Raspberry Pi in the Classroom – Step 3

Now, the children understand what a computer is – what do I do with it now?

If you have not read my first and second posts 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… and Raspberry Pi in the Classroom – Step 2: Now, should I plug the Pi in? How will I know what to do? then you might want to start there.

If you have not already decided, you need to think about the reason you are using a Raspberry Pi for your lesson as opposed to another device.

My reasons for including the Raspberry Pi in my Computing curriculum is its flexibility to a variety of situations with relatively low-cost ways of adapting it for challenge and differentiation. If you are solely using a Raspberry Pi for Scratch – it’s really not worth it, just use a standard laptop/desktop/netbook and the online version.

Here are some of the things which I am hoping to do at the moment. This may change over time and as my school grows into their Computing curriculum but as it stands each year I am planning to have elements of physical computing where children can see the reality of their actions rather than just some changes on a screen.

Add ons for Raspberry Pi: Pibrella and Makey Makey

  1. Makey Makeys – To continue the children’s understanding of inputs I want to pursue the idea that the input device is irrelevant. The computer just interprets a signal and if you tell it when you press [a jellybaby] it’s the same as pressing space – it knows no difference!
  2. Pibrella – During year 4, I want the children to begin using a Raspberry Pi to experiment with something called Pibrella. Pibrella is an add-on that connects to the GPIO pins on the Raspberry Pi and gives the children access to LEDs, a buzzer and a button which they can learn to control through programming. This can be achieved through the use of Scratch (a special GPIO version) or writing python.
  3. Extension to Pibrella – Pibrella is a great, hassle-free, way for the children to experiment with a range of different devices and programming them with a variety of challenges. If the children have an interest and want to challenge themselves beyond this you can buy sensors and additional lights plugged into a breadboard to program further. Really this means that children can begin to create incredibly complex systems that interact with the environment – it’s very cool!
  4. To engage year 5, I’m hoping to use something like PiCars or a Pi robot for their physical computing aspect. At this point I haven’t made a firm commitment (it will be a couple of years before they’re adept enough in other areas to reach this) but the Pi is a great vehicle for this. Unlike other robotics kits, we can use the Pi in other areas so there are no worries about how much it will get used and whether it is worth the investment. As well as this, you can add to and extend your robot as much as you like making them easy to differentiate.
  5. Currently, I’m considering something like Seven Segments of Pi for year 6 but again we’ll see when the time comes. I definitely want to begin exposing them to Python code – highlighting the similarities to the concepts they already recognise in Scratch. Seven Segments of Pi is apparently the Simplest Games Console in the World! However, although it may be simple, it includes all of the elements of any games console – ‘Control’ and ‘Display’. A single Red Push Button acts as your Control and a Seven Segment LED acts as your Display. But, unlike other games consoles, this one is designed to run software written by the user!

As well as the opportunities for physical computing and programming in the ‘real’ world. The Pi also offers a unique way for programming on screen with built in software to allow you to compile code. When programming, there is always the chance that you will break the existing programs on your computer. On an ‘average’ computer corrupting existing programs could be quite traumatic and result in it needing all your previous software reinstalling (and likely sending to a shop for fixing). If you break something on a Pi, you just wipe the SD card and install everything again – easy!

In year 5 I am hoping to give the children an opportunity to use SonicPi as a bridge between Scratch and a written programming language. It can be differentiated for similar activities to be carried out with Scratch blocks, so if a group aren’t ready for that transition they can still access the same curriculum content. As well as this, SonicPi is great for support as it is based around sounds, so you can hear errors. This makes debugging a lot easier when trying to isolate an error.

As I’ve said already, by year 6 I am hoping to introduce Python to the children – likely alongside Scratch to help them see the concepts they have been learning in a more real-world situation. Exactly what I will have them programming in Python again has yet to be decided, however, it could be anything from a story starter generator, to an adventure game! Again, the point is really to show children that programming puts you in control – you can make anything happen!

Another avenue I’m looking to explore further is Minecraft programming. If you work with KS2, or you have a child of that age, then you will no doubt have heard of Minecraft. If you have somehow managed to avoid the Minecraft world, the best way I’ve heard it described is like ‘virtual lego’: you have blocks and you build stuff with it. What’s cool about Minecraft on the Pi is that it comes with the option to program it in Python. In its simplest form, you can program with a range of complexities from: creating a teleport to change your character’s location in the game, to making a ‘real life’ robot move when your character does, or have a light come on when you’re near a certain object. Even if not incorporated into the curriculum it will make an awesome after school club!

These are just some of the ideas I have thought of and there are lots more on other blogs. Really, you just need to decide which areas you want to develop and start small. By the time that I get to teaching some of these units, I am well aware that they may have evolved into something very different. The Pi is definitely a way of moving with the times because it does not have many of those restraints – you can make it what you want! The Pi is a tool like many others; imagination and creativity make it a fantastic way to get children engaged and excited about the new curriculum.

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