Could the Raspberry Pi be the best innovation for 2012?

With imminent release of the Raspberry Pi Model B computer, I thought a follow-up article to “How do I become a computer programmer?” maybe useful. The main focus of this article was to provide some pointers for children and adults who would like to learn programming. However programming is not the only skill set one can learn with a Raspberry Pi.

Suggesting some of the available options on how to learn programming can often be analogous to choosing a different flavour lollypop; not all of us like the same flavours; nor lollipops. While there are a wide selection of programming languages available, such as Ruby, Python, Java, BASIC, Pascal, C (and its derivatives) to name a few, and then there are a plethora of (text) editors and IDEs (Integrated Development Environments) available along a trek of many “Computer says no” (//** Syntax Error **//) to successfully navigate your learning progression through, the important thing not to lose sight of are the learning outcomes. These can be key to a successful and happy journey along the winding forest path of learning something new.

How new information is processed and learnt is often dependent upon how a book or a trainer communicates with the learner, as well as how the learner processes the new information; the language used can determine a successful outcome. Computer science follows other science subjects, whether they are astronomy, biology, ecology, chemistry, geology, physics, in that they follow the scientific method. Regardless of what science subject one takes at school, generally we are taught the scientific method.

One issue with the current English ICT lessons from what I have read, is that they teach how to use specific applications, such as Microsoft Office products. Computing At School (CAS) aims to promote the teaching of Computing at school to readdress this imbalance. A computer science syllabus teaches more than programming. There is a whole spectrum of subjects, from computer architecture through to security and cryptography. More importantly, as with any science subject, what is taught are methods that provide learners with the necessary tools on how to solve problems, rather than learning how to use specific tools.

Learning how to solve problems using those tools is a much more useful skill to learn. Getting children hooked into learning a new subject in an engaging and fun way, can stimulate and aid the learning process. During the 1980s/1990s there were home micro computers which spurred on one’s imagination. No longer were computers in comic books and science fiction programmes like Doctor Who, they were in our living rooms; a small part of “Tomorrow’s World” had arrived. Today technology pervades most aspects of our lives, directly and indirectly. Learning basic terms and ideas, and putting these across in a way which stretches a child’s imagination and thirst to learn can be empowering.

This is where an ingenious innovation of a pocket-sized computer steps in. The Raspberry Pi Foundation’s main project goal is to produce an inexpensive computer (Model A) for kids to use at home and in school for a variety of learning opportunities. The obvious use for the Raspberry Pi is to teach programming (one aspect of Computer Science) and to be used with a reformed ICT curriculum in schools. However there are many other opportunities for the Raspberry Pi and its partner Gertboard to aid learning in and out of classrooms, and this need not be restricted to children in the classroom; science-hacks for example.

Some ideas that spring to mind are: a physics project for rocket/balloon ship, engineering robots for various fun tasks, using graphics design to create a kite, coding algorithms that model planetary objects or a rocket ship’s return trip to Mars in a game, etc.

Let your imagination fly and have fun!