The Raspberry Pi computing platform is an excellent platform for many applications. These include, but are not limited to; do-it-yourself (DIY) projects, desktop computing, Internet-of-Things (IoT), and even enterprise applications. In fact, the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s server runs on a cluster of Raspberry Pis. Another application the Raspberry Pi is an excellent platform for is education. With the recent introduction of the Raspberry Pi 4, the platform is only becoming easier to use to teach students a variety of STEM related subjects. Well discuss more about what makes the platform standout from others and how the platform is used in the education field.
The biggest advantage the Raspberry Pi has over other platforms in for use in education is the variety of subjects… The platform standouts as a platform and tool for teaching computer science and programming to beginners. Raspbian, the linux-based OS for Raspberry Pi, comes with numerous Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) preinstalled. They IDEs are intuitive and easy to use, which is great for first-time users. I’ve listed some of the more popular ones and the programming languages they are used with below. There are many more easy to use IDEs than I have listed here.
BlueJ is an IDE for the Java programming language. It was developed for educational purposes. The Java language is a popular language and useful when teaching Object Oriented Programming.
Thonny is the IDE I use most with my Raspberry Pi. Thonny was made and designed as an IDE for beginners learning the Python language. Python is a high level scripting language and becoming increasingly popular. IDLE is another Python IDE on Raspbian, which works just as well.
Scratch is another excellent IDE for kids learning to program below the age of 10. Scratch use block style programming. This means to create programs a user simply has to drag and drop blocks of code from premade libraries. This feature allows kids at a very young age to get exposure to and have fun programming.
The Raspberry Pi is also an excellent platform to teach embedded systems. Embedded systems is a subject, which comprises of programming, electrical engineering, and system design. Embedded systems also serves as the backbone to the science of robotics. The Raspberry Pi gives educators a platform with lots of resources and that is easy to use to teach these subjects.
A good starting point is to put together a simple kit of electrical components. This kit should include a breadboard, resistors, LEDs, pushbuttons, and jumper wires. There are hundreds of great project ideas out there from resources such as Instructables and the Raspberry Pi Foundation. A recommended first-project to start with is blinking an LED on and off. Over time, these projects can become more complex as students gain knowledge.
Where the Raspberry Pi stands out the most as an educational tool is how easy it is to use in projects not based around computer science or electrical engineering. For many science experiments and projects, data acquisition and experiment control are crucial to the success of the project. The Raspberry Pi platform is a flexible and easy to use solution to both of these problems. Raspberry Pis can be outfitted with a variety of sensors and actuators and setup to log data directly to the Pi or a host computer. Some example projects where it would make sense to use a Raspberry Pi are a mini weather station, a camera controller that takes photographs when motion is detected, or robotic ocean clean up device. These are just some ideas to get started with. The Raspberry Pi should be considered for any project that requires some computing or data acquisition, but it is not the focus of the project.
The Raspberry Pi is an excellent platform to use in educational applications. Any teacher teaching a course on programming, computer science, embedded systems, or electrical engineering should consider integrating the Raspberry Pi into their syllabus. This is true for classes from grade school through college. The Raspberry Pi should be considered for use in non-computing focused science projects and experiments too, where it is easy to setup a data acquisition or control unit.