Why the Raspberry Pi?
I mean no disrespect to Lego Mindstorms, it’s a phenomenal product. But I don’t think it belongs in the high school computer science classroom for two reasons. The first is the friendly, drag-and-drop development environment. High school CS students should be exposed to scripting code and not given any Lego training wheels. The second, and perhaps more idealistic reason, is the open source nature of Lego’s alternatives for teaching basic, hands-on programming concepts.
The Raspberry Pi is not open-source hardware, but awfully close. It’s a $35 computer that can be mixed together with all sorts of custom sensors, motors, and even the Arduino, a fully open-source microcontroller board. It’s special because it’s a fully functioning computer, complete with its own version of Linux, Raspbian. I can use the Raspberry Pi to show students all of the essential computing components and then use it to build fantastic projects.
Searching for the Best Classroom Kit
My Computer Science I course is just one semester, about half of which I’ll be using for other content such as hardware maintenance, OS security, advanced MS Office tricks and the like. So when we turn our attention to the Raspberry Pi, I need to go from introduction to implementation with blazing speed. I’m currently explore two robotics kits, one from Dexter Industries and another from Mikronauts. The bot from Dexter Industries seems a lot more polished, but William Henning from Mikronauts has been supportive beyond any expectation. I’ll post a follow-up when I’m further along in my due diligence.
I’m conflicted about purchasing any kit, too. Part of the Raspberry Pi’s attraction is how many diverse projects can be tackled by the platform. Should I really make all my students start with a programmable robot? I think so, at least for this first year. But I’m eager to hear from more teachers and builders on what’s most practical and educational.
Raspberry Progress Thus Far
I’ve been having a tremendously fun time with the school’s first Raspberry Pi. So far, I’ve successfully assembled my GoPiGo from Dexter Industries, connected it to the network, remote accessed it through VNC, and programmed a Python app that avoids obstacles by scooting backwards and turning right. You can see an earlier draft of my script here.
LancerTech’s Ambitions for the Pi
The sky’s not even the limit with the Raspberry Pi as there are flying drones and upper-atmosphere weather balloons housing Raspberry Pi’s that keep their owners in control and informed about the device. The 2015-2016 school year is all about seeding the first generation of Raspberry-powered students. I hope to make the units available for sale to students at the end of the semester, or at least help the students buy a model on their own.
I’m confident that in 2017, guests at Gilmour Academy will find Raspberry Pi projects perhaps accessible as video game consoles in student centers, as a controller for a new greenhouse, or something entirely new. I can’t wait.