When I first heard that NICERC was going to implement the Raspberry Pi into our curriculum, I wondered, why the Raspberry Pi? Why would we not build a Computer Science curricula around the computers that the schools already have in their classroom? Here are some of the questions I had about using the Raspberry Pi to teach Computer Science and what I figured out after playing around with it.
Is it cost effective?
One of the first doubts I had was whether or not schools would be able to implement these into a normal classroom. The first thing everyone hears and/or knows about the Raspberry Pi is it is only $35. While this is true, it also needs a case, screen, mouse and keyboard, bringing the cost above $35. However, most schools already have most of those supplies lying around and if they don’t, the total cost of everything is still cheaper than buying a desktop computer.
How much space will it take up?
Besides the cost, I also wondered if a teacher would have to be in a computer lab-sized classroom to use these. The Raspberry Pi can fit in a pocket and can be run on just about any size screen—even a laptop screen. Therefore, it can easily fit on a normal high school desk with room still left to fit paper or books. If a teacher also teaches another subject, the Raspberry Pi can easily be set-up and/or taken down and stored in a matter of minutes. I know of several classrooms in South Carolina in which each student has their own Micro SD card (less than $10) that they swap out of their Pi so students in different classes can’t mess up their work on accident.
Will students enjoy this computer more than a normal computer?
This computer can challenge students in so many ways and on many different levels. Students of all ages can enjoy it—I’ve seen adults with many years of computer science experience build and create with it, and I’ve also watched my 7-year-old nephew play around with one. Students can be challenged with building robots or any small electronics controlled by the Pi, create their own games to play, play already created games, turn it into an old gaming system (e.g. SNES, Nintendo 64, etc.). The options are endless! I have had students enjoy them so much that they purchased one for themselves to use and play with at home.
Can the Raspberry Pi be used to teach Computer Science?
I used to teach a class in which seniors became A+ certified through CompTIA. The biggest challenge I faced was not having admin rights on the school’s computers. The students have full admin rights on the Raspberry Pi to do whatever they want (though be careful, school’s networks are still limited). Even if the students mess up the hard drive, it takes less than 10 minutes to reinstall the operating system onto the MicroSD card. The Raspberry Pi comes with multiple programming languages already installed on it, and more languages can be installed. Lastly, there are tons of operating systems that the students can put onto to their Pi—they are not limited to a certain one. Raspberry Pis are perfect for a high school classroom and using them to teach computer science.
This blog post comes from Joe MacAdam, one of NICERC’s Curriculum Development Specialists.