STEM, pi-topCEED and the Raspberry Pi


Back in August 2016 I got my hands on 15 pi-topCEEDs for school and that started my continued journey with the Raspberry Pi into STEM. Nearly 18 months later and my classroom set of pi-topCEEDs are still going strong and used almost every day in my lessons, clubs and outreach activities.

You can read my original review from August 2016 here.

Before we go any further I should just say that I am a pi-top champion. This review / blog post is based on nearly two years of use in the classroom and beyond and reflects my experiences.

This year as well as teaching Physics and Chemistry in my science lab I also teach three classes of Computer Science. Whilst this is great, I am actually teaching CS in a lab with only access to 15 (and not all of them work all the time) laptops. This meant that I had to improvise so I decided to write my own Computer Science scheme of work based around the pi-top. If you would like to use it yourself follow the link here

What are the advantages of using the pi-topCEEDS in my lessons? Firstly it has to be the form factor and size. I can easily store 15 devices in a cupboard along with the keyboards and mice. My timetable has some very quick lesson changes so transforming the lab is relatively simple.

Computer Science

Having the pi-topCEEDs in the classroom has meant that I have been able to do lessons that other classes are not able to do in the main school building. My scheme of work includes all the favourites such as Minecraft, traffic lights with GPIO, Sonic Pi (I found some great headphone splitters which fit in the case), micro:bit with micro Python and an introduction to HTML / CSS.

None of my pi-topCEEDs are connected to the school network and students don't need their own log-in details. It seems to work well with students knowing which pi-topCEED they used last time and coming back to it. I did notice after a while that students were leaving messages for each other about their work on the pi-topOS notes panel.

Feedback from the students has almost been universally positive about using the pi-topCEEDs in the classroom rather than the 'normal computers' they use in the main school building. Some students even admit it is nice that they are not connected to the internet where they might get distracted.

Physics teaching

I have used the pi-topCEEDs in Science lessons often where I would like to either collect data using the Sense HAT, model examples in Python (such as radioactive decay) or investigate electrical circuits with components and Physical computing.

I have also found it really useful for students to have access to open office for doing graph work and data manipulation based on results of their experiments.

There is a unit of work on the Raspberry Pi Foundation website which looks at how we can use the Raspberry Pi in science lessons using the Sense HAT, although I would definitely recommend using a female-male GPIO extension cable / device to connect the Sense HAT off the pi-topCEED. The unit of work can be found here

One of my favourite lessons recently involved students producing a reaction time game which would then calculate the thinking distance of cars travelling at different speeds.

Outreach work

Almost as soon as I got my first set of Raspberry Pi computers I started running workshops in my school and then later in local primary schools. This was often a back breaking tasks after moving 15 monitors from the car to a classroom and setting it up. The advantage of the all-in-one pi-topCEED has made this much easier. It is some of the small things that make the biggest difference when you are setting up; not having to plug in the HDMI for the monitor, only needing one power socket per pi-top makes a huge difference with needing extension reels etc.

Final thoughts

I thoroughly believe in equipping people; that could be students to engage with code and with their work, teachers to deliver great lessons or parents being able to support their children at home. The Raspberry PI has definitely contributed to a seismic shift in the way that young people engage with coding. The pi-topCEED supports this so well from the design to the excellent set of resources added into pi-topOS.

I love the philosophy behind pi-top, I love the idea that they want to equip young people.

"We make the future"

As a teacher, an educator, a parent and a champion of digital making and physical computing in schools and beyond I think the pi-topCEED and laptop v2 have a great role and position in giving young people a passion to want to make the future!

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