Computer Students Explore Uses for Raspberry Pi

The Tiny Device Allows Students to Explore Their Creativity and IngenuityIn Scott Storm’s computer science class, students work in groups on projects using a credit card sized device called a Raspberry Pi. It’s a low-cost, tiny computer that can do most things your PC can do, from playing video games to browsing the Internet. But in addition, the Raspberry Pi can be used for a wide variety of digital maker projects, including tweeting birdhouses with cameras, to playing retro 80’s video games. The potential for this $35 dollar device is endless, as long as you have the time and know-how to do it.Mr. Storm’s students have both, which is why they’ve embarked on a journey to discover what they can accomplish with this device. The projects are simply amazing.After exploring Raspberry Pi ideas online, students presented their projects to the class and then voted on their favorites. Projects with the winning votes were given the green light and student groups were assembled. P3163782 300x225 One of these ideas, called the Mirror, Mirror Project, involves using a two-way mirror, the kind usually seen on TV when criminals are brought to a lineup for identification. This mirror, however, works differently. With the help of a Raspberry Pi and a flat screen TV, the mirror becomes a computer screen and a mirror at the same time, projecting time, date, weather, and a real-time news feed across the mirror as you see your reflection.Katrina Brown, a senior at CLHS, works on the mirror project with three other students. “We’re working on a TV monitor and they have it hooked up to a Raspberry Pi. We’re programming it to display things and we’re going to put it behind two-way glass.”When students look in the mirror, they will see their image alongside a weather and time display, powered by the Raspberry Pi.Another project, called “Retro Pi,” allows users to play old video games from the 1980’s using a Raspberry Pi and a screen. This requires a few things, including ROM’s or copies of the game and an emulator, which is an application that plays the ROM. The final outcome will allow students to play games like Pac Man and Donkey Kong using the Raspberry Pi, a controller, and screen. MRG6212 300x199 Noah Snider, a freshman at CLHS, had no computer programming experience before coming to this class, but has been impressed by what the Raspberry Pi can do. “When it comes to the Raspberry Pi, it’s small--you can put anything on it. It’s almost limitless.”Other projects using the Raspberry Pi include attaching the device to a Sony PlayStation Portable to play games on a screen. Another project uses a Raspberry Pi to project a calendar and streamed music onto a screen.Teacher Mr. Storm doesn’t instruct the kids on how to do the projects, instead he lets the students work collaboratively to problem solve and figure things out on their own. When students get stuck, he steps in and troubleshoots.But the goal of the program isn’t to see what cool things students can build with this mini computer. It’s also teaching them life skills.“Technology is growing,” Mr. Storm adds. “You should have an understanding of how it works. It teaches you how to think.”Through his Disrupting the Pink Aisle program, Mr. Storm wants his computer science enrollment to be representative of the gender makeup of the school. IMG 0121 300x224 “We started with 2 girls and 16 boys,” he says. “The first semester class had 14 girls and16 boys.”Katrina Brown was one student encouraged to take the class. “Mr. Storm invited me to help with some things and he was like, ‘You should take this class.’ He wants to get more girls involved in programming.”Previous to this she had no programming experience, but now is working on the two-way mirror project, building things she never imagined.“One of the goals is to give kids confidence when it comes to approaching technology,“ Mr. Storm says. “We want students to come in maybe apprehensive and leave not being afraid of technology. That’s what we’re trying to do.”