We live in a world where our technology tools are increasingly easy to use. Users with little to no tech support skill whatsoever (hi, Mom!) can buy a phone or tablet and use it as their main computing device without having to know anything about how it works. Then along comes a little cheap computer that doesn't come with a keyboard, mouse, or screen. It doesn't even come loaded with an operating system like Windows or OS X and it looks like a bare electronics board. Purchasers have to figure how to even get it running first. Who would make and sell something like this? Are these people crazy? They just might be, but it's exactly what many of our kids need today.
Those of us with any experience of learning and working through the personal computer era had a much different environment than we do today. Today most the electronics we buy are sealed and we aren't even allowed to open them up fear of voiding a warranty. Nobody even sees the memory, battery, storage, or processor anymore. Software strives to be simple to use and the goal is for it to "just work" and minimize support calls. Google doesn't even offer human support for any of its' products. Just try and call. However don't get me wrong. This is a good thing for those of us trying to get work done in our increasingly hectic and noisy data-driven lives, but it does beg a simple question. Is anyone really LEARNING anything about the tools we use? Or are we just playing with them and they might as well be magical boxes.
The Raspberry Pi 2 is out and in many ways it takes us back to an earlier era of electronics. Many of us owe our careers in tech to hardware and software that wasn't so simple to use. Perhaps the Raspberry Pi can do the same for many kids today. The Raspberry Pi is a simple little $35 credit card sized computer that uses any standard keyboard, mouse, and HDMI capable video device including a TV. It runs some of our favorite software at Start Code including Scratch, Python, and Minecraft. The first thing to do is figure out how to install and run Linux on the device because it won't do anything out of the box. Trying Linux alone is a good thing to show many people that there is a tech world beyond Microsoft, Apple, and Google.
Once it is up and running then the fun and educational options are almost endless. Make a game on Scratch, make a world in Minecraft, and then watch some DIY videos online about all the great hardware projects that exist for the device. Visit the Raspberry Pi website or Adafruit. Make your own custom case for it and than use it to control a robot. Write some code Python, learn about networking by linking two Raspberry Pis together, even install a server and have your friends connect to it.
Microsoft has realized the potential to reach of such a device and recently announced that the upcoming Windows 10 will support Raspberry Pi 2 and it will be "free for the maker community". Kids see the Raspberry Pi as a techie-type tool and usable for "hacking" which really lights them up when they discuss it. If Microsoft can get that crowd to see Windows 10 as tech edgy and cool then it will do a lot for the platform, and perhaps help repair the Windows reputation after the near universally despised Windows 8.
Ultimately the Raspberry Pi 2 is about getting your hands dirty with hardware and software and tinkering around. We don't get this experience with technology very often anymore and it's a breath of fresh air. It's about having fun with technology and learning during the process which is what we strive for in all of our classes and camps at Start Code.