Dev Catalyst: Raspberry Pi Workshops

At the beginning of the school year, Molly Plyler’s five- and seven-year-old daughters were asking for a new computer. So she gave them a Raspberry Pi, keyboard, and monitor and told them that if they could figure out how to put it together, it would be their school computer. In less than fifteen minutes, the seven-year-old had her computer running.

“It’s kind of a skill that’s lost,” said Plyler, who runs Dev Catalyst, theCO’s student program that aims to improve technology education. “If you go back to the 80s, when you were working with a computer, there was some command-line code that you were kind of used to because that’s how the computer worked, and now we give kids an iPad, and there’s very little understanding of how it works or what it looks like on the inside.”

Raspberry Pis are mini-computers that are relatively inexpensive, costing about $35. Dev Catalyst is currently offering workshops for middle and high school students that teach how to use a Raspberry Pi.

Through working with a Raspberry Pi, students learn Python, a fairly simple, foundational code language. Plyler said that learning Python can help students transition into more difficult languages as well as software development and relational data.

With a Raspberry Pi, students also experience working with physical computing, which, as the name implies, refers to building interactive physical systems through software and hardware. By writing code, students can make the physical aspects of the computer work.

For example, after connecting the Pi with a sensor and a grid of 8-by-8 LED lights, people can write a code that makes the lights turn different colors or design an image. With electricity, circuitry, lights, and wiring, Raspberry Pis can also be used to take pictures.

A program called Sonic Pi allows people to digitally compose music, either with the letters of the musical notes, or the notes can be arranged numerically. The program can play different octaves, chords, notes, and beats to construct a song. Synthesizer keyboards can also change how the notes sound or which “instrument” is playing.

“It’s a really cool way for students who are very kinesthetic, hands-on learners, to get into the world of code, but to do something more than just typing on a keyboard,” Plyler said, who has noticed that middle school students in particular seem to enjoy this form of computing and coding.

The goal of the Dev Catalyst Raspberry Pi workshops is to introduce rural areas to code, with a concentration on Tennessee counties that are traditionally centered on the coal-mining industry. As those jobs become scarcer, the state has begun funding programs like Dev Catalyst to retrain people, especially youth, to have technical skills for higher-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree.

“The Raspberry Pi workshop is a great way to introduce students to physical computing and code, and this is going to give them some foundational skills that will allow that to be successful in technology,” Plyler said.

A Dev Catalyst Raspberry Pi workshop will be held at theCO on Saturday, November 4. Schools can also sign up to hold a workshop at their school by clicking here.