PIPER Computer Kit

I recently held a summer camp with a group of student ages 8-16. During the camp I had the pleasure of introducing them to the Piper Computer Kit, a cool RaspberryPi based computer system. Piper comes as a kit that kids are supposed to build on their own. The kit comes with all tools and instructions necessary to do this. I can vouch that this can be accomplished by a variety of age groups.

Once built it resembles a small laptop and has space to hold all of the components. (See below)

Completed Piper Kit Open
Completed Piper Kit Open

After opening the box the kids were presented with a letter introducing them to the mission. Pulling back the first layer of protective foam reveals the blueprints. The blueprint is printed on a 4×6 foot poster using thick glossy paper, and I found it to be easily understood by the students. Each section of the blueprint includes a step to construct the computer. At the center of the blueprint is an image of the completed kit.

Piper Blueprint
Piper Blueprint

The Piper kit consists of laser cut and engraved wood pieces, which fit snugly together with interlocking joints. They are all held together with nuts and bolts and a few wood screws. The hinges and clasp are a nice bronze finish.

Completed Piper computer Kit
Completed Piper computer Kit

I purchased an educator pack of 10 Piper kits, and at the discounted price I paid it provided the cost of one kit free. The educator pack comes with 3 extra sets of hardware in addition to what is included with each kit. I found this beneficial since there were so many small parts some of the kids needed replacement pieces. You also get access to the Piper Unit Plan. This is shared via Google Drive and is in PDF format. The unit plan is designed to work with 45-60 minute periods over the course of 9 days, and is tied to Computer Science Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and International Society for Technology in Education Standards.

I plan to build upon the provided unit plan and integrate a more thorough unit that integrates Math and ELA Common Core Standards also. I have already had a few students contact me post class and request additional projects.

We held a 4 day workshop with 8-16 year old students. The first day we built the kits and discussed all of the components and their purposes. The build process on average took approximately 2 hours. The second day we went through all of the required lessons using the modified version of Minecraft. Students were able to navigate Minecraft by following the missions to build the circuitry required to make buttons to control the game. Once they completed those lessons it unlocks the free play mode.

The third day I had the students go over the Raspberry Pi board in more detail. I then led them through the Raspbian desktop and the tools that are integrated with the Raspberry Pi. Once that was finished I had the students load GPIO-Zero. This allowed them to start programing outside of the Piper environment utilizing the integrated Raspberry Pi tools.

I started off with Scratch and had them program an LED to turn on and off. I then led them through how to make that LED work with a button. We then discussed how this was presented through the lessons in Piper. On day four I reviewed what was done on day 3 to reinforce the message. I then had them open Python. I broke down the blocks that were used in Scratch on day three and showed them the typed code. Once we finished we reviewed the differences between Scratch and Python and the pros and cons of each.

The last half of the last day I allowed them to work freely on projects of their own. I provided them all of the resources available to show what could be done using the Raspberry Pi.

Students building Piper Kits
Students building Piper computer kits

I plan to host another workshop with these students 3 to 4 months from the last day of this workshop. In this follow up workshop, I plan to bring additional students in, and allow the previous group to be their mentors. I also wanted to have the previous group work on additional advanced projects to help reinforce the lessons learned.

Expect to see a follow up post as I develop additional resources.

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