antiloquax
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Re: Why Pi?

Sun May 06, 2012 1:27 pm

For my day job, I teach English in a UK Academy. The principal has asked me to write a short (1 side of A4) document, telling him why the Academy should care about the RPi. I think  he's considering kitting out a room with a suite of them. I am going to have a go at writing this over the next two days.

I think I can explain the advantages in terms of cheap computing, programming etc. But I could do with some ideas regarding the GPIO possibilities (I know nothing about that!).

So, what should I say?

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croston
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Re: Why Pi?

Sun May 06, 2012 2:36 pm

Most of the world"s computers are not desktops running Windows. They are embedded devices such as your mobile phone, the satnav in your car or the freeview box for your TV. A Raspberry Pi with GPIO gives a way of teaching the future of computing and being creative, not the past (MS Word on a MS Windows desktop).

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jbeale
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Re: Why Pi?

Sun May 06, 2012 2:49 pm

croston said:


Most of the world"s computers are not desktops running Windows.


That's for sure. Embedded systems are everywhere and they aren't going away. It's a different job market than developing for desktop PCs. If you're good at embedded systems design, you're very employable. Below quote is from an article in 2003, but I don't think the importance has diminished since:


The current 7-Series BMW and S-class Mercedes boast about 100 processors apiece. A relatively low-profile Volvo still has 50 to 60 baby processors on board

-from http://www.eetimes.com/discuss.....processors


Joe Schmoe
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Re: Why Pi?

Sun May 06, 2012 3:15 pm

Mark Twain:

Q: If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?

A: Four.  Calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg.

Joe Schmoe:

Q: If you call an embedded system a computer, how many computers are there in the world?

A: The same number as before you started calling embedded systems computers.  Calling an embedded system a computer...
And some folks need to stop being fanboys and see the forest behind the trees.

(One of the best lines I've seen on this board lately)

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cheery
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Re: Why Pi?

Sun May 06, 2012 3:19 pm

Now this is hard question and shouldn't be taken lightly. I try word my opinion honestly. Though here's a link you might find useful: An article about ARM creators Sophie Wilson and Steve Furber

It is very likely Linux keeps getting more commonplace anywhere, but essentially a good teacher should not rely on this kind of assumptions. Things taught should be certainly useful longer than 6 years. Linux and computing is a very fast moving target, your knowledge of it now might be rubbish in 3 years. Some core things are very likely to stay same though.

RPi is the best thing around if you want to learn or teach any sort of programming skills that might be useful for years to go. It is inexpensive and requires little effort to setup, so you can hack it in the ways that wouldn't be affordable on other, more expensive computers. But it's also slow, much more slower than modern 100 times more expensive computers. That isn't a problem in many usage cases and for teaching programming it may even do some good.

A slow computing system will short out in memory and performance fast. This means an optimization of the code becomes reasonable much faster than it would if an usual computer setup were used. The most important lesson of optimization is to not do it before symptoms appear. Premature optimization is a degradation of source code for no reason. A pinpointed, good optimization is preceded by a careful analysis of what to optimize.

If RPi firmware is going to stay quite much same as it is now, the SD card will contain the operating system which takes control when you bootup the device. Most obstacles are removed for teaching systems level programming. You can replace the standard linux kernel by overwriting a single file in the /boot -directory, actually it's not a directory but a mounted boot partition of the SD-card.

This computer can be installed with pretty much any kind of interpreter you need, which lets you teach programming with multiple different environments. That is going to be beneficial for a student, who might very likely not encounter just one kind of systems in the future.

You are likely to encounter some problems, but they restrict to a relatively small set as there's only one hardware configuration where RPi comes in, for now. Though this is neither bad, as encountering problems isn't anything unusual for a programmer. Every problem is an opportunity to learn something new about the system you're working on.

Most important thing is that the RPi can be given to the student because it is pretty much a toy on modern computing standards even if it can run the latest Linux systems and distributions. Though, if you connect it to a real project it will fast become much more than just a toy as it's a full computer even if just sized like a credit card.

Because there's the GPIO headers soldered readily in, you can toss the RPi to science or electronics projects. And it's not a problem if you'd happen to fry it. Clever educational use of the RPi may bring it to production systems. It's really versatile piece of hardware.

I hope many production systems would soon become to resemble RPi were it big or small system. I enjoy the promise of simplicity and openness it can provide.

poing
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Re: Why Pi?

Sun May 06, 2012 4:22 pm

With the GPIO pins you can interface with the outside world through sensors and actuators (like light sensitive cells and motors). This makes it possible to create things like robots or embedded devices. A breakout board like the AdaFruit: http://www.raspberrypi.org/for.....t-pi-plate can be used to easily tinker with the GPIO pins.

You can combine the power of the above with a 3D printer to create all kinds of finished home made devices, for instance a quadcopter: http://blog.ultimaker.com/2012.....uadcopter/

tech_monkey
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Re: Why Pi?

Sun May 06, 2012 9:40 pm

The reasons are many:

1. You can use them to teach spreadsheet design, database design, presentation design etc. The software is free, Libre Office is excellent.

2. Teach programming skills, from Java, Python, Gambas, and many many more.

3. Teach interfacing, design things to react to the real world and connect them to the pi. Or use the Gert board and plug sensors or motors to this. Projects built here can then be used for the above 2 points.

4. The students get used to different operating systems.

Many of the points can be expanded further.

Once the Pi's,Monitors, keyboards, mice etc have been purchased with very little extra outlay you have something that can be used to teach many things.

And many businesses these days are turning to Linux as their preferred OS.

Where I used to work we had Linux, Unix, XP, OS/8, DOS and Win98 And some very esoteric OS's I don't want to think about again, the motherboard was wire wrapped rather than soldered. so being used to a variety of OS's when at school will definitely be a bonus.

I think teaching students all of the points I mentioned above will give them a better understanding of how things work. How software and hardware can talk to each other. Also rather than them saying its not possible they may say hold on I can design a program to take this data input and input it directly in to a speadsheet. Or go off and design a circuit board to do something.
http://www.casatech.eu

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rurwin
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Re: Why Pi?

Sun May 06, 2012 10:55 pm

Any way you can capture a child's creativity is good, flashing lights, moving motors and clicking switches can engage children that mere pictures on a screen cannot.

Adding sensors to a computer can open it for use across the curriculum. Using a computer that is so cheap means that it can be used in that role without sacrificing a computer. So it could be used to control the temperature of an aquarium, it could count events and then do statistical analysis. It could be used to compose music or as part of a sculpture. It could be used as part of a lap-timer or scoreboard for sports.

The original BBC Microcomputer came with an interactive poem written by Roger McGough. It was rather limited by having to work with a text screen; we could do better now. Here it is in action, although you miss the interactive bits on YouTube.

Perhaps you ask the kids to write a program that generated random sentences, and later maybe a precis of a story. They would immediately find the concepts of grammar and parts of speech absolutely essential, whereas before they might have been abstract non-entities. Once they had cracked that, they would have to think about what makes an engaging story -- coherence, journey, climax and so forth.

Because the RaspPi is small and cheap and low power and has GPIO, it is a tool that can find uses across the whole curriculum. Not all those factors are important in all of its possible uses, but the combination of all of them is very powerful.

And maybe the concept of an intelligent sculpture might just fire the imagination of a child.

antiloquax
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Re: Why Pi?

Mon May 07, 2012 2:26 pm

Thanks for these replies. I'm going to have a go at writing something tonight.

mark

antiloquax
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Re: Why Pi?

Tue May 08, 2012 6:05 pm

This is what I have so far. Has anyone any improvements to suggest before I email it to the Principal?

Why Pi?

The Context
The Raspberry Pi computer was created by a team at Cambridge University who were concerned about the drop in numbers of applicants to Computer Science degree courses, and the fact that those who did apply often had little programming experience or understanding of how computers worked.
Reacting to the NextGen report (by Alex Hope and Ian Livingstone), the Department for Culture, Media and Sport commented that: “Classes in computing – known as Information and Communication Technology (ICT) – are ‘insufficiently rigorous’ and in need of reform.” When asked about the situation, David Cameron admitted that: "we're not doing enough to teach the next generation of programmers".

The Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi is a cheap (£25) single-board computer based on an ARM chip. It has very sophisticated built-in video capabilities and comes with GPIO pins which allow it to control other devices (sensors, motors, etc.). It is designed to use a TV as a monitor, and will use a GNU/Linux operating system.
While many young people in the UK will have access to a computer, the family PC or laptop is likely to be an expensive machine upon which other members of the family rely. Young people are usually dissuaded from experimenting with such computers. The owner of a Raspberry Pi, on the other hand, is free to experiment and learn.

Programming
The Raspberry Pi will come with the Python programming language installed. Python is an easy-to-learn and powerful language. Of course, other programming languages can be installed and used. The machine will come with a digital manual, produced by the community under the auspices of the Computing At School working group. There is also a very active online community to support new RPi owners.
It’s likely that any student with an interest in Computer Science will buy a Raspberry Pi. I think it is essential to have the machines in school so that the staff and students can make the best possible progress in learning together.

Operating System
Many students will not have had much experience of operating systems other than Windows or Macintosh. Linux offers great performance and security advantages over Windows. Many of the servers that power the Internet run Linux. It will give our students a great advantage in the workplace if they learn how to use Linux.

The Processor
Many of the things we use every day have computers within them (cars often have up to a hundred micro-processors on-board). If our students are to work within the computer industry, they will very likely be working with these types of “embedded systems”. Today, most smart-phones and tablets are based around ARM processors. The ARM-powered Raspberry Pi offers a cheap platform on which to create, for instance, smart-phone apps. Some students may learn to write Assembly Code in order to take full advantage of the chip’s capabilities.

GPIO
The inclusion of a series of GPIO pins means that the Pi is easily integrated into a potentially unlimited range of practical projects. Possible applications range from robotics, control and monitoring of science experiments to interactive art installations.

andyl
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Re: Why Pi?

Tue May 08, 2012 7:51 pm

antiloquax said:

It is designed to use a TV as a monitor, and will use a GNU/Linux operating system.
I would reword that to something like "It is designed so that a TV can be used as a monitor".  Your current wording sounds as if you can only use a TV as a monitor.


While many young people in the UK will have access to a computer, the family PC or laptop is likely to be an expensive machine upon which other members of the family rely. Young people are usually dissuaded from experimenting with such computers. The owner of a Raspberry Pi, on the other hand, is free to experiment and learn.


Expand why it is a good experimental machine.  The capability to reset it back to stock by inserting a newly prepared SD card.


It’s likely that any student with an interest in Computer Science will buy a Raspberry Pi. I think it is essential to have the machines in school so that the staff and students can make the best possible progress in learning together.


This x 1000.  Maybe mention about extra-curricular activities.  Code dojos (provide link), robot bulding (micromouse, robot football).

Michael
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Re: Why Pi?

Tue May 08, 2012 10:07 pm

This may help a little: http://elinux.org/RPi_Philosophy

Conversely, I think your section entitled "Context" should be added to that page.

I'd suggest trying not to get too bogged down in explaining the nuts and bolts of the system (OS, processor, GPIO).  For each sentance you write, ask yourself "so what?" then write down the answer.  Try to gloss over the specific technical features - focus instead on how the system allows "homebrew" solutions and that spirit of technical adventure.

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SN
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Re: Why Pi?

Tue May 08, 2012 10:11 pm

Michael said:


focus instead on how the system allows "homebrew" solutions and that spirit of technical adventure.


This!  Once we get a cheap and reliable portable power solution too, the worlds our piyster
Steve N – binatone mk4->intellivision->zx81->spectrum->cbm64->cpc6128->520stfm->pc->raspi ?

antiloquax
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Re: Why Pi?

Wed May 09, 2012 10:48 am

Thanks for the feedback! I'll redraft accordingly.

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