Learning Project Summary: Week 6 – It’s only just begun… And now it’s over!

It is hard to believe that the six week learning project has run it’s course. My Raspberry Pi (RPi) learning journey is ending. However, I know that I will be continuing this project for some time, I have only just begun to scratch the surface of what this little device can do and I am so impressed with the potential that it holds. The prospect of starting a learning project that I was to undertake using only open resources was very exciting for me. It’s not often that I am told that I have to do something fun, for myself, and I was excited to begin.


Week 1: Getting Started…
My first ​idea was to learn to code using the RPi and in week one, I set out to purchase the small, single board computer (SBC) and get started. I quickly discovered that it isn’t as easy as just plugging the device in. I had to load an operating system onto a micro SD card in order that the computer be able to do anything. Using the Raspberry Pi Foundation‘s website, my first Open Education Resource (OER) was found. It is an easy to navigate website that is absolutely full of project ideas, helpful hints, access to a community of users, and the basic information to get you RPi up and running. Each how-to topic has both written instructions and an easy to follow video to help all different learning styles. I have discovered that I like to read the instructions and then follow up with the video as I work through the project.  The store where I purchased the RPi, BC Robotics, in Nanaimo, has also been very helpful and I have revisited twice to ask questions of the very knowledgeable staff. I can’t recommend the store enough and they have quite a large inventory of bits and pieces to get you started with the RPi, or any other ‘maker space projects’. 

Week 2: Getting the RPi up and running…
This week involved writing the operating system to the micro SD card and starting the computer up. Once again, the Raspberry Pi Foundation was the inspiration for this part of the project, this time it was with their tutorial titled “Getting Started With Noobs“. The written portion of the tutorial is complete with hyper-links to all the necessary resources and the step-by-step instructions were very clear and easy to follow. Once again, there is a very nice video for those who prefer to learn by watching. All of the sources that I am finding for information are open source. Everything about the RPi is open source. I was starting to think that this is the perfect project to learn by only using open education resources.

PicturePhoto Credit: Vernon Barford School Library via Compfight cc

Week 3: Scratch
This week, I spent a little time actually learning some coding. I chose a beginning language developed by MIT called Scratch. Scratch is a graphic language that uses preprogrammed building blocks that you connect together to create some simple, at first, and then more complex programs. It was very easy to learn with a great deal of resources via the MIT website as well as a number of other sources all free, such as Pluralsight, Smart Learning, Smart Kids, and ScratchEd, to name a few. I easily programmed my first short animated video of a dancing cat using the MIT tutorials. It was very easy and fun, and my kids have been playing around with Scratch almost every time they get access to the computer.

Week 4: What else can the RPi do?
​As a fully functional computer it needs to be able to print. This was quite a project actually. It involved a whole bunch of command line modification to the basic Raspbian operating system (OS). I found a simple how-to set of instructions on the How-To Geek website that helped me to understand how to install the Common Unix Printing System (CUPS) to the RPi. It was fairly straight forward, but did involve some command line editing of the OS. I guess the ‘learning to code’ portion of the project was sneaking up on me with out my knowing. I also needed to learn about the Secure Shell (SSH) protocols at this time too. This involved logging onto the RPi from my laptop to change settings and run scripts (short programs) while the RPi was running headless, or without a monitor attached. The SSH programming is all done via a terminal window on my MacBook and involves some basic level programming. It was a bit daunting at the time but I wouldn’t hesitate do do it again.

PicturePhoto Credit: NunoCardoso via Compfight cc

The second part of this weeks learning involved playing games on the RPi. I’m not a huge gamer but I do enjoy playing a few old-school arcade style games from my mis-spent youth from time to time and the RPi is a very capable game console emulator, I found out. The photo shows a home-made mini video arcade game that actually houses a Raspberry Pi configured to play Space Invaders, one of my all-time favourite games. The information for this project came from a Youtube video by Gus from PiMyLifeUp on how to use a program called DosBox on the RPi to play old, out of print, computer games. It was another easy project with great instructions from Gus. I also discovered the concept of “Abandonware” or software that is no longer supported by its developer and is just ‘out there’ waiting for someone to use. The website that I found is called Abandonia and is just a list of old computer games and where to download the abandoned version of these games. I can’t wait for summer to arrive with its spare time so that I can replay a few of the games that I remember from my youth.

PicturePhoto Credit: roguemarine via Compfight cc

Week 5: Media Centre 
I think the most useful project that I discovered during the learning project is the media centre project. A media centre is a computer that connects to your television system to turn your television into a home theatre. Until now, I have connected a hard drive to my computer, and then connected my computer to my TV so that my children could watch a movie on movie nights. The hard drive used, holds digital copies of all of the movies we have purchased over time, allowing the originals to be stored away from little grubby hands. The only problem with this system is that dad’s laptop is sacrificed most Friday nights for the pleasure of the boys. OSMC is an open-source media centre package that will run on any computer and works particularly well on the RPi. It was very easy to download and install on the RPi and now my laptop is available for my studies on Friday night. I like this project so much that I am seriously thinking about purchasing a second RPi to dedicate to this project. The hard drive can stay connected to the TV and the kids can use it to watch movies when they want. It also doubles as a photo viewer. I can load all our photos on another hard drive and the media centre software can play a slideshow of all the photos. It can be used as a music player as well. I use Google Play Music, Google’s online music streaming service and there is a plug-in for OSMC that will allow internet radio to play through the surround sound system attached to the TV.

Learning the Raspberry Pi has been a terribly interesting project for me. Due to its educational beginnings and the fact that it runs on Linux, an open source, computer operating system and that an incredible community has grown up around the device, I was easily able to find Open Education Resources to help me to discover the device. I have numerous projects already planned, my son wants to use an RPi to create a weather station, complete with windspeed, wind direction, temperature, humidity and barometric pressure sensors connected to the General Purpose Input Output (GPIO) pins on the RPI, and I can’t wait to learn with him as we build this project. I highly recommend this type of project to anyone and know that I will continue to learn with this little device as time passes. I have already convinced teachers in my building that we should purchase some for the school and start a “maker club” in our school so that students ca benefit from all the knowledge that can be learned from this robust device and its dedicated community.