Meet Alex Martinez: bringing computing education and making to Puerto Rico

It’s #MagPiMonday again, so let’s delve into the pages of the latest issue of the official Raspberry Pi magazine. This week, Rob Zwetsloot introduces us to Puerto Rico makerspace organiser Alex Martinez.

Pi Wars may famously be an offshoot of CamJam, the Cambridge Raspberry Jam, but it’s not just limited to makers from that pocket of England. There are people who come from near and far to participate and, during the 2021 Pi Wars At Home competition, it even reached the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, and makerspace organiser Alex Martinez.

Puerto Rico Pi Wars robot Alex Martinez
The Pi Wars Puerto Rico team proudly representing themselves

“I am a former geologist that ended up teaching computers in our hometown Uno Academy School,” Alex tells us. “I teach the use of computers to kids from 1st-12th grade in the school. In 2017, I founded with my kids ‘Talleres de Marquesina’ Makerspace, a community makerspace in our home garage where we make many projects and share workshops with kids and family. I love new tools and learning new skills; right now I am learning to sew garments for my daughter. Also, I am mentoring deaf kids at Colegio San Gabriel in the SeaPerch underwater robotic program.”

What is your history with making?

From a very young age, I was very interested in building model airplanes and rockets. In school, I loved the woodshop program where we learned about tools and crafts. I think it is where the love for making started. But it was the Arduino ecosystem that sparked many projects in my adulthood; [I] mainly loved making wearables. Then we learned about digital fabrication with a 3D printer kit we built at home. Later we dived into the Raspberry Pi world, which helped me teach about computers and programming to kids in many workshops and classes around the island. We can summarise my adventure as a learning and sharing journey with others.

Puerto Rico Pi Wars robot
This beastie-like robot is ready to take on any challenge

When did you first learn about Raspberry Pi? 

In 2016 a friend from the makerspace showed me that the Raspberry Pi Foundation was coming to the USA to reach out to educators with Picademy. I enlisted and entered the first cohort of Raspberry Pi Certified Educators. It was an awesome experience to become a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator, mainly because of other educators’ openness to share teaching techniques to introduce Raspberry Pi in the classroom. Since then, I have been teaching computer programming and making workshop sessions for kids here in Puerto Rico.

Alex Martinez

What’s your history with robotics?

My journey in robotics started in 2015 when I needed to teach kids in a summer camp about robots, so I read and learned how to control motors and servos with Arduino. We bought a cheap Arduino kit for that camp and used online tutorials and books to teach me the subject. Then I came across the CamJam robotics kit [EduKit 3] when I entered the Raspberry Pi and Python world. I believe it is the easiest tool to teach robotics to kids.

Pi Wars robot
Have you ever tried to code a robot so that it can stay upright on a see-saw?

What have been some favourite moments from Pi Wars?

One of the best moments was when a local WAPA-TV host invited us to a morning session to share our Pi Wars journey with people across the island and some parts of the US. Visiting a TV station was an amazing experience for all of us.

Pi Wars robot
A true test of skill for this robot is the precision to sort these coloured blocks

The other was making videos for the competition. Our kids are very enthusiastic and very spontaneous; they made us laugh all the time. But on the last day to enter the videos, one of the motors of the robot failed on the spot and they felt so bad. That is where we had the opportunity to teach them about resilience and problem-solving skills. Two hours later we fixed the robot with slower motors, but they learned to never give up and to overcome. We came second place that year with a great life lesson for them.

2 comments

Craig Ferguson avatar

This is a really sweet story, and my hat off to Alex for introducing these kids to the world of SBCs and robotics. They are clearly having a great time in the photos, and the bots themselves look like a lot of fun! Great work.

Neftali Rivera avatar

¡Buen trabajo Álex! Los jóvenes a los que impactas ahora tienen otra perspectiva para su futuro académico.

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