can be when the biggest annual sporting event in the world passes through your community.  To create a Community computing and learning focus?

Tour de Pi

Tour de Pi – launch to YouTube here

Sometimes it’s hard to explain, even to friends, how a mini computer can open up so many exciting opportunities. Maybe a blog will do it, so thanks to Peter for his Pi-tastic title suggestions!


Glammed up

This Pi (and a couple of Pi cameras) has been protected and transported in a tupperware container for the last few months, and that in itself has raised a few eyebrows:

“OK, so now it’s waterproof and you can set it up outside?”

“And it can see at night?”

“Somebody’s really fired one up to space and it’s taken pictures?”

“So I can hook it up to the TV and get the kids to explain how they use Scratch?”

“How much?!”

It’s been ‘Pi-jazzled’ for the Summer term so is now safely enclosed in a new case, but that’s only as this journey starts. ‘Me, myself and Pi’ have more Pi, sensors, cameras and accessories safely secured in a bag in the overhead locker 🙂

Of course it’s rarely just the two of us. Most often we’re joined by or joining teachers, education partners and children. Sometimes community and family.

But on the main we’ll use our computing commutes to share the fun and inspiration that we’re privileged to witness when the two of us join teachers, learners and other partners at up and coming events.