Blog Post

Raspberry PI: A ($35) Programmable Computer in Every Kindergarten

What if instead of dumping $1500 iPads in every classroom we required every kindgergarten to supply every student with the newly released $35 Raspberry Pi,  a simple computer that includes all the bells and whistles capable of running a version of XBox Media Center.  There is only one catch.  Nothing comes pre-installed.   Instead of toddlers learning that all the world's digital power is available simply by a gestural swipe across an iPad interface---well, a touch plus $1500 dollars--now kids will learn that all the world's computer power--all the play and wonder and animation and social networking fun--is there at their fingertips, practically free . .. only catch is they have to learn t program it.


It's a brilliant "back to the future" idea since, in the early days of computing, this is what you did.   A  non-profit in Cambridge, England, has decided to encourage kids to learn programming by producing an incredibly powerful, unprogrammed computer the size of a credit card that, according to the Telegraph, "includes a circuit board, sockets for a keyboard, monitor and Ethernet cable, and an all-in-one 'system on a chip' to do all the number crunching, graphics and memory work. The processor within the chip is based on the same ARM architecture found in Apple’s second generation iPhone 3G, which was released in 2008."


It has been in the works for a while but , now you can buy it.    Well, not quite.  Demand is so high, interest is so intense, that the sight had to shut its website and just put up an announcement.   You can follow Raspberry Pi on Twitter for the recent updates:  @Raspberry_Pi .    Apparently, there are lots and lots of us around the world concerned that kids are learning how to become addicted to very expensive toys without learning how to code.   All the profits from this organization will go into a nonprofit charity being set up to promote the importance of kids learning to code.  


This is exactly what we need to make the 4th R a reality.   As I've argued at length before, learning to code as a little child changes the way we think about STEM.   No longer is it a rote skill that has to be tested by a multiple choice test at the end.  With programming, kids learn that you try and try and try again until you get the right algorithm, the right code, and your reward is that your computer screen does what you wanted it to do.  What happens next?  You build on that code so your computer does something else you want and on and on.   Sure beats a bubble test to tell you if you are learning math!  


Raspberry Pi offers an inspiring real-time way of testing and learning, and, best, the results of your STEM learning yield art, stories, animation, social connection, fun.   The Humpty Dumpty of the "two cultures" is finally back together again.   STEM makes no sense without its connection to everything else, and in programming your Raspberry PI the whole digital world is open to you.    Learning.  Learning with real-life consequences that you, as a learning, can pace, shape, and learn from, literally learning from your mistakes as failed code offers you, always, the chance of recoding.   You could learn to program at the same time that you learn about security, privacy, IP, access, interoperability, and all the digital literacies because those too are either doorways to or obstacles to having the computer of your dreams.  


A bunch of nostalgic computer geeks and hackers have given us a fabulously exciting passport to a better future than Apple's walled, closed-access, Web-barricaded, pre-programmed devices allow. 


Here's my Washington Post piece on "The 4th R": The Raspberry Pi makes that a real possiblity.   Let's do it!




Cathy N. Davidson is co-founder of HASTAC, and author of The Future of Thinking:  Learning Institutions for a Digital Age (with HASTAC co-founder David Theo Goldberg), and  Now You See It:  How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (Viking Press). She is co-PI on the HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions.   NOTE:  The views expressed in Cat in the Stack blogs and in NOW YOU SEE IT are solely those of the author and not of HASTAC, nor of any institution or organization. Davidson also writes on her own author blog, [NYSI cover]




1 comment

The Raspberry Pi project is brilliant! I've been following it for a few months and am really excited to see what people, young and old, make with these computers.

Something else to note is how this non-profit communicated about a product they where working on and gathered a HUGE ammount of attention. Doing so they promoted education and DIY culture while creating REAL demand for a product. This is a play out of a sophisticated technology for-profit. Now the Raspberry Pi foundation should have a significant ammount of funds to accomplish their mission. The very definiation of a For Benefit organization.  aka Fourth Sector, B-Corp, etc.