Why the PiZero Matters to Teachers

Published: November 27, 2015

Image taken from Element14

Today, Raspberry Pi announced and launched the PiZero, a tiny £4 computer that can be reprogrammed for a variety of purposes and can even run programs like Minecraft. It’s an astonishingly tiny and cheap computer, and it opens up the possibilities for coding in the classroom.
The machine is so small and cheap that they’re even willing to give it away for free on the cover of MagPi magazine, meaning the tiny tech toy will be one of the most easily-acquirable computers ever made. This is something that your average KS2 pupil can buy with their pocket money, and it opens up a world of technology that will help them become the coders and programmers of the future.

But where does this fit into the classroom? Well the most interesting part of the PiZero’s sudden arrival is how it’s pipped the BBC Microbit to the post, and released en masse before the similarly tiny and cheap Microbit has made its way to schools. Many, however, might see this is a mild victory, given how the Microbit will be given out to every Year 7 for free, has considerably more connectivity and measurement features and an online lesson guide, but it’s worth bearing in mind that PiZero offers more opportunities for experimentation beyond its basic release.
For one thing, the PiZero is much more powerful: with 512MB of RAM and a 1GHz processor, the capabilities of the device are much higher, being able to run an operating system by itself and even browse the web. Compared to the Microbit’s 16KB of RAM (the same as the original BBC Micro!) and 16 MHz processor, the PiZero is practically a supercomputer! But it’s that disparity between power and function that actually makes the two extremely good bedfellows.
The Microbit is a tool; a little entity that helps enable other devices and sends signals and inputs to whatever will let it. The PiZero is a board of possibilities awaiting an input. Between the two, with a little bit of extra wires and adaptors, you could make a fully functional and highly customisable PC for less than £10. And this machine can be reprogrammed, added to and used to learn with in a way that current classrooms can only dream of. While it may be a bit advanced for Year 7s, by the time students are hitting Year 10 these devices will offer the freedom for creative students to experiment and prove their abilities with.
It’s an amazing opportunity in education to be able to provide the kind of resources that, 5 years ago, would have cost nearly 10 times as much. By offering students the chance to build and experiment with their own devices we’re allowing them to come off the railed road of lesson plans and into their own creative curiosity leading their learning.
The joy of the PiZero in education is how students can share ideas and work together on projects, and a properly cultivated online space will allow instant collaboration  between machines. If you can establish a fully functioning VLE then you can help provide students with a space to work in, unbound by physical drives and disks.