A Slice of the Pi

 7 Sep 2012 - By Omar Yesid Mariño+

Anyone with school-age kids will have experienced that feeling of disbelief as they watch small fingers race across a computer keyboard, or listen to an explanation of how to search for information.  In a word, our children are much more computer literate than earlier generations, and much more at ease with the technology.  But what has become obvious to professional computer scientists is that although kids have a sophisticated knowledge of how to make use of computers for gaming, or tracking down facts that they need for a project, they actually have very little understanding of how the underlying software operates.   This is important both more generally, and for providing a training base for school- and college-leavers who are planning to go into IT.  The industry has found that very few of them have anything but the most basic knowledge of programming.


It was this thought that led Eben Upton and a group of academics from Cambridge University to radically rethink the way that IT should be taught in schools. They set up a charitable foundation with the aim of designing a mini-computer which would be economic for schools to buy, and would encourage the teaching of programming and writing computer code.  So the Raspberry Pi was born, and is now in mass production around the world, available through device resellers such as RS Components for a current price of £21.60.  So what is this small device that promises to transform the teaching of IT in schools?


The Raspberry Pi is a basic mini- computer the size of a credit card that plugs into your TV and a keyboard.  The model B comes supplied as the board only, without power supply, keyboard, or operating system, and plugs into your TV.  All the peripheries can be bought, if needed, through the UK suppliers, but part of the learning process is figuring out how to get the computer operational.  The Raspberry Pi is a computer at its most basic, and gives children real hands-on experience of how computers actually work.  It’s actually an efficient little PC which is capable of many of the tasks performed by a desktop PC, like games, spread sheets, and word-processing.  The Raspberry Pi website provides lots of examples of exciting ways in which children can start to create more fun uses – to drive a motor, or to work as the brains of a basic robot.


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