Sunday, 28 October 2012

The raspberry pi

Some of you will have heard of the raspberry pi, but many of you will not.  Ours recently arrived, and is already making its presence felt.

It is a tiny little computer, about the size of a credit card, that comes with no peripherals (such as keyboard, mouse, cables or monitor).  It doesn't even come with a case - it is just the green circuit board with various ports attached.  Because it is so small and basic it is very cheap - just £25 - and the idea is that pretty much any family will be able to buy one, and children (and adults, if they wish) can use it to learn how computers, and programming, really work.

Raspberry Pi - it's all you need
Our raspberry pi - we bought a plastic case to protect ours, but the pi itself is just the green circuit board

The designers of the raspberry pi wanted to see a resurgence in programming skills in the UK, which they felt was something that had been lost over the last twenty years.  Children at school today are very familiar with IT, but more and more as users and consumers rather than as programmers or designers.  The IT syllabus focuses a great deal on being able to use Powerpoint or Excel and evaluate the design of web pages but not so much on how these tools came about. The raspberry pi hopes to rekindle people's understanding and enthusiasm for programming and help them understand how the computers that we now all take for granted, actually operate.

We bought a plastic case to protect our raspberry pi, and have been able to add things like a keyboard, cables and mouse from leftover bits of computer we had lying around at home.  For a screen, we use the TV or the Xbox monitor.

Getting started
Cam, with the pi plugged into the TV

In the picture above you can see Cam with the pi on the floor in front of him, a keyboard plugged in to the pi and the pi itself plugged in to the TV.

You might look at this little green circuit board and think "where on earth would I start?", but that's okay - there is, of course, a wealth of information out there about how to get to know your raspberry pi and what you can do with it.  We bought two books to help us out - one a user guide to the pi and one on a simple programming language, Python.

Cam's Raspberry Pi books

The raspberry pi website has a quick-start guide, and there are a plethora of Twitter accounts and online forums to help you too.

Cam had learnt about the Scratch programming tool at school, and now uses it on the pi at home.  It's a fun and quick way to start that doesn't seem to techy for somebody new to programming, but actually requires you to think about things in the minute steps that programming requires.

I love the fact that the pi is all about learning and not about consuming.  At thirteen, Cam is already a 'gamer', and would spend his every waking moment on the Xbox if we let him (we don't).  But I don't mind his enthusiasm for computer games so much if there is a core of knowledge behind it, and he has an understanding of how games work and an ability to create his own if he wishes.

We all know knowledge is power, and the raspberry pi aims to give the knowledge of how computers really work back to anyone who wants it.


  1. Wow, I hadn't heard of this at all but it sounds fascinating (well sorta, inasmuch as computers can be fascinating) and something that my boys might be interested in too. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Cool - really great post. My son (age 8) loves programming with Scratch on our Pi.

    If you get a chance check out some of our videos here

  3. I thought I knew most things, but I had never heard of this.

  4. I've heard of it because I was at school with one of the designers, don't know him well but a lot of our mutual friends shared this on Facebook when it first came out. It's a brilliant idea.

  5. My eldest son (just out of university) has bought one of these - he says he wishes IT was like this when he was at school.

    1. I agree Willow.. Wish IT was so much enjoyable while using it.

  6. I'd never heard of it, but sounds like a wonderful idea! You'll have to let us know how you get on over the coming weeks!


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