Well the summer has come and gone very quickly and September has flipped over on the calendar far too quickly.
Back to School
With September we welcome in the academic new year, millions of children starting in new schools, new classes and with a brand new curriculum. 2014 brings in the latest incarnation of the “Computing” curriculum which promises to replace the outdated ICT (Information and Communications Technology – aka how to use MS Office) with a new focus on programming.
A good explanation of the new curriculum can be found on the Guardian website.
This long overdue change is one which has been championed by the Raspberry Pi foundation which have not only provided a home computing platform for children (and adults) but have spent a huge amount of resources adapting its use for the classroom.
They have also been busy providing expert training at their very own Pi-Academy. The Pi-Academy is a 100% free CPD (continuous professional development) available for teachers in the UK – and being FREE means not only do teachers get top quality training but it leaves more funds available to actually buy equipment to make use of the training. The next session starts at of the end of September, swiftly followed by another in October!
New resources for the Raspberry Pi in school
Be sure to check out the new Teacher’s Guide to using Raspberry Pi in the classroom created by the foundation (although I feel that the MagPi magazine should be highlighted as a huge resource of information for schools, teachers and pupils).
Also don’t forget the Pi-Stop github which has ready-to-go workshop materials for use with the Pi-Stop (or with some adjustments, any other traffic light type add-on or hardware – such as my Breadboard & Components Kit (Chapter 6)).
There are two particularly awesome projects which if you are running a school, class-room, club or even a few Raspberry Pi at home should be particularly useful to you…
This is a full set-up suitable for running a large number of Raspberry Pi computers, complete with centralised user management, a single shared operating system and management of study tasks.
Ideal for a school set-up as each Raspberry Pi only requires a minimal boot SD-Card (which doesn’t even need to stay inserted in the Raspberry Pi once connected – so only a few cards could start a whole classroom). The Raspberry Pi will connect to the central server and load a copy of the master image (a typical Raspbian install) via the network. The pupil will login with their own personal details and have access to their own profile (no matter which Raspberry Pi or SD-Card they were using previously).
Compare this to a class-room of standalone Raspberry Pi computers, each with their own SD-Cards which (if not painstakingly re-imaged and set-up each lesson) soon become a mess to handle (and that is without needing to consider how you keep pupil data safe and accessible from lesson to lesson).
As much as I love the idea behind this concept it is probably overkill for my uses in workshops (for now – although it would be an excellent workshop in itself) but I would love to hear how others are getting on using it or are interested in using it.
2. Noobs Config
This a fantastically useful variant of the official NOOBS set-up, it just needs a single script replaced from the standard NOOBS scripts to enable it. From then on, you can take any of the standard images supplied with NOOBS and use the Noobs Config method to insert files/configurations automatically as part of the imaging process.
To put it simply…this is VERY powerful and incredibly useful!
I’ve experimented extensively with this set-up and produced excellent results, from a single image I can select from multiple custom flavours which can automatically install all my preferred programs, settings (including WiFi settings, menus, start-up scripts) or even automatically running demonstrations on power-up. I’ve even used it to provide workshop attendees with images which are pre-configured with my workshop materials and all the required installations ready completed.
Noobs config has the advantage over the standard flavours methods supported by NOOBS as you don’t need to keep repackaging all the files. Noobs config allows you to construct multiple set-ups directly from the files you place on the SD-Card (allowing common settings to be shared between set-ups seamlessly).
One particularly handy set-up allowed scripts to dropped onto the SD-Card from a Windows or Mac computer, and automatically run when the Raspberry Pi is powered up. Combined with a basic hardware shutdown button (which can also be automatically added to the config), this would allow simple Raspberry Pi hardware programming without the need for a screen!
For the home user with one or more Raspberry Pi computers in the house, it makes it very easy to set-up and reinstall SD-Cards without needing to go through the painful manual configuration process. You can have a brand new clean image built in a matter of minutes, which is tailored completely for your needs. Once you get in the habit of adding anything useful to your configuration, you’ll soon wonder how you managed before!
I’m going to continue experimenting with these various set-ups and share a few how-to guides on how to do it yourself.