Raspberry Pi in the Classroom – Step 2

Now, should I plug in the Pi? How will I know what to do?

If you have not read my first post on this subject: Raspberry Pi in the Classroom – Step 1: I have a Pi but I haven’t plugged it in and I’m not sure where to start… then you might want to start there.

If you have never connected a Raspberry Pi and turned it on then it will look different from other computers you have used. When initially being connected to power (as there is no ‘button’ for on and off) it will load as a screen of scrolling text (command line) and then ask for a username and password. I am not going to write a tutorial here for how to log on to your pi and do certain things, but there are already plenty of blog posts around that do that and the Raspberry Pi foundation website is extremely useful for getting started.

How you approach the first time you use a Pi is up to you and how comfortable you are showing children that you don’t know (yet) either. Option 1 is to have a go yourself and then when you’re confident enough, introduce it to the children in your class. Personally, I know that if I was going to have a go myself first, to check I could do everything, I wouldn’t get around to doing it. Option 2 is to have a go with a group of children first – maybe in a lunchtime. I always like looking at new stuff with a group of children because that’s where the excitement comes from – that’s what shows you it is worth taking your time to do it!

When I introduced my Pi to the first group of children, I wanted to model to them what I do when I don’t know how something works. The idea of ‘Who comes to my house and tells me what to do?’ This is why it really didn’t matter to me if I’d never turned a Pi on before, I was with them and its really nice for the children to see you as a learner as well as a teacher. This process of demonstrating is really important and is a skill that they can use beyond being in my class.

We get started by connecting all the cables (much like a case of matching blocks to holes – they really only go in one way) and then last but not least, we plug the Pi into the electricity. The screen comes on and there is a cheer of success! We did it! Then the infamous question: what next? So I asked the children, what do we do now? It said something about a log in and a username… Eventually one of them suggested searching for it and I guided them to the idea that the Raspberry Pi foundation website is likely to have some advice. Here we found all that we needed to get them logged on to the graphical user interface (something that looks like a desktop) and this was enough success for their first attempt.

Once you’ve had a dry run and modelled to some of your students how to do it, you’re ready to get going with your class. This could be as part of the previous lesson or as a follow on. As I said before, it really depends on your teaching style and your class – as long as their understanding happens in the end it doesn’t matter the route you take to get there. I’m sure by this point the children are itching to plug it all in and get it working. Just remember to get it all plugged in first and then connect it to the mains. Don’t be surprised if some of the children are nervous about getting it wrong or not being able to do it.

Here are some quotes I had: ‘I don’t know what to do – I’ve never done it before!’ and ‘What if I do it wrong and it doesn’t work?’

This is precisely the reason why we’re doing this activity. If you could already do it – what would you be learning? Many children, particularly those who have been in schools with desktop computers, have had years of being told ‘not to touch’. This is routed in the fear that they would unplug something, no one would notice, and then the computer wouldn’t work. If we’d then left them the task of working out WHY it had suddenly stopped working, we might not be in such a difficult situation now! It may take you a few months to stamp the worry out of children, particularly if they’re fixated on not being told what to do.

The first time my class got hold of Raspberry Pis and just a box full of equipment (if I was more organised and had neatly boxed kits it would have been much quicker – but where’s the fun in that?) it took them 20-30 minutes to put together the Pis with Digital Leaders on hand for questioning purposes. As I said, I literally put a monitor in carefully positioned places around the classroom (near plug sockets) assigned a group to each monitor and then handed them a Pi, from there it was a free-for-all to the box of equipment in the front of the room.

At this point, it is good to know that this style and methodology is only that which I would use whilst teaching them what a computer is, inputs/outputs and how to use a Raspberry Pi. If my lesson focus was programming, and I was using a Raspberry Pi to do it, I would have a pre-organised kit to minimise set up time. David Whale has some good suggestions for how to manage this here.

When the children have got the satisfaction of turning on the Pi and seeing the familiar (or at least it soon will be familiar to them) Raspberry on the desktop, they will be wanting to know what to do next. Now, as the learning was focused on their understanding of the different computer peripherals and their role within the computer, I would let them explore something familiar in Scratch for whatever is left of the lesson. If you want to make it specifically related you could ask them to make an animation or a game surrounding the idea of connecting the peripherals to the computer or sorting inputs and outputs.

Other options which individuals could do even if they were sharing a Pi are things like Thinglink. Using photos and videos of the Pi to explain what they’ve learned. Something similar to this:

Next step
Step 3: Now, the children understand what a computer is – what do I do with it now?

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