Raspberry Pi Makes Learning Technology Sweet

April 27 is Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day in the U.S. As I started talking to my co-workers and siblings about how they were planning to participate, I realized something: Quite a few of them take their work home to their kids as well.

My interest piqued, I decided to interview two fellow IBMers, Nathan and Mike, who I knew were working on Raspberry Pi projects with their kids at home. For those who aren’t familiar, the Raspberry Pi is an inexpensive, credit card-sized computer designed to encourage youngsters today to learn about programming. It connects to a keyboard, screen and USB charger, and a micro SD card is used for file storage.

My youth was back in the era of black-and-white film, so computers were a new technological hurdle for me to learn. Today, most kids are simply raised using computers, smartphones, tablets and the internet. However, I’m not convinced that many children understand how a computer and its programs work. The Raspberry Pi aims to change that mindset, offering a computer on which kids can create their own games, music and programs. And since those programs can be based on whatever interests the kids have, there’s little resistance to learning something new.

Getting Started

Both Nathan and Mike have tinkering sons in their households who have always shown interest in technology, computers, virtual reality (VR), gaming, etc. In Mike’s case, he introduced the Raspberry Pi to his son and some of his friends, demonstrating simple recipes from BlueMix. For Nathan, it was the other way around; a school friend had a Raspberry Pi that the kids couldn’t stop talking about, so he bought one for each of his sons.

Neither house has dedicated hours for working on the Pis. It is an organic experience, sometimes with the boys playing on their own, or with friends who also have them. Mike said it’s not unusual to hear his son exclaim, “Look what I built!” at the dinner table.

Safety First

Given that these are basic devices, and that children are not always cognizant of the internet’s dangers, I asked Nathan and Mike if they had any security concerns with the Pi. Both dismissed the notion almost immediately. Nathan has secured his home network and installed a Circle internet manager that sets filters on their browsers. Knowing the kids can’t get into anything too dangerous, he’s comfortable with them having fun, whether alone or with friends at the house.

Mike explained that security isn’t a top concern when simply exploring capabilities. If the time comes to apply real-world usage, however, BlueMix makes it easy to secure anything in the cloud. He also mentioned that the Pi itself offers many resources with information on how to secure it.

Raspberry Pi Projects

After discovering the power of the BlueMix recipes, Mike and his son created some cool chatbots and talking robots that could answer questions about school subjects. They also connected sensor tags to the Watson Internet of Things (IoT) platform to measure weather-related things such as temperature and humidity.

The most exciting project they teamed on was Havyn, a voice-enabled assistant to help in the cybersecurity space. It started as a simple Raspberry Pi project that has since grown into an IBM research initiative to understand how it can best help security analysts.

‘To Infinity … and Beyond!’

Both Nathan and Mike believe their children will have some involvement in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related career. Mike’s family members share a collective desire to improve the planet and believe that technology and arts will play a significant role in achieving that.

Nathan feels that the hands-on experience the Pi offers makes it more likely to keep his boys interested — and comfortable — in computing. Its size, variety of uses and active community all make it an enjoyable learning experience. Their interests already extend beyond the Pi — they work with Snap Circuits, attend robotics camp and take Udemy.com courses in 2-D and 3-D game development.

The Parent Perspective

I asked Nathan and Mike what they have learned about their children through this time spent together. The funnier answer is that “they have a much longer attention span than they sometimes let on.” But in all sincerity, what this truly shows that kids have a seemingly endless energy for “the art of the possible.” Mike says that his children aren’t hindered by anything; they only see what can be. This playful curiosity is a welcome reminder that we should all do the same.

Both Nathan and Mike also agreed that kids are immersed in technology at a young age, which gives them a strong understanding of computing concepts. Mike said the fact that his kids won’t recall a time without the internet and instant information gives them a different perspective on their future world with technology.

The Offspring Opinion

Because the parents are only one side of this coin, I also wanted the kids’ point of view and asked them to describe their favorite parts of Pi time with Dad. To no one’s surprise the unanimous answer was, “I really like spending time with Dad and learning how to build cool things!”

The annual Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is a worthy initiative, exposing children to the significance of education, the responsibility of the workplace, respect toward others, and the need to balance work and family. But these are lessons that should be taught more often than one day a year, and I would encourage you to follow in Nathan and Mike’s footsteps by participating in the interests and career development of a child you know.

Learn more about the father-son team behind Project Havyn

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Pamela Jones

Digital Marketing Strategist, IBM

With nearly two decades of online marketing experience, Pam Jones prefers a customer-centric focus on technology solutions that help businesses work harder and more efficiently. As a digital strategist on IBM's Security team, she is constantly striving for content that has global relevance and reach.