Sunday, December 4, 2016

#RaspberryPiClub @ECVHS

Raspberry Pi on the Back Burner
I’ve been the Teacher Librarian at El Cajon Valley High School for less than a year. I inherited an amazing library program from Steve Montgomery, who retired in December of 2015. As one of Mr. Montgomery’s last big projects before retiring, he started a makerspace in the library (#MontgomeryMakerspace). One of the many items he purchased for the makerspace was a Raspberry Pi, but I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Even though I’m an avid edtech advocate, I haven’t really explored the coding/programming side of educating with computers. In my defense: I’m an English major. I hate to admit it, but the Raspberry Pi that Mr. Montgomery purchased for the library’s makerspace kind of gathered dust for a few months.

CUE Inspiration: Why have a Raspberry Pi Club?
I attended the Computer Using Educators 2016 National Conference in Palm Springs for the 2nd time in March 2016. As a new teacher librarian, I was very interested in attending sessions on how to help staff members make progress with effective technology integration--after all, I serve a 1:1 school. I attended several useful session on this topic, then I noticed a session on the Raspberry Pi by Steven New, so I decided to give it a shot. Here are my notes from attending that session:
“We have one of these things in the library, but it’s not being used because I’m not sure what to do with it. The website above has many great resources. Apparently, this isn’t something that was meant to be a one-off purchase. It looks like the presenter bought several of these and gave them to students to create cool things (time lapse camera, wall mounted presentations, weather station, cloud server, drum set).

Great idea: a club (or a class) with a set of these things GIVEN to students to create something awesome. Students choose a project to make something, document their process, share what they made. These things are as powerful as chromebooks.

How do we get a lot of the auxiliary parts? We’ve got old computers in our back room that we can cannibalize for starters…”
I loved the idea of giving students a chance to tap into their creativity, make a plan, implement that plan, overcome obstacles, and share what they had done. It just seemed like a very authentic, personal way to learn. Plus, digital devices are everywhere, but too few of our students get a chance to tinker with them. I floated this idea by Jason Babineau, the administrator who joined the ECVHS team attending the conference. Jason was very supportive, and agreed to find the funds to purchase some Raspberry Pi kits to get the club going. They arrived a few weeks later, and I immediately got them into the hands of students:


My message to students was students was brutally honest:
“I have no idea how to work on these things, yet. My hope is that we learn together. I have some resources for you, and I can buy parts for your projects if you need that, but I’m very, very new to this. You’re going to need to overcome obstacles. You’re going to need to find information about how to program these things. I am no expert, but I’m excited by what you’ll learn through experimenting with these devices.”

SDCUE Mini Grant
The draw of the Raspberry Pi as a learning tool is that it is relatively cheap. Students can experiment with a device that costs as little as $35. I wanted to think of the Raspberry Pi as consumable--students would use them to create something and then the student would have their creation and the school would no longer have a Raspberry Pi. $35 is cheap, but it’s nothing to sneeze at when trying to get a club or a class going with 10-20 devices, plus all the auxiliary pieces (power cords, mini SD cards, HDMI cables, monitors, keyboards, etc.). One of our district Digital Learning Coaches, Reuben Hoffman, suggested that I apply for an SDCUE Mini Grant. I applied for the grant and got the exciting news that my idea was accepted. I am very thankful for the opportunity that SDCUE gave me to continue this experiment with more students. Students requested additional items for their projects, and with the SDCUE Mini Grant I was able to purchase wireless keyboards, mini touch screens, video game controllers as well as 10 more deluxe Raspberry Pi kits with 32GB mini SD cards, HDMI cables, and power sources.


Successes and Challenges
I think just getting the Raspberry Pi Club off the ground is a significant step forward. We don’t currently have a computer programming class at my school, and interest in our robotics team dwindled to the point that it was discontinued. I think it’s important to give students opportunities for hands on tinkering with technology, and getting this club going was a step in the right direction. Still, I think there are several ways the club can improve. The limited time we have together (meeting at lunch in the library once a week), doesn’t offer much sustained time to tackle the problems that come up for students as they try to get their projects to come to life. I’ve had several club members tell me that the demands of their other high school responsibilities (courses, sports, drama, other clubs they are involved in, etc.) make it difficult to attend meetings and devote time outside of meetings to persevering when they run into challenges with their Raspberry Pi projects. It’s also a challenge that much of the programming and testing needed to make a Raspberry Pi project work has to happen off campus due to the fact that these devices (in the hands of sophisticated, yet malevolent tech experts) could pose a risk to our Internet network’s security. So, it’s kind of taboo to connect these things to our network. There are challenges, but we’re off to a good start.


Raspberry Pi Club will continue at ECVHS. We’ll continue because it’s important to give students access to resources that facilitate experimenting with computer programing.

Author Bio:
Anthony Devine is the teacher librarian serving El Cajon Valley High School. Anthony taught English and ELD courses at ECVHS for 10 years before becoming the librarian. He is passionate about education innovations that provide students with valuable, relevant learning experiences. You can find him on Twitter @anthonyrdevine and @ECVHSLibrary.

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