How I Use It
I use a Raspberry Pi to teach fourth and fifth grade students the components of a computer, by asking them to take a box of parts and make a functioning computer out of them. I supply a keyboard, mouse, monitor with a VGA connection, an HDMI to VGA cable that includes a 3.5mm audio cable, a speaker, a Raspberry Pi (in a case with the USB ports accessible), a powered USB hub and a power supply. I then ask a team of 3-4 students to make a working computer out of these parts! It shows the students what their functions are, how important each part is, but also demonstrates that the only truly necessary part of the kit is the Pi itself, as components can be unplugged and reattached, with little to no difference in what the Pi is doing. Once it is all assembled and working, the students can open Scratch and work on a coding task together using the inbuilt software, create a document or picture, or whatever task you would like them to complete.
A Raspberry Pi is just a computer. It seems quite underwhelming at first, as you unpack a small, bare bones circuit board, with no idea what to do next. Why is there such a fuss about this small board, and why doesn’t it look pretty? However, that is the point of a Pi: it is up to you what you do with it. A device the size of a credit card that costs about $35 with a 1ghz processor, in-built wi-fi and bluetooth and a microSD card for a hard drive presents many possibilities. You can absolutely plug a keyboard, mouse and monitor into it and use it to browse the internet and send emails, and the free operating system includes most programs you would need in a personal computer. However, the possibilities of having a smaller, fully programmable computer soon become apparent. Once the device has been programmed to run the program of your choice, it can be controlled with just a few pre-programmed buttons (like the controls on the front of a monitor). Popular projects include wireless cameras that automatically upload photos to a cloud account, internet radios that can be mounted inside older vintage radio boxes, or video game consoles that can run hundreds of nostalgic games. It allows the user to consider what they would like a computer to do if it didn’t need the bulky components that we assume are necessary for a computer. However, when used as a traditional computer, there is a lot of focus on teaching coding to all using free, open source programs with plenty of online communities to support it. The only conundrums are what to do with your device and your extra desk space.