Gaming From The Ground Up

Earlier this year Mike Bycraft, MS/HS Design & Innovation Department Head, was contacted by Hello World, a design and technology focused magazine started by Raspberry PiHello World was interested in how Mike and his students use the Raspberry Pi in their learning and creating. Mike immediately thought of Kevin, a sophomore whose interest in coding and inventing turned into a months long fun challenge. Below is the article Mike wrote, featured in the magazine’s current issue. 

The glowing cabinet is the center of attention at Korea International School’s Design and Innovation Center. Amid laser cutters and 3D printers it dominates the scene. A group of students gather around during lunch playing a racing game. The students cheer one another on. I see a student glance down and overhear, “That little thing runs all this? Cool.”

BycraftArticle4Standing two meters tall, the massive arcade machine is a monument to creativity, technical skills, and collaboration; all values espoused by Korea International School’s Design and Innovation program. KIS is a private school that serves the international and Korean population in Pangyo, a suburb of Seoul.

KIS has a robust design program that begins in Kindergarten, and continues through the primary, and secondary schools. The educational focus is on design thinking and project based learning. Classes examine real world problems, and attempt to create solutions. Students are encouraged to follow their passions, and incorporate personal interests into their work.   

Authentic educational experiences are everywhere. Elementary art students learn printmaking, and create images of endangered animals to raise awareness. They sell those prints, donating the money to animal conservation. Middle school students plan and design themed mini-golf courses, which are open to all at an annual school golf tournament. In high school, CAD students search for needs in the school, then build solutions, working closely with their teachers  to ensure real applications of skills. One project saw students design a secondary STEM suite, presenting their work to the head of school. Their proposal became reality six months later.

Kevin, currently a sophomore at KIS, has consistently raised the bar with his projects. Kevin has  programmed video games, soldered custom keyboards, and designed robots for the school’s competitive VEX robotics team. Kevin noticed that the school’s rotating block schedule was complicated, so he created an automated app that emailed students their schedule each day before classes.

Even with all his designs, the Raspberry Pi arcade cabinet is his crowning achievement. The machine is the culmination of almost two years work by Kevin and his teachers. “I did a lot of 3D modeling in my free time and wanted to do something big,” says Kevin.  “I ended up with a 2 meter tall, life-size Arcade Machine that runs off a Raspberry Pi and RetroPie. It runs retro video games from old game consoles like the SNES.”

A number of teachers worked with Kevin, to help bring his ideas to fruition. “I made a miniature Arcade Machine in my 8th Grade Engineering class using a raspberry pi and retropie,” says Kevin. “I was then asked by my programming teacher in my freshmen year if I wanted to use that experience to create a life size model.”

BycraftArticle5Justin Marslender, an educational technology specialist was one of the main teachers working with Kevin. Marslender’s woodworking skills complemented Kevin’s computing knowledge well. “It was great working with Kevin on this. Since I handled most of the physical construction and he the technical side, we met regularly to see what we could and could not do. He was always thinking about how to add another feature.”

Humble Beginnings

The massive machine started as a small idea in Kevin’s 8th grade engineering class. “Mr. Bycraft, do you know what a Raspberry Pi is?” Two years ago Kevin asked me that question in my Collaborative Engineering class. We had just begun the ‘Entertainment and Gaming’ unit. Kevin had seen a Raspberry Pi used to build a handheld video game emulator. He was inspired to create his own system. Most students in class constructed board games, toys for younger students. Kevin had bigger plans.

I loved working with Raspberry Pis, and wanted to find an opportunity to introduce the Pi into class. Kevin’s project was a real application that I knew would get attention. Kevin worked diligently in class to learn coding for the Raspberry Pi. There were setbacks, but over the weeks a wooden handheld gaming device came to life. It used a 7 inch monitor, lithium battery and a USB controller. The Pi ran RetroPie emulator, and to everyone’s amazement it worked perfectly.

Kevin and I were ecstatic. The game console inspired students to explore coding and learning Pis. I use microcontrollers in my class often, but this represented a significant step up in technology, coding, and design. The handheld game motivated us to do more.

Building the Arcade

In 9th grade Kevin took Computer Aided Design. He was encouraged to take his Raspberry Pi to the next level. High school students have an autonomous block where they can explore individual passion projects. Kevin reached out to a few teachers to begin building a true arcade machine.

BycraftArticle8After months of planning the design began to come together. Justin Marslender encouraged the use of recycled materials. “I really enjoyed the challenge of putting this together from scratch and repurposed material–leftover monitor and speakers; lights from several old document cameras; all sorts of scrap lumber from the MS Makerspace.” The cabinet contains a recycled 17 inch Dell monitor. The sound is provided by an old set of PC speakers set and a subwoofer. The rig is cooled by a upcycled computer fan, and a strip of LEDs light the marquee.

BycraftArticle3In a particularly inspired design, the controllers can be stored in two 3D printed holders. Between the controllers the Raspberry Pi is visible under a clear acrylic sheet, showing off the brains of the machine for all to see. Like before a Raspberry Pi 3B runs the RetroPie emulation station.

“I think the arcade machine at KIS here serves as a method to show students where they can expand their learning.” Says Marslender. The cabinet continues to inspire students to make their interests come alive. They play games at lunch, but also know that this isn’t just an arcade cabinet. It’s two years of work and planning made real by their peers and teachers.

Tips For Creating Authentic Student Projects

Creating an atmosphere for student achievement and making can be challenging, but makes for great experiences. These are ways to help build that atmosphere in your school:

  • Build a maker mindset, where failure is a gift to be learned from from.
  • Encourage solutions to real world problems that require empathizing with an authentic audience.
  • The giving and receiving of feedback is an essential tool that is developed in the design process.
  • Create open time where students can create and follow their interests.
  • Pair students with teachers and other experts to help grow their projects.
  • Realize the learning outcome is the process, and not the final product.

Congratulations Mike, Kevin and Justin Marslender (EdTech) for your feature in Hello World. Hoping this inspires more KIS Raspberry Pi fun!

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