Thursday, 5 June 2014

Raspberry Pi Projects

This year I was successful in obtaining a bid for a set of Raspberry Pi computers for our Foundation Degree students to make use of.  Today they delivered their end of year presentations about what they had done with their Pis.

We started the year with a bit of programming.  This included a few sessions to introduce them to Python, and then half a dozen sessions on using Scratch to create some simple games and interactive programs.

There was a clear divide within the class - those who felt comfortable dabbling with programming, and those who didn't.  The students were put into groups to work on the Pi - these were based on friendship rather than ability - possibly something I would avoid next time, as those who were comfortable with programming often took the lion's share of the work leaving the less confident students floundering and eventually backing off from the project.

Today each group delivered a short presentation on their project and what they had achieved.  Several of the groups had achieved some or all of their intended project, others had got stuck along the way and did not have a finished product.

Of the successful projects we had a covert surveillance system, by way of a Pi placed inside an air freshener container with an HD camera to stream video to a remote monitor if the motion or door sensors were triggered.  Another group created a server running Apache for a custom built website.  Other projects started but not completed included a morse code LED lamp, a remote controlled car controlled by a wii remote, a flashing LED cube and another video surveillance system.

Although not all the groups achieved their goals, it was very clear from the presentations that almost everyone had taken something away from their projects.  Here are some of the things that the students have learnt about - often without even realising it:

  • A first introduction to Linux
  • GPIO (General Purpose Input Outputs)
  • Some basic electronics - capacitors, resistors, breadboards and other connecting devices
  • Downloading and installing operating system distributions
  • Basic connectivity - attaching monitors, keyboards and other peripherals
  • Basic programming skills
  • Shell programming
  • Project planning skills

In addition, all the students learned that sometimes the smallest hitch in building a fully functioning programme can have a huge impact on progress, and I think we all learned that a step by step approach, tackling each tiny element one at a time is the only way to build up to a successful outcome.

I asked the students at the end if they would like to continue working on the Pis next year.  Some said no, but on the whole, the project seems to have piqued their interest in programming and I have absolutely no doubt that what they have done this year will stand them in good stead for the programming, scripting and IT security challenges that they will take on next year.