Pi Classroom Setup

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8 posts
by mrmandrill » Thu May 23, 2013 11:14 pm
I've been looking to use Pi's i school next year for GCSE Computer science course. However I firmly believe that the Pis should be the pupils and not the schools, they need ownership and should take the pis home and use them at least as much there as they do in school.

We have therefore made it a requirement that GCSE students own a pi and bring it in.

We've been looking at how we will incorporate the RPis into the existing ICT suite with minimal cost and as easy to use as possible.

We soon dismissed ideas such as replacing monitors, KVM switches and even swapping keyboards and mice and instead come up with a solution we're really pleased with.

Each of our existing Windows pcs will have a 2nd network card connected (~£3-5) this will be configured to share the school network with the 2nd NIC. The pi will be hooked up to the PC and powered via a USB --> Micro lead. Students will then be able to remote connect using either VNC or Putty and voila! they can use the pi on the school network. We're still tweaking the setup and trying to use Avahi to get round the dynamic IP issue. This should hopefully give the students a one icon link to connect to their RPis.

The advantages to this method as we see them:
    Minimal extra cost (~£5 card and cables)
    RPis can be used between home and school with minimal tweaks beside initial setup of vnc etc.
    Very little extra desk space required
    Rpis on school network but PC can act as a buffer / firewall
    Still have 2 usb ports available for memory sticks etc.
    This should work equally well using a laptop with both wifi and ethernet connection

I'm also really excited to play with the NOOBS system as I'm hoping I can pre-configure a Raspbian image with vnc etc and add to the NOOBS partition. This way if a kid wants to reinstall they can. Other RPis used in lessons with KS3 can quickly be reset to a starting state without having the faff of removing files 1 by 1.

Once we have this setup beyond prototype stage I'll post further info, if people would be interested.
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by Gbaman » Fri May 24, 2013 3:26 pm
We looked into this but with x being slow already (wayland may be better), we found using VNC was even worse. It was rather laggy. If your computers in your ICT suite that aren't locked down, why not use them?
To share a network with 2 nics with a pi is a pain (not impossible, but a pain), do you not have enough network sockets?

After looking into it, we actually decided sending pis home with kids was a bad idea, unless the pupil purchased it themselves. Even then it is easy to run into problems like "I forgot my pi" or "I dont have a TV in my house" (I have had that before). Would have meant we would require a number of them in school anyway.
Our decision after looking into for teaching GCSE computer science was, they could do it on the machines already there, so why introduce another thing to go wrong? I do love the Pi but GCSE CS can be done without it and doing it on the pi could actually provide a worse quality of teaching (being slow, especially over vnc) than using the faster normal desktops. Now that all changes if you can't teach it on the desktop machines (locked down etc) or if you wish to do physical computing with the GPIO pins but GCSE CS does not include physical computing.
Instead we plan to bring it into our school robotics club and trial it there first, but the pis are owned by the club (which recently won a number of competitions so has some money) and stay in the school.

Sorry to be critical, but in the end it is all about the student learning, will they learn more useful stuff with the pi for GCSE CS or will they waste time waiting for it?
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by mrmandrill » Fri May 24, 2013 5:16 pm
Clearly the students' learning experience is paramount, and I'm not proposing using the pi exclusively, my post was more about how we're planning to overcome the logistical challenges of using them in an existing suite.

The students have purchased the Pis and are their own, the idea being more to encourage their use independently at home, using them within school is a secondary objective. Helping students purchase the R Pi recently has created a real buzz, students are excited about beginning their course next year.

We have chosen the dual NIC route as yes we do have limited networking capacity in this classroom. In our testing so far X seemed to perform fairly well, yes not perfect but perfectly usable. We will of course face issues, "forgot my Pi sir"... however we are well prepared to make it work. Spare Pis in school, extra SD cards.

You're right physical computing is not on either GCSE spec, however that doesn't mean we won't do some. This way we can deliver some core CS principle but with concrete and interesting scenarios.

I appreciate your comments and am certainly aware that the students need more than gimmicks or pi for the sake of it. As I have said already this was a post purely about logistics.
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by recantha2 » Fri May 24, 2013 7:05 pm
This, to me, sounds like a really good way of doing it. I look forward to hearing how it goes!
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by mrmandrill » Fri May 24, 2013 9:37 pm
Thanks recantha. I keep meaning to get along to the Cambridge jam. Perhaps when I've tested this a little more.
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by Gbaman » Sat May 25, 2013 9:39 am
Ah, it sounded like you were only going to use the pis.
I did some thinking and have a better solution if you are just doing text based programs and GPIO stuff (if you are also using pygame, you may want to stay away from VNC). Adafruit's wed IDE is rather good for this sort of thing. It runs off the pi and allows you to quickly start writing your code. Each student would have to be set up with a bitbucket account but that might be a smart idea, as their code is stored in the cloud, available anywhere. The web IDE allows them to run the code on the pi and access all the special hardware like the GPIO pins, all from another computer with a web browser. It will be a lot faster and less laggy than VNCing into the pi and a lot more responsive.
What I found bugs me with VNC is you hit a key and it does not instantly appear on screen, all the VLC stuff is also handled by the processor on top of LDXE running so you have less power to work with.
So check out the web IDE
Do you love Lego and Raspberry Pis. Ever wondered what would happen if you combine them into a robot? I decided to try it out.
Check out my blog for more info

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by brs » Tue May 28, 2013 12:17 pm
I think this is a very smart way to use Raspberry Pis, but I would recommend looking into installing an X server on the host PCs.

I did some experiments, with a Mac as the host (http://blog.kugelfish.com/2012/09/raspberry-pi-tethering.html) and while using X over VNC is p-a-i-n-f-u-l-l-y slow, the native remote X mode is quite usable. Unfortunately I don't have any experience with which free X server is the the least troublesome to use on Windows.
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by SimonSmall » Tue May 28, 2013 8:21 pm
I use Xming on Windows. I use Putty to SSH to the Pi, but enable X forwarding before connecting. You start an X-enabled program in the SSH command line and it appears on the PC, eg. "xterm &" which opens a terminal window, running on the Pi but displaying on the PC
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