New workshops at UT will better equip teachers to teach students programming skills.
The Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK-based educational charity, recently opened four Picademies in the U.S., including one at UT’s Texas Advanced Computing Center.
The Raspberry Pi is a computing device built on a single circuit board about the size of two sticks of gum. It is capable of interacting with monitors, keyboards and USB devices and can be used in a wide variety of projects. The small computers are priced between $20 and $35 each, making them widely accessible.
TACC is collaborating with the Raspberry Pi Foundation to host workshops later this year. At the workshop, Texas K–12 teachers will learn how to incorporate Raspberry Pi into their classrooms in order to teach skills such as computing.
“Picademy is one way that we train educators, including classroom teachers, librarians, after-school educators and scout leaders,” said Matt Richardson, product evangelist at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. “We equip them with the resources, skills and abilities to bring computing to young people.”
Matthew Vaughn, TACC’s director of life sciences computing, said the Raspberry Pi devices will help make computer science a hands-on experience.
“The idea is to reintroduce the kind of tinkering and computing that people who are in their 30s or 40s did when they were kids,” Vaughn said. “It’s really designed for people to be able to afford them and completely own them, as opposed to a PC. You feel pretty empowered to hook stuff up to it and if you break it, it’s not a big deal.”
The Raspberry Pi Foundation started hosting Picademies to introduce this technology to educators. After completing the free workshop, educators receive a Raspberry Pi Certified Educators certificate and continue to receive support on how to utilize the devices, said Rosalia Gomez, education and outreach manager at TACC.
The foundation brought a Picademy to Austin because of the city’s south-central location and tech economy, Gomez said. She said many states, including Texas, do not have computer science initiatives in schools.
"We are excited to host Picademy and help support educators from districts that do not have computer science programs," Gomez said.
Raspberry Pi has applications in a wide variety of fields including art, literature and science, according to Joon-Yee Chuah, senior program coordinator at TACC.
“We’re at this point in science and art that you can program music or scripting,” Chuah said. “It’s the skill necessary to study in the future and also a good outlet for students to be creative.”
Chau has seen student projects such as a Kindle reader with a text-to-voice function and a motorized robot finger to turn the pages, and students in Austin have already started building with the Raspberry Pis as well. A group of high school girls at TACC networked 32 Raspberry Pis together to create an energy-efficient supercomputing cluster, Chuah said.
“Kids should understand that programming and computer science are really for everybody, not just people who are into computers themselves,” Richardson said, “If you’re interested in art, literature, science, then you can use computing to help you as a tool and to create and explore your passions.”
Teaching children computing helps them transition into majors and careers in STEM, as well as make music and art, Vaughn said.
“Our digital outreach strategy is around the idea that almost all forms of personal endeavor — jobs, art, creativity — have been transformed by embedded computers,” Vaughn said. “Everything has a computer in it. The future of being able to live and navigate in a society where everything has been transformed computationally is to be able to manipulate those systems.”