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! 

Community members share advice for running online Code Club sessions!

We understand that going online to run a Code Club session might be making you feel a little nervous. We’re here to support you every step of the way on this new learning journey. Check out our new guidance on online sessions, and read on to hear top tips and words of advice from Code Club educators around the world.

Try it! 

After a summer break, Meriden Code Club are back running online club sessions on Zoom. They shared these words of encouragement: 

“For people worried about starting something online, or doing anything different with their club, a tip would be to just try it; people won’t expect perfection from day one and you’ll learn so much about what works for you and your club.” 

Encourage creativity

Leeds Libraries created a multilevel game at their online Code Club session. We asked what their top three tips would be:

  1. Make content available in a range of formats and on different platforms to allow as much accessibility to participants as possible.
  2. Create projects with flexible goals in mind to allow for different skill sets and interpretations. 
  3. Encourage creativity! If a coder wants to try something different to what you had in mind, let them run with it. You’ll be amazed at what they come up with.
Lee has attended Leeds Libraries online sessions

Slow your sessions down 

Nicola from Code Club Australia has given some advice on how the pace of your Code Club may change:

“Talk and progress through the lesson much slower than you would face to face, and explain every detail (otherwise you’ll have to repeat it, many times).”  

Nicola from Code Club Australia

Adjust your Code Club start time

Adam runs Fleetville Code Club and has been running online Code Club sessions, using Scratch and Minecraft. Adam shared his advice to help your online sessions run more smoothly: 

  1. Assume your first session is going to be all about getting people set up on their computers. The students might use Scratch at school, but getting it running at home at the same time as a Zoom call takes a little getting used to. 
  2. An after-school online club session will need to start a bit later than an in-school club since the children need to get home ( now many schools have staggered leaving times). 
  3. Students are just as thrilled by receiving online certificates as they are by the paper equivalents – use the Code Club ones or prepare some of your own.

If you are running online sessions and want to share your tips with the rest of the community, write to us at support@codeclub.org and we’ll make sure to pass them on.

Be inspired by Code Club Canada and their response to the pandemic

Head of Code Club UK and Ireland Lucia Manzitti has been finding out how Code Clubs around the world are keeping kids coding during the pandemic. Recently she spoke to Maddy Bazett, Program Owner of Code Club Canada.

Getting Code Club Canada online!

When schools and community spaces started to close across Canada, Maddy and the team knew they needed to rise to the challenge. They wanted to make sure that kids attending Code Clubs could keep coding from home, and that others new to coding had the opportunity to have a go!

The team’s quick reaction enabled them to set up free online Code Club sessions within the first week! At first, they were launched as a public drop-in model, but this was soon adapted to attendees having to preregister for a school term. Code Club Canada set up six coding sessions and a final sharing session both in English and in French, to offer support to learners speaking either language.

Lucia was interested to know how parents reacted to the change in sign-up, from public drop-in to preregistration, and the more structured content: 

“Parents appreciated the structure and what to expect from the next session. Knowing the details put parents’ minds at ease, they could now count on something consistent. As weeks went by we noticed that there were repeat children and parents attending the sessions.” 

An online session explained 

Every session is hosted on Whereby, and has a facilitator instructor and a moderator to monitor members’ questions and chat. This team comes from KCJ, a bilingual Canadian charity whose mission is to give every Canadian child access to digital skills education, and who support Code Club Canada with their mission. 

Lucia asked Maddy how they planned their sessions:

“We needed some structure, instructors needed to know what to prepare and it made sense for us to utilise the Code Club curriculum and the progression of a programming language through a module.” 

The young learners mainly work on Scratch and Python projects as the experience is entirely within the computer. Maddy shared that from the 17 March to 14 May, members have spent a total of 763 hours coding online with Code Club Canada! 

Members try out the Code Club Rockband project in Scratch!

How did learners adjust to an online experience? 

A live online Code Club provides a different learning environment for members compared to an in-person club. While before members were used to buddying up with a friend to work through projects, they now work online, independently, and sometimes with a parent. 

Facilitators shared how learners had become more dependent on the step-by-step instructions, and got used to working on a split screen and switching tabs. With time, they became more confident, interacting with the facilitator, sharing their screens, and using their mic to ask questions. 

An online Code Club still provided an opportunity for young coders to share their cool projects with their peers. But rather than their peers being from their school, they were often from a completely different part of the country.

“We have heard back that kids are very excited when a club member is from another part of Canada and are in awe and ask: ‘How are you here, from somewhere else?”

Even in these strange times, Code Club is still helping people to connect. 

A message from Maddy on setting up an online club 

“Definitely try it! Even if you start with one online club or post pre-recorded sessions for your community to use and engage with. I think people are very appreciative in this time of free, fun and accessible content that kids can spend time on, especially when it’s educational.

And potential future volunteers gain confidence in seeing how a session is run (and that it isn’t so hard!) before they commit to starting one themselves.”

If Code Club Canada has inspired you to set up an online club, we have lots of resources to support you. Take a look at our club guidance or listen back to the community call series. 

To keep up-to-date on Code Club Canada, you can and follow them on Twitter or like their Facebook page.