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Tech in the Classroom:

Raspberry Pi

What is itGeared towards engineers, tinkerers and techies, this bare-bones, credit-card sized computer serves as a tool for teaching the fundamentals of computer science.

How does it work?  Two versions of the Raspberry Pi are available, priced at $25 and $35, respectively. The $35 B model was released on February 29 of last year, and the $25 A model was released nearly a year later. The device is extremely versatile, but in order to use it, users will first need to download the Raspbian Wheezy operating system from the Raspberry Pi site.

raspberry piThe OS needs to be saved to an SD card with at least 2GB of storage via the user’s main computer. There are a few ways to do this, depending on the operating system. Use an Internet search engine to easily find tutorials. As with any computer, the more GB, the better. A bigger SD card will provide the storage space necessary to really work with this computer. When the SD card has the software saved, users can transfer the image file of the Raspbian Wheezy OS to the Raspberry Pi by simply inserting the card into the designated slot.

Afterwards, connect a keyboard, mouse, monitor and Ethernet cable, followed by hooking up the power with the micro-USB port. Now the Raspberry Pi will boot and configure the necessary files for the system. During its first boot, the Raspi-Config menu will display. From here, all of the computer’s features can be set up. Users navigate the menu by using their keyboard’s arrow keys. Decide how you want to boot the system, and after a few moments, the Raspberry Pi will boot into the GUI. At this point educators will have full access to all the various tools and applications.

How hard is it to use? The Raspberry Pi isn’t easy for everyone to use. While Eben Upton’s invention was intended to be donated to lower-income students to promote teaching of programming skills, it’s generally proven a bit too advanced for today’s average K-12 technology learner. The device has instead found its core demographic in hackers and engineers. Also, educators new to Linux will have some learning to do.

How well does it work? This device is a fully functioning PC. The CPU—an ARMv6 running at 700Mhz—isn’t powerful. It is, however, powered cheaply by a USB cable and is even compatible with batteries. The Raspberry Pi can run a graphical environment with accelerated video through an HDMI port or a composite RCA jack, making it feasible to use a television as a primary monitor. The B model’s 512MB of RAM makes the device suitable for running many desktop applications. In addition, the Raspbian Wheezy OS is a Debian-derived Linux distribution and can run the same software as any other Linux distribution.

How do I use it in the classroom? The Raspberry Pi has a huge online community and growing wiki that will provide educators with everything they need to get their programming class started. The device is the perfect tool for forward-thinking teachers who are willing to teach this kind of technology to students.


Related resources

Read about other products featured in the Tech in the Classroom series.

Tech in the Classroom is a recurring feature that examines widely available technology, software and gadgets and how they might be used in a school setting.


Article by Jason Cunningham, EducationWorld Social Media Editor
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