Since its launch, the Raspberry Pi has generated a lot of interest internationally. Now multiple orders are accepted, schools and other educational organisations can begin to devise strategies for deployment, teaching and learning with the Raspberry Pi in the classroom.
This brief overview is designed to provide some advice and support for educational professionals in schools who are interested or planning to make use of the Raspberry Pi in the classroom. This focuses on the following aspects:
If you are looking for technical advice on setting up the Raspberry Pi, visit the Raspberry Pi Foundation website. Also, there is an increasing number of valuable publications available, such as the very good Raspberry Pi User Guide, written by Eben Upton and Gareth Halfacree.
An educational manual has been recently published and is now available to download from the Raspberry Pi website.
These and other resources are valuable for further research.
From the outset have a clear rationale for using the device with children and young people. For example, if all you intend to do is to teach the Python programming language, this can be readily achieved by simply installing the appropriate version of the software onto existing computers. If you intend to introduce children and young people to the potential of programming the device as a media centre, a productivity device, a web server or for controlling a range of peripheral hardware then the Raspberry Pi is a good place to start.
Ultimately, a strategy will depend upon a number of factors such as the number of Raspberry Pi devices, the availablity of other ICT resources, Internet access and the location of electrical power sockets in classroom spaces.
Clearly the strategy for deploying a single or multiple devices will be different. At the very least, the Raspberry Pi will require an SD Card with the operating system (OS), a power supply and either an ethernet cable or USB WiFi adapter to access the Internet.
Whilst the Raspberry Pi is well built, protecting the device by enclosing in a case is ideal. Not only does this keeps the circuit board protected from curiousity and prying fingers but also ensures that no accidental damage to the components can be caused by the rough and tumble of everday use. Apart from the general purpose input-output (GPIO) port, all the main sockets are accessible with a case. A Raspberry Pi enclosed in a clear case is illustrated (click image to enlarge).
Providing each child or young person with their own SD Card to use with the device is a good strategy – this means they can take responsibility for the SD Card and any programs they write will be saved securely on the card. Creating a user account on the SD Card for each child or young person is recommended, especially if a single card is to be used by more than one.
The requirements and process for the initial setup of Raspberry Pi devices is provided in the quick start guide. In our experience, it is easiest to hook up the device to a HDMI TV, attach to a local network with an ethernet cable and attach a USB keyboard. Once started, use the configuration package of the Raspberry Pi to setup the locale and date as well as the keyboard type. The list of supported keboards is extensive and choosing the right one important otherwise you can end up with some strange key strokes!
By far the easiest option is to tether a Raspberry Pi to a deskto computer or laptop. If you plan to deploy a number of Raspberry Pi devices in one classroom or around the school site, then some technical advice on installation and setup may be required.
In most cases, access to other computer resources is essential. As outlined above, at the very least there will be a need to have access to a desktop or laptop computer as well as the Internet. Another alternative is to use tablet devices such as the iPad® or even an iPhone® running a suitable App. The image opposite shows the Prompt App on the iPad accessing the Raspberry Pi over a WiFi network (click the image to enlarge).
Access to external storage devices such as USB Mass Storage (UMS) will be neccesary for large files such as video. Using USB memory sticks is appealing for storage and retrieval of personal files but may contain rogue sofware which could also infect the RaspBerry Pi too! USB can be used to obtain data such as aduio and video.
If you are planning to use the Raspberry Pi with hardware devices connected to the GPIO port there is a range of products on the market to consider such as the Slice of Pi, the Protyping Pi Plate and the GertBoard (Update: unfortunately the Gertboard is no longer available). These three are in kit form and will need assembling and soldering. The Gertboard incorporated additional features to increase the range of programmable options from the Raspberry Pi and the potential complexity of projects but is no longer available.
All of these add-on boards need to be assembled and then fitted permanently. The Slice of Pi board only partially covers the Raspberry Pi, whereas both the Protyping Pi Plate and Gertboard cover the whole device.
Tethering a Raspberry Pi to a computer or a local network is a good option, obviating the need to continually attach and detach the power supply and ethernet cables. It is also safer to plug the power supply into a switched socket. Click image to enlarge.
A Raspberry Pi connected to a local network can be easily acessed by other computers with an ethernet cable or WiFi capability. As mentioned earlier, tablet devices such as the iPad can access a Raspberry Pi connected to a network via WiFi.
Having decided on the educational rationale and deployment strategies, the next thing to consider and plan in detail is the nature of the curriculum as well as the teaching and learning schemes of work, pitched appropriately to the knowledge, skills and understanding of children and young people.
To some extent this will depend on specific learning objectives. Using the Raspberry Pi to provide the context for learning about writing and testing programs to create a media centre, a productivity device, a web server or control and respond to signals from hardware attached to the GPIO port or USB via an add-on board (see above). Examples include robots and motorised devices, sensors and monitoring devices such as light and temperature levels. There is an interesting range of robotics available as Lego® components.
Similarly to the previous consideration, methodologies for making assessments of the starting points, progress and achievement of children and young people is important.
Please note: Raspberry Pi is a trademark of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. LEGO® is a trademark of the LEGO Group of companies which does not sponsor, authorise or endorse this site.