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Design expedition

Mission 1 of 4

Light Show


1 hour

Ages 8+

Learn how to use an 8x8 LED matrix to create 64-bit artwork, designs, and messages to display and share while understanding pixels and bits.

Now it’s your turn! Piperbot and Pip have stumbled across an LED billboard and are up to trouble trying to flash their faces on it. You will use code to create multicolored art on their 8x8 LED matrices and explore light as a medium for their designs.

View student interface at




Computer with USB port and Chrome or Edge browser
Piper Make Starter Kit
Piper Make Light Show


Learning Goals

  1. Students will understand how technology is reshaping the world of art.  
  2. Students will gain an understanding of RGB LEDs, what they are, and what they do. 
  3. Students will reinforce their knowledge about RGB (Red, Blue, Green) values and how they describe colors. 
  4. Students will learn what is a pixel and what is a bit as it relates to graphics. 
  5. Students will learn that a binary has two possible numbers, 1 or 0. 

Learning Activities

The following sections will contain step by step instructions for ELA, ELD and Math extensions directly related to this mission. Adjust the directions to fit your ELA, ELD and Math standards.

ELA Extension: Video Game Advancements

Start by watching this video with the students about the history of video games: A brief history of video games (Part I) - Safwat Saleem  

  • Ask students to describe the differences between two video games from different eras. Use one example from an original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) game, such as the original Mario Bros, and one from a currently popular online game. 
  • Create a list of the video games students compare on the board or a digital whiteboard. 
  • Next, ask them to focus on the game's appearance and consider why the two look so different.  
  • Have students look up, discuss, and cite information on pixels and how they affect the quality of graphics.  
  • They will then work in pairs to make a short presentation comparing two games from two eras - 80s/90s vs. a game released in the last eight years. 

ELD Extension: Color Chef Students will become color chefs and start cooking up different colors.

  • The link below contains a tool from PBS Learning that allows students to adjust the levels of red, blue, and green colors to see how changing the intensity level of each color creates new colors. Visit the URL below and have the students create a unique color by blending red, blue, and green.  
  • Have students record their color formulas in a notebook or on a sheet of paper. For example, if you eliminate Green and only Red and Blue remain, the resulting color is pink.  
  • Start a timer of 7-10 minutes and have students create a physical or digital journal. In this journal, they will record their recipes for each color discovered. When they find a different shade of green than they already have, instruct them to give it a more descriptive name, such as light green, dark green, yellow-green, etc.  
  • Then, using Flipgrid, have them record a “cooking lesson” on creating some of their discovered colors. Instruct them to use the stickers and filters included in Flipgrid so that they look more like a chef and it a cooking show.  

Math Extension: Pixels and Bits Start by displaying an image of the original Nintendo Entertainment System and then an image from a game such as the original Mario Bros.

  • Ask the students how many colors they see and then guess how many colors they believe the system can display simultaneously. Note that the original Nintendo had 8-bit graphics and then upgraded to Super Nintendo with 16-bit graphics.  
  • After this estimation game, show them this short video on binary code: Binary BrainPOP
  • First, let’s review the difference between 2x2 vs. 22 to ensure students understand that the x, or *, is used for multiplication, but an exponent is the base number (larger written number) times itself, dependent on the exponent.  
  • Work with students to solve 23 , 24 then leave the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th up to them and have them work in pairs to solve.  
  • Leave students with a challenge question to take home by displaying the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Explain that this is a 16-bit system and that they must solve how many colors it can display.  

Hardware Diagram

Code Diagram

Tutorial Steps



Troubleshooting Tips

  • Notice the orientation of the Light Show LED Matrix Board in the wiring image. Follow the wiring diagram and correctly place the wires, some of which will cross, on the Breadboard. 
  • The color of the Jumper Wires in the diagram may be different from the colors in your kit. Jumper Wires can be used interchangeably. The color does not represent any difference in the Piper Kits. 
  • To change the colors on your Light Show LED Matrix Board, click above or below the text on the Pixel Grid block, and the color choices will appear. 
  • Is the Start button not green? Don’t forget to connect your Pico. 

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Material Library

A servo, which is short for servomotor, is a special kind of motor that is used to control something by moving it. A simple motor moved by spinning continuously. A servo turns to a specific position and it uses gears to transform the high speed of the motor into more force so it can move things more easily.

The servo is connected using three wires: one for ground, one for power, and one for a signal that tells the servo motor what position to turn to. The Pico tells the servo what position to turn to by changing the width of the pulse that it is sending out. A pulse with a shorter "ON" time will turn to one side, and a pulse with a longer "ON" time will turn to the opposite side.

The motor inside of the servo turns very fast, but it is also weak - it cannot apply very much force. The gears inside the servo convert the motor's high speed and low force into a slower speed with more force.

Career Connections

Robotics Technician: Salary $60,570/yr
Automotive Engineer: Salary $95,300/yr
Civil Engineer: Salary $88,050/yr
Industrial Designer: Salary $75,910/yr

Standards Alignment

CSK12 Framework
  • CA 3-5.AP.17. Test and debug a program to ensure it accomplishes the intendedtask.
  • CA 3-5.CS.2. Demonstrate how computer hardware and software work together as a system to accomplish tasks.
  • CA 3-5.CS.3. Determine potential solutions to solve simple hardware and software problems using common troubleshooting strategies.
Math ELA
  • Grade 3: writing applications-2.1, 2.2;
  • Written and Oral English Language Conventions - 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.7, 1.8
  • Grade 4: writing strategies-1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.10, Writing applications - 2.1
  • Grade 5: Writing strategies-1.1, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6; writing applications - 2.1
  • Grade 3: ELD.PI.A.3.1, ELD.PI.A.3.2, ELD.PI.B.3.5, ELD.PI.B.3.6, ELD.PI.C.3.10, ELD.PII.C.3.6
  • Grade 4: ELD.PI.A.4.1, ELD.PI.A.4.2, ELD.PI.B.4.5, ELD.PI.B.4.6, ELD.PI.C.4.10,ELD.PII.C.4.6
  • Grade 5: ELD.PI.A.5.1, ELD.PI.A.5.2, ELD.PI.B.5.5, ELD.PI.B.5.6, ELD.PI.C.5.10, ELD.PII.C.5.6