Getting Started with the Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi Boxed
Credit: Wikimedia

I lucked out in being in town when the Women Powering Technology Raspberry Pi event was on, and also in hearing about it – and being allowed in at the last minute!

Of course I had heard about the Raspberry Pi, and loved the idea, but I’m pretty intimidated by hardware and cables, so it had never occurred to me to buy one. Now, I want one!

Judi McCuaig from the University of Guelph was running the workshop, and started by talking about their use of the Raspberry Pi in their first year course. I have long thought it is cruel an unusual to teach first years C or even C++, but since they have to teach C at Guelph right now, at least it’s fun and exciting.

Instead of a textbook, each student buys a Raspberry Pi (no more expensive), which they partnered with a hacker space to package and sell to the students. It has a custom OS on it, and comes with everything the students need to get started.

It addresses the problem of the students bringing in their own computers, which they are afraid to break. Now they all have the same platform. And the flakey SD card (or, pulling it out at the wrong time) means the students are even using git and checking in their code constantly.

I think it’s a really, really cool idea, and aside from the use of C, addresses some of the improvements in curriculum and experience that we know make computer science more inclusive.

Then, we had a little time – maybe an hour – to play with it ourselves. We started by making a light blink on and off. My team (a Chemical Engineer, and Electrical Engineer, and s Software Engineer – which sounds like the start of a joke…), by going over and being the last to hand back our equipment, managed to also create a little program that took in a string and blinked in out in Morse Code. So much fun!

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