Online tips to blast into orbit with Astro Pi Mission Zero!

Astro Pi Mission Zero gives young people the opportunity to blast their program into space and send a message to the astronauts on board the International Space Station. 

With many of you supporting young people to learn to code from home, Ruth from The Mount School Code Club in York shares some tried-and-tested tips for taking Astro Pi Mission Zero online. 

What is Astro Pi Mission Zero? 

Astro Pi Mission Zero is an engaging challenge to write a simple Python program that will run on the International Space Station. The code will run for up to 30 seconds on one of the two Astro Pi computers that are on the space station. 

Step-by-step instructions are available to help young people take part in this year’s challenge, which involves measuring the humidity in the Columbus module and displaying a colourful message on the Astro Pi’s LED matrix for the astronauts to read!

It can be completed in person or as part of an online session. Entries can be submitted either individually, or as part of a team of 2–4 young people. 

The closing date for entries is Friday 18 March and Astro Pi is open to ESA Member States, as well as Slovenia, Canada, Latvia, and Malta.

Two young girls with long brown hair sat facing a laptop at a table. In the corner of the image an animation of of a astronaut is giving a double thumbs up.

Ruth’s top tips on delivering Astro Pi Mission Zero online 

Code Club educator Ruth has helped her club go into orbit with Mission Zero. Read her four top tips to make sure you have a smooth mission from online classroom to space! 

1. Show them where their code is going to run 

Engage the kids in the project before they start writing any code. I showed them a Raspberry Pi with a Sense HAT and we watched the video at the start of the project so they could see the Astro Pi computers onboard the space station. Take a look at Google Street View of the ISS, and see if you can find them on board! 

It helped them realise that the code they were about to write was actually going to be run in space!

2. Teach them the underscore (_) key! 

Kids are now used to typing on a computer, however, there are some keys that we use in code that they may not be so used to. For example in the Astro Pi project, the underscore key (_) is used often.

An astronaut in onboard the International Space Station and is pointing towards the Astro Pi's.
The Astro Pi onboard the International Space Station (Image credit ESA)

3. Fixing bugs together 

To help fix a bug, I’ll ask them to share their screen and make their code font larger on Trinket. Everyone benefits from this, as all the kids can see the problem and learn from it. Coders often help each other rather than me helping them, which is great and I always encourage this.

4. Take your time 

Astro Pi Mission Zero can be completed in one session, but we took our time and completed the project in three sessions. We used the first session for setting up, explaining the project and working on the scrolling message to appear. The second session was about investigating how to get the picture to appear, and the third session was using the sensor to read the value and to respond differently depending on the value it’s received.

Ruth’s last piece of advice:

“[At] each small step in this project I’ve seen the kids’ faces light up when they see their code working how they wanted it to and now that they know their code is actually going to be used somewhere it makes them feel even prouder. I’ve had comments from parents saying it’s the most engaged they’ve seen their child in a long time.”

My Code Club is paused

If your club is paused, we have a step-by-step video to guide coders through Mission Zero. You can share the video link and they can blast their code into orbit from the comfort of their own home! 

Connect with the Code Club team on Twitter at Code Club UK or Code Club World and let us know how your coders get on with Astro Pi Mission Zero! 

Learn online with Code Club and CoderDojo!

Over the past nine months, Code Club and CoderDojo have teamed up to run a series of community calls. In this blog Kat shares some of her favourite sessions, and gives a sneak peak of our new series of online workshops.

In March 2020, we took to the internet in search of a way to support coding clubs who wanted to continue running. Our solution was a series of community calls to share tips and ideas, offer practical examples, and give you the opportunity to ask your questions! 

Twenty one calls, 720 attendees, and lots of fruitful discussions later, here are some of the sessions we loved the most.

Taking your first steps 

In the ‘Ways to restart your Code Club’ session we covered the online, remote, and in-person options for your club, to help you decide which might be the best fit for you.

Rohima shared her perspective as a club volunteer, and talked through how she prepared to run both in-person and online sessions. 

Running online

As Code Clubs around the world went online, we delved into the challenges and also unexpected benefits of running online sessions. 

Our ‘Tools and software for running an online club’ is a great watch for anyone who is starting to plan online sessions. Check it out to discover the pros and cons of some popular video conferencing and live streaming tools. 

A gif showing Kat and Nuala next to a powerpoint slide

In the ‘Best practice for online sessions’ call you can find important safeguarding information, ideas on how to prepare for your session, and useful tips from a club leader. 

A screen grab with Kat, Christina, and Nuala next to a slide sharing online safety and safeguarding

Build your skills 

Over the summer we ran three training sessions on Scratch, HTML, and Python. I particularly loved the Scratch session, which had lots of tips to help you take your Scratch learning further in your club. 

You can find all the recordings of our previous calls on our GoToStage channel.

Join our NEW 2021 series of online workshops

There are three upcoming online workshops, so make sure to register if you’d like to join us. We’ll be discussing: 

Can’t make those times? Don’t worry! Everyone who registers will be sent a recording, so you can always catch up later. 

Got an idea for a future online workshop that you’d like to see? Let us know on support@codeclub.org. You can sign up for all our upcoming online sessions and events over on the Code Club website

How your voice has helped shape Code Club in 2020

This year, we asked the Code Club community to take part in two polls to help the team understand how the coronavirus pandemic was impacting clubs around the world.   

Dave Hazeldean, Code Club’s Data Analyst, shares why answering the polls was so important, how they gave us a better picture of how clubs were running, and how we adapted the programme to support educators to continue to inspire the next generation of digital makers.

Countries and territories of volunteers who responded to our poll in green

What we have learned 

This year we ran two polls, one in May and one in September. More than 3000 Code Clubs from 82 countries and territories participated and shared if their club was running sessions, planning to run sessions, or their club was paused.

As we expected, activity in Code Clubs has been severely disrupted by the pandemic, with many clubs forced to pause their sessions, however Dave shares that there has been some positive news: 

“What I found most encouraging is the increase in the proportion of clubs that were running or planning to run in September when compared with the results that we found in May.”

“Of the clubs that are running or planning to run, almost half will be running their sessions online. We are working hard to provide all of the guidance, resources, and support that clubs need to make the transition to online sessions.” 

“In a recent blog post, we heard from members of our community who are now running their Code Clubs online, which I found particularly inspiring.” 

What support is available to Code Clubs running online or in-person sessions? 

There are some great resources available to support you if you are looking to move your Code Club sessions online, or restart sessions in person. 

To help make the transition from running in person to online, we have created a guide for online sessions that provides a great overview of what you may need to consider. 

If you are eager to run your Code Club online, read our guides for parents supporting young people and young people attending online sessions for additional tips before you get started.

If you’re looking to restart your in-person sessions, take a look at our safety guidance for in-person sessions, and this blog post on clubs who have gone back to in-person meetings. 

You can also join us on a regular community call with the clubs team or listen back to previous calls.  

What’s next? 

The pandemic continues to affect our daily lives, but we are adapting to the new learning environment and hope to continue to give young people the space to thrive. 

From Dave and everyone at Code Club we want to say a BIG THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to inform us about their Code Club by responding to our polls this year. Your voice continues to inspire us to move forward.

Your participation in our campaigns is integral to helping us shape our planning and identify the support you need to run your clubs safely. We will be running more polls, and encourage you to take part and give feedback over the months ahead. 

We are always here to support you and if there is anything you need, contact our friendly support team at support@codeclub.org.