Raspberry Pi Educational Pilot

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The Raspberry Pi is a $35 educational computer designed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation in Cambridge, England. It is intended to provoke and enable experimentation with computer programming and educational technology.

Educational Potential of the Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi can be used in teaching a number of topics related to logic, computer programming, electronics and computer technology, and mathematics. It provides a basic computer system, roughly equivalent to a good desktop PC from the early 2000's, on a circuit board exactly the same size as a credit card. You can use the Raspberry Pi in many different ways; for example, it can:

  • ...plug into a television or computer monitor, USB keyboard and mouse, and a computer network for use as a basic productivity computer
  • ...attach to just a television for an information display, slideshow, or movie player
  • ...connect to various devices; for example:
    • With a set of speakers, the Raspberry Pi can read out information or play recordings
    • With a webcam and battery pack, it can record video during science experiments, such as a launch via weather-balloon
  • ...easily connect to devices such as lights (LEDs), switches, and sensors
  • ...run a webserver
  • ...be the controller for:
    • a robot
    • models and displays
    • lights
    • special effects in drama presentations

The Raspberry Pi can be programmed in many different languages, including:

    • Scratch, a visual environment that's great for novice programmers, including very young children
    • Python, a powerful but easy-to-learn programming language
    • many traditional programming languages, including BASIC, C, C++, Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby, Haskell, and many others

Capabilities of the Raspberry Pi

It's important to know the capabilities and limitations of the Raspberry Pi:

  • The Pi has 256 MB of memory. This is enough for most casual program use, such as word processing, spreadsheets, and browsing, but is not sufficient for the simultaneous use of several graphical user interface programs at the same time. It is plenty of memory for many web serving and control tasks, since these tasks don't require a graphical user interface.
  • The processor on the Pi is a 700 MHz ARM processor. This is not really fast compared to a modern PC, but still offers plenty of power for many purposes. Since this is an ARM processor, it will not directly run Microsoft Windows.
  • Storage is provided by SD cards (the same cards used in most digital cameras). These are inexpensive, have high capacity, and are durable (your students can accidentally leave them in their jean pockets and they'll still work after the laundry is done). Students can have multiple SD cards configured with different software and swap between them.
  • The Pi runs Linux. This open source software is free and fully modifiable. Tens of thousands of programs are available, ranging from productivity applications (image editing, word processing, spreadsheets) to computer computer programming languages (Python, Perl, C/C++, PHP, Lua, BASIC, and many others), from servers (web, ftp) to science and technology tools (experiment logging, machine vision, voice synthesis). A basic "image" is downloaded and copied to the SD card, and then the Pi's user can add and remove software to customize the system as they see fit. Alternately, an image can be customized by a teacher and then copied for use on student computers.
  • The Pi has a high-definition video output (HDMI) that can directly connect to high-definition televisions and most LCD computer monitors, at resolutions up to the 1080p (Blu-ray quality). It also has a standard video connector for use with older televisions. The system has 3D graphics capabilities and high-definition video decoding.
  • At this time, regular 2D graphics do not use the 3D accelerator built into the Pi. Therefore, the regular graphical user interface is somewhat slow. The 2D graphics will be hooked up to the 3D accelerator at some point in the future.

Seneca CDOT and the Raspberry Pi

Seneca's Centre for Development of Open Technology (CDOT) has been collaborating with the Fedora project to build thousands of open source software packages for energy-efficient ARM computer systems such as the Raspberry Pi. We have prepared a software environment for the Pi based on this work, called the Raspberry Pi Fedora Remix. We also have experience introducing students to computer programming and computer technology, and CDOT faculty have founded initiatives such as TeachingOpenSource.org.

We're excited about the Raspberry Pi's potential as an educational tool.

Educational Pilots

We would like to partner with Ontario schools to pilot the use of the Raspberry Pi as an educational tool. We're open to many different approaches, but suggest the following:

  • The Raspberry Pi can be used in different ways with a variety of grades. Since basic literacy and numeracy are useful prerequisites, material could be matched to students anywhere from about grade 4 to grade 12.
  • The Pi is intended as a personal, exploratory tool. It is recommended that each student purchase their own personal Raspberry Pi. Alternately, a classroom set could be used, with each student having their own SD card.
  • Interfacing electronic devices (such as LEDs or switches) to the Raspberry Pi is relatively straightforward, but this may be more suitable for students in higher grade levels because of the precautions that must be taken to prevent damage to the Pi.

Seneca CDOT is willing to provide software images, technical support, curriculum consultation, teacher training, and customized educational materials for pilot projects.

For Further Information

If you are interested in participating in a educational pilot, please contact:

    Chris Tyler
    Industrial Research Chair, Open Source Technology for Emerging Platforms
    Seneca College Centre for Development of Open Technology

    email: chris.tyler@senecacollege.ca
    phone: 416-491-5050 ext 33315
    google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/104656570064624152708/

Raspberry Pi devices may be obtained from Element14/Newark.

The Raspberry Pi and Other Hackputers at FSOSS 2012

This year, the Seneca Free Software and Open Source Symposium will feature a full day related to software, hardware, and education based on the Raspberry Pi and related hackputers. For details, please see the FSOSS 2012 Hackputing Day page.