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Physical computing is and can be an intimidating venture. What do I want to do? Do I know how to do it? Can I afford to learn programming without destroying a computer?

These are the typical questions that arise when someone is making their initial leap into the physical computing world. Often the barrier between doing and wanting to is the willingness to not succeed. True learning comes through struggles and repeated effort.

Have a fail. More accurately, have a F.A.I.L.: First Attempt in Learning.

Who succeed on their first venture at anything? Tim Cook, Elon Musk and others not only didn’t succeed on their first attempts, they failed miserably time and time again. Designing, building and creating rarely lends itself to victory on the initial attempt. Learning typically requires us to try, fail, then try again. Maybe it is a simple tweak in design. Maybe it is needing to learn how to use a programming language that is foreign. Maybe it’s going back to revisit the initial problem to see if there is a way to modify the goal to be more attainable or seeking wisdom in a willing collaborator. Regardless, few designers reach their Mt. Everest on the initial ascent. Don’t see the F.A.I.L. as a fail. It’s just part of the process.

With the gracious support of my MOREnet​ family, I had the opportunity to learn and collaborate with educators and learners from across the globe at the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s Picademy​ in Ann Arbor, Mich. This experience afforded me the opportunity to explore physical computing, programming and coding using the Raspberry Pi​.

Coming into the event, I was sweating bullets. Am I going to be the one that doesn’t know anything about these concepts? How fast will I be found out as the one that is a step below novice? Will I be asked to leave the event by the facilitator team because of my inexperience and lack of knowledge? Luckily for the attendees of the Picademy, there could not have been a more inviting environment to learn, struggle, fail and celebrate successes (regardless of how minor or massive). This immediately took the pressure off me to feel as though I was in over my head, even if I was.

My big takeaway from Picademy​ had little to do with specific wire connections, lines of code or project ideas. What I learned from the experience was that learning isn’t something that has an on/off switch. There is a reason that learning is supposed to be a lifelong journey. I found myself immersed in learning something that challenged me physically and psychologically. The Picademy​ team created such a positive learning environment for our cohort that I wasn’t afraid to try something that was challenging me on so many levels. Actually, I kind of enjoyed failing. It caused me to rethink what I’d done, modify my design or expectations and try again.

My Pi​ future will undoubtedly expand as my comfort and experience develops. What will I make? Is there something earth shattering that I will design that can change the planet? Probably not. Maybe I’ll just get a light to blink on and off.

What I do know is that I will be developing training sessions to share with other educators across Missouri. I want to take what I have gained over the Picademy experience and help others see that if the expectations are that students will create amazing things at school, they first need to see their teachers modeling the behavior. Make a camera to photograph students entering the room to start their day. Build a weather station to show temperature, humidity or air pressure instead of just describing them. Heck, make a speedometer for the class hamster. The point is, to fully engage students in the learning process, teachers need to do more than just explain concepts. Show them. Have the class build something. Challenge them. Teachers need to show students that it’s alright to fail. You don’t have to be an expert at something, especially on the first try. After all, failing is often the first attempt at learning. If you’re succeeding the first time at everything then you’re likely not challenging yourself.

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