A Raspberry Pi class

This time the student teaches the teacher!

I had a great time yesterday at MakeIt Labs in Nashua, participating in a four-hour class taught by a former student of mine, Johnathan Vail, who was in two or three courses of mine back in the late ’70s at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School. Seems like only yesterday.

As you can gather from the title of this post, the class was all about the Raspberry Pi computer, a powerful $35 machine that can literally fit in the palm of your hand (see pic below). The latest model, which was included in the cost of this workshop, comes with built-in Ethernet, WiFi, many USB ports, HDMI, Bluetooth, Linux, Python, Scratch, Mathematica, Smalltalk, and much more. And did I mention 32 gigabytes of flash memory? We also got a variety of other stuff that allows you to connect the Pi to the real world, such as lights and motors that let us learn some of its capabilities and a solderless breadboard that made it relatively easy to attach things. Of course the tiny machine doesn’t have its own display, keyboard, or mouse — so you either need to SSH into it or else connect these peripherals through USB.

John was a great instructor, giving us both a detailed overview (so we could see what’s possible) and time to play with modifying code and attaching hardware. As I like to do, we started with existing Python programs and tweaked them in various ways to make sure we understood what we were doing. Working with the software was fine, but the hardware caused me a little more trouble, since the tiny pins and tiny holes in the solderless breadboard were really hard for me to line up, given my combination of limited dexterity and aging eyes.

Anyhow, I now have lots of ideas and a certain amount of knowledge. Not nearly enough of the latter yet (there’s never enough anyway), but the important thing is that I know the basics and know where I can learn more! My expectation is that while I am building my model railroad I can write programs for collision detection, automatically turning lights on and off, and even controlling the route of a train. We shall see…

Thank you so much, John!

Categories: Model Railroading, Teaching & Learning, Technology