Thrifting with Raspberry Pi

Watching Punya Mishra and Matt Koehler’s (2008) video about teaching creatively reiterate a fact I will never forgot: “Teaching with technology is a wicked problem, wicked problems require creative solutions, and teachers are designers of the total package.”

When I think of a wicked problem, I am brought back to memories from CEP 810. During that course, I learned the importance of integrating technology rather than using it as a tool to keep students busy. During my first job, I often created “web searches” where students filled out questions by reading through websites. While the students loved it, I realize that there was no overlap of pedagogy and technology. Instead, it was a way to keep students busy. However, this year I plan to use Kidblog for students to write up their science reports and create research. Using technology this way, I am able to use it as a tool to learn. This leads me to TPACK or the overlap of Technology, Pedagogy and Content Knowledge. Using technology requires teachers to be masters at this theory.

With all that said, this week I began experimenting with my Raspberry Pi. According to the makers of Raspberry Pi, “the Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games.” In other words, it is a tiny programmable computer. When I had researched it, I thought it was an awesome concept. Now, I realized, there is a lot more than meets the eye.

Unfortunately, it was not an easy task to even start the little thing up. The first night, I realized that in order to even boot up the Raspberry Pi I needed a keyboard, a mouse, a TV, an HDMI cord, a power source, an SD card, and an SD holder. Whew. This meant a trip to Walmart (and spending more money that I had not expected). After looking over the quick start guide, I realized that I must format the SD card and then download the NOOBs Software. After an hour of waiting, I was ready to plug it into the Raspberry Pi. Unfortunately, this is all that happened.


As I stared with a blank face, I decided to try again!  So, I took out the SD card, reformatted, and downloaded the software again.  After another hour, I had the same results.  At this point, I decided to Google different ways of setting up the SD card.  I found this website and decided to give it a try. These instructions had me downloading a specific software called Raspbian and taught me how to use the terminal app on my Mac. After another two hours, I was finally ready to try again with my Pi. Unfortunately, another snag. This time when I turned it on, the Pi had a rainbow screen and stopped. After troubleshooting, I found out it wasn’t working because a file was unable to boot (I had no idea what this meant). So being the overachiever and never giving up, I tried the same directions, but this time on a PC and from a different website. After another hour of waiting around, I plugged in the Pi and nothing worked. I was BEYOND FRUSTRATED. Five hours of work and I hadn’t even BEGUN to think about the project. I decided to try my original plan again and then go to bed. I plugged in the Pi and the start up menu actually came up! I was so excited. Unfortunately, when I went to the next step, it said “Error, cannot go on.” At this point, I decided to turn to Twitter where I tweeted the company and was even directed to a student in the Overseas Program by Leigh Wolf who was also using a Raspberry Pi. The student and I had two conversations and I found out that she was having the same problems as myself.

The next morning, I decided to tackle this problem and was determined to make it work. After three tries, and no such luck, I decided to check Twitter. The student had sent me a link with known issues with SD cards. Turns out, my SD card was on the problem list! After searching my house, I found a different SD card and tried again. IT WORKED!! I stared at the TV with anger, frustration, and happiness. Unfortunately, I was beyond exhausted with the project and had to walk away.

Later in the day, I began researching different things I can do with the Raspberry Pi. I found many helpful websites such as:

25 Fun Things to Do

What To Do For Beginners

A Forum

Some Tutorials

How to Use Airplay

Project Ideas

Through my research, I realized there was a ton of cool things to do with a Pi, most of which was over my head. This didn’t bode well for my project. However, I decided to try playing around with my Pi and started with creating a program in Python called “Hello There.” I followed the directions on this website and created a program where if you type Hello to the Pi, it responds back. Pretty cool, but also pretty simple.

Next, I found an awesome website to create my first game! It took me two hours to complete and was pretty simple. If a green circle pops up, you click. And if a red circle pops up, you don’t click. If you do it correctly, you get a congratulations screen, whereas if you fail, you get a failure screen.



Finally, I began playing games on the Pi such as connect four, eat a squirrel (you are a squirrel and you keep eating smaller squirrels until you become an OMEGA SQUIRREL [I had a lot of fun with this one]), and snake.



FINALLY, it was time to start actually working on my project.  After two different trips to a Salvation Army and a Goodwill, I realized this was going to be a lot harder than I thought.  I had a lot of great ideas (a barbie that could grade my papers, a way to ask questions and then have students answer them by clicking buttons, a fingerprint scanner, etc.)  However, how was I going to program the Pi and connect it to something that was found in a thrift shop? I had no idea.  At this point I decided to turn to Craig’s List and found an awesome robot. I decided to make a voice activated robot to pass out papers and get needed supplies for students.

Disclaimer: I have no idea if this would work, how to connect the Pi to the robot, and I have no idea where to even start with the programming.

To create my robot, I would have to connect the Raspberry Pi to the Robot, similar to how the people who created this text activated coffee pot. Next, I would need to set up voice activation on my Pi. I would attempt to do this by following these directions. Finally, I would need to program the Raspberry Pi to understand my commands of “Pick up Papers,” “Give Bill a Pencil,” or “Pass out Papers.”

Overall, I would not choose the Raspberry Pi again. There is way too much to learn for a beginner in a class of only eight weeks. In addition, many of the programs that I looked at were frustrating and over my head.

Mishra, P., & The Deep-Play Research Group (2012). Rethinking Technology & Creativity in the 21st Century: Crayons are the Future. TechTrends, 56(5), 13-16.

Koehler & Mishra (2008) Teaching Creatively: Teachers as Designers of Technology, Content and Pedagogy [Video file], Retrieved from Vimeo

Raspberry Pi. (2013). FAQS [Website]. Retrieved from

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