Software stack for educators

Classroom setup, good teaching practice and practical advice

6 posts
by datagrok » Thu Jun 21, 2012 12:39 pm
When I got started with computers and programming, it was on an IBM PS/2 computer that my mother purchased for use in her university education.

Many kids a generation after me got their start programming TI calculators, which have become a standard requirement in high school mathematics classes. Most students just learn the very surface of the available functions necessary to get their homework done, but some dig in and discover.

So I suspect that the best way to get the Raspberry Pi into the hands of the kids who will really benefit from it is to go the same route; it needs a ready-to-use software stack that is valuable to educators for use in the classroom, without consideration of how open and tinker-friendly the device is.

I have heard (by way of efforts like Edubuntu and Sugar/OLPC) that there's lots of software already out there based on Linux. I'd like to know what educators think of this software.
  • What's lacking, or missing? (Is there software available for e.g. music education?)
  • What's too hard to use or install in the classroom?
  • What tools might be useful to help manage assignments done on the Raspberry Pi and submitted electronically? (I think this would be a great way to bootstrap knowledge about public key encryption and digital signatures.)
  • What tools are good, but are too demanding on the hardware to be of use?

I'm sure the Raspberry Pi founders have been thinking about this sort of thing, too. If the discussion is already happening elsewhere I'd appreciate a link to it. :)
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by IntnsRed » Thu Jun 21, 2012 2:31 pm
* What's lacking, or missing? (Is there software available for e.g. music education?)


The main Raspberry Pi Linux distro seems to be Debian-based. That means that all of Debian's repository of software (tens of thousands of packages; and remember, Ubuntu is also based on Debian) is potentially available. So what's needed is just to port/recompile things to the Pi/ARM11 architecture and to see if they'll run in the Pi's limited hardware environment.

* What's too hard to use or install in the classroom?


This is the gotcha. "Too hard" is an amorphous concept. Sure, some free software lacks in "polish" or documentation, but in reality I don't think that's the most important issue. I think a more important factor will be "buzz" and "mindshare". The advertising-based buzz about commercial software and people's mindset that since you're paying for the software it has more value than "free" software are the critical items.
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by D_E_Manton » Fri Jun 29, 2012 11:25 pm
I don't think the cost of software is the biggest issue. Many schools struggle for funds with their computers and free is always great. We have plenty of free programs installed on our machines and used in everyday teaching. No-one really cares if you pay money for it in school as long as it works and has educational value. There's no buzz around expensive software - in fact it's usually a reason to look for something else with our budgets. Buzz is created with, as you put it mindshare, and in education teachers getting together and sharing ideas with great things they've tried.

The biggest problem in education is many staff have experienced the "standard" computing experiences, i.e. Apple or Microsoft. To learn Linux is a big learning curve for many and will take time. I am one of the more technical primary teachers I know of in my authority and I'm finding it a challenge to get started - although I don't have anyone to show me how it works except google.

The issue for educators is going to be - why choose to use a Raspberry Pi? What does it do differently to a laptop or desktop? My gut is telling me that the size is great and what I want to do is stick it into hardware projects probably with some degree of portability, boats, cars etc. The problem is I need to find hardware it interacts with and that I can teach children to get it to interact with and to get a far less technical staff to teach it (for some think of your teaching your gran to use a computer) and at the moment I'm not sure the hardware is there and if it is can I make the programming accessible enough to teach kids and more importantly 30 kids at once.
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by brs » Mon Aug 27, 2012 10:51 pm
It's a good question, where the Raspberry Pi would fit in to the classroom. Cost of hardware & software isn't the only thing - the IT buzzword "total cost of ownership" certainly applies here too. With industry giants like Microsoft, Apple or Google going after the education market with a vengeance, presumably steep discounts and a much more polished offering around netbooks or tablets, there seems less room and opportunity for general purpose computing anymore.

Where the RPI would be strong is in the DIY and tinkering department. Taking apart and building stuff, experimenting and trying to understand how things really work inside. Learning about programming & system administration or building robots and computer controlled gadgets.

When the RPI came out, It made me think if this isn't about a bunch of geeks my age, trying to re-create the excitement which computers were in our youth (http://blog.kugelfish.com/2012/03/learning-computers.html).

What would it take to get todays generation, who grew up with highly sophisticated computing equipment in the most matter of fact way, excited about exploring the inner workings of computer technology? What feels relevant and exciting today?

  • A cheap, full-blown linux workstation in the palm of my hand? (RPI...)
  • Writing applications for my mobile phone?
  • Writing some web-applications in the cloud?
  • Building robots?
  • Any other ideas?
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by simplesi » Mon Aug 27, 2012 10:59 pm
Where the RPI would be strong is in the DIY and tinkering department. Taking apart and building stuff, experimenting and trying to understand how things really work inside. Learning about programming & system administration or building robots and computer controlled gadgets.


Precisely :)

Because it can be embedded into a project in a way that a laptop/desktop can't :)

Once a selection of cheap interface boards suitable for schools are available then we will be off to the races (literally in the case of robots :) )

Currently, jumping in at the Arduinio level is a big jump, with the RaspberryPi, we get paddle in the shallow end (Scratch) swim out to the deep end (Python) and then the world's our (or actually their) oyster :)

Simon
Seeking help with Scratch and I/O stuff for Primary age children
http://cymplecy.wordpress.com/ @cymplecy on twitter
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by thomasd538 » Thu Sep 27, 2012 7:30 pm
Folks,
I think we get these in the classroom via afterschool and summer programs. Once parents hear and see the Raspberry Pi, they will approach PTAs about funding Raspberry Pi computers. I am teacher and this how robotics have finally started entering the classroom.

I also think an affordable Raspberry Pi robotics kits with the proper curricula could be another great stating point. There a lot of schools do not have the money for traditional robotic programs.

Tom
U.S. Teacher
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