When I was at the National Association of Independent Schools conference back in February, I was walking through the Expo Hall looking for new products that I could bring back to my school. I teach Swift Playgrounds to our 4th and 5th graders as a part of our 4C’s curriculum. When I passed a booth displaying the Piper Computer, it immediately caught my eye. I made a contact at the company and arranged to get a review unit.
About Making The Grade: Every Saturday, Bradley Chambers publishes a new article about Apple in education. He has been managing Apple devices in an education environment since 2009. Through his experience deploying and managing 100s of Macs and 100s of iPads, Bradley will highlight ways in which Apple’s products work at scale, stories from the trenches of IT management, and ways Apple could improve its products for students.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been spending time building, taking apart, rebuilding, and playing around with the Piper Computer Kit. At its core, it’s a Raspberry Pi computer with a custom box, monitor, and hardware accessories.
As soon as kids open the box, they are immersed in making. Piper engages kids in a rich, tactile building experience with laser-cut wooden parts, a Raspberry Pi microcomputer, and a collection of electronic wires and equipment.
Building The Piper Computer
When you first open the box, the number of parts and pieces that come with it can almost seem overwhelming, but I assure you it includes great documentation on how to build it all. A “blueprint” helps you identify each piece and walks you through how to set it up. It took me about 45 minutes from start to finish, so I would assume for someone much younger than me, it would take a bit longer.
It includes everything you need to build it (including the screwdriver). Because you can buy a Raspberry Pi for a decent amount less than the cost of the Piper Computer, they have to provide a great experience. In my opinion, they do. The entire experience from initial unboxing to screwing in the last screw is first-class with an easy to understand process.
Using the Piper Computer
Of course, a major part of the Piper Computer experience is actually using the computer. After you build it, you boot it up and it’s running a customized version of Linux. It’s very easy to use, and you can get right into the coding curriculum.
Coding is made tangible (and more fun!) by programming buttons, LEDs, switches and new electronic creations.
Each lesson walks you through connecting various buttons, LED lights, and switches to the board. I let my eight-year-old work through the curriculum with me, and he was able to complete it. Piper gives very detailed instructions (with photos) for each step of the building process. This part of the experience is where Piper Computer shows its value over just building a Raspberry Pi on your own.
I enjoyed using the Piper Computer during my trial period. I can see the value in purchasing the kit due to the ease of building, customized parts, and detailed coding curriculum. My plan is to buy 10+ of them in the fall with some grant funds.