STEM/Making is just something that is entirely natural for humans. From the beginning of time, we have been engineering ideas and making things to solve the problems that we encounter. There was always a sense of figuring out your needs through math, and a natural progression of solving those problems is trying to figure out how things work to make them better (science). The tech part of STEM has always been there (while primitive, the wheel was tech), but it has become such a need in today’s world where computers run everything. STEM and making are not new concepts; it’s just taken the computer age to show their importance.
The beauty of STEM and making is that there are tech pieces that make it easy to give something “an electronic brain,” and my favorite happens to be Raspberry Pi. Don’t get me wrong there are some other good ones out there. Microbit, Hyperduino, and Arduino all come to mind. I think Raspberry Pi is just the right mix of compatibility, relative ease of use, depth of function, and mission.
The key to PI though is the customization, and that’s what this blog is all about. There are tons and tons of things out there that let you customize a Pi. These just happen to be my five favorite ones, and of course, they have an education bend to them.
- The Sense Hat: The sense hat is incredible because it is both as simple as you want it to beans as complex as you want it to be. If you have seen a Pi, you know that it has pins on one side. Hats are boards that you slide over the pins to give the Pi extra functions. The beauty of the Sense Hat is that it gives you both sensors to get an input, and a programmable LED to obtain a visible output. Sensors include barometric, motion, and several others. From those sensors, you can program them to output on the LED, or you could only use the LED to build scrolling messages into one of your creations. The possibilities are endless, but my thought was that I could always see them as a way for someone to build their own scientific instruments.
- The Explorer Hat: As you build electronics, you also want to be able to make your own robots. You want to be able to connect servos, motors, and lights that can give some type of robot life or can perform a moving function. That’s what the explorer hat is all about. It adds to the Pi just like the Sense Hat, and it gives you ports to clip banana clips for that movement
- Pi Camera: PiCamera is just what it sounds like. It’s a camera, but what sets it apart is that it’s a camera you can program. You can also add it to almost any piece of electronic creation that you would want. While the pixel quality may never be excellent, it does have features that give it lots of functionality such as video, stop motion, and filters. I always have thought this would be an incredible way to build an observation unit to catch wildlife in their natural habitat. All you would have to do is design an enclosure for the Pi and camera, program it to run a program on boot while taking images on movement, and then change out the external battery pack.
- Bread Board: A breadboard by itself is not going to give you a whole lot, but when you add in lights, sensors, LED panels, and a host of other accessories it can give you loads of functionality. It’s all built on building circuits. The breadboard just becomes the conduit. You put those extra accessories on it, and then you use wires to connect it to the pins of the Pi. From there, you just write the code to make whatever you added go. One of the main ways it could be used is to add a button that starts whatever action you want the PI to do.
- Extra MicroSD card: Pi’s natural operating system is called Raspabian, but it does not have to be that. An additional SD card can let you turn the Pi into a host of other things. My favorite happens to be a retro gaming console with an operating system called RetroPie. In schools, I could use it as an avenue to build and design a console, and then I could load it up with classics like Super Mario Brothers and Zelda