pi-top: Taking Learning Beyond the Classrooms
I got to be honest that I didn’t exactly plan this article, and it was more of an inspiration that led me to sharing my experience with the pi-top  product by Pi-top. I got my hands on the pi-top  through a rather special (I like to call “unusual”) channel. It wasn’t through the sponsorship by TOYTAG themselves, but from the brand directly. I should probably at this point, highlight how grateful I am for it.
So, how did I actually come to get my hands on the pi-top  in the first place?
Well, here’s an interesting story, and true by the way. In December last year (2018 at the time of publishing this article), my only laptop, a MacBook Pro had died on me during a time that I can only describe as “incredibly inconvenient”. I mean, because I was on a journey of following my passions & calling in life, in the local Singaporean/Asian context, following your passions usually isn’t the standard path to take. Most folks would get a 9-5 job, with a stable income. But for me, I so happen to share a different path in life from others. I won’t try to get into that right now because I would need a whole series of articles to talk about it! LOL. Point is, I didn’t have the means to get a replacement laptop. Which also means I was stuck!!!
I gotta be honest about how it felt at that point in my life. It was the first time as a nerd, coder, tinkerer, hacker, content creator that I really didn’t have a laptop of my own. I didn’t know what to do. For a moment, I was genuinely lost.
Raspberry Pi, The Tiny and Yet Awesomely Capable Hardware
Then one morning, I remembered that I had a stock of Raspberry Pi 3 Model B hardware stashed up inside a box which I had bought for myself almost a year earlier. In my mind, I was struggling still, trying to decide why I would spend my time using the Raspberry Pi when I should be focusing on trying to source for a replacement laptop.
Then it hit me, I can’t always depend on people, or hope that people would actually be kind enough to sponsor me a new laptop, or that strangers would actually contribute money towards a pool of funds (crowdfunding) so that I can get what I believe I needed. I must depend on myself. And since all I really had was a Raspberry Pi, I decided then that I was going to find a way to make the most of the Raspberry Pi. As a nerd/tinkerer/hacker, I had another perspective – how much can the Raspberry Pi really do? Think of that from a value-based perspective. What would be the potential value of the Raspberry Pi?
In that very moment, I began spending months tinkering and setting up my Raspberry Pi mini-computer (as I like to call it). The proper technical term for a Raspberry Pi, or any kind hardware that shares a similar set of functionalities, is called a single-board computer. Well, let’s just set something straight, I won’t be able to play any serious RPG FPS (First Person Shooter) games on the Raspberry Pi, but that is also not what the hardware is built for. So, this leads me to the first most important question that so many folks within the community has asked me, “What can I do with the Raspberry Pi?”, “What is the Raspberry Pi for?”.
What is the Raspberry Pi for?
When the Raspberry Pi was first launched, the most basic marketing statement was that the Raspberry Pi is a way for anyone to step into the world of computer science in a quick-and-easy fashion. Think of it like a spring-board where you can jump onto and it would propel you onto a much higher platform than if you tried to jump onto it yourself.
For many years, the stereotyped thinking within the general community is that computer science is only something that is available within universities and without the proper lessons, teachers, learning environment and a lab, it would be impossible to pick up what computer science is as a skill. Well, there are so many ways to explain this, so I’m just sharing my own version of it.
Related: Connecting More Than Just Straws
Learning How to Code (Simplified)
But now, thanks to the Raspberry Pi, even children/youths have the ability to start learning about some of the subjects that makes up what computer science is all about. For anyone that is interested in learning programming for example, would find that the Raspberry Pi comes out of the box, capable of handling programming languages like C, C++, Python and Java. But you should also know that beyond those programming languages, you can also do so much more than that (as I have proven over the months & years while hacking and tinkering with the Raspberry Pi).
I think that the most basic programming language to start with on the Raspberry Pi is Python. Yes, you can learn Python programming on many other platforms too. But sometimes, it can cost way more to invest in a full-scale laptop/computer, whereas the Raspberry Pi is only a US$50 piece of hardware. What is even more amazing is that, even with such a cheap tiny device, I was also able to generate more than US$25,000 worth of opportunities out of it alone. So, trust me, this piece of device can do way more than you think.
The last thing I want to say about the Python programming language is the fact that it is the most in-demand coding skill of 2019, and I believe it will stay that way for the next few years. Why? The answer is simple – Python is the single most widely adopted programming framework for trending technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Data Science and more. It is the most basic foundation in those fields of work.
But I Can’t Bring the Raspberry Pi With Me!!!
(Caption: I have to be honest…looking at this photo above really brought back all those memories of the time when I spent my nights and weekends just trying to setup the ideal personalized development environment on the Raspberry Pi. It was also later named as the “Ultimate Hacker’s Edtion”, and earning me the title as a “#RaspberryPiGuru”)
Oh yes, that is probably one of the most frustrating experiences that I had during the months when I had nothing else but the Raspberry Pi to count on. When I was moving around, or when I was at the library, I couldn’t use the Raspberry Pi. Why? Because if you have bought the Raspberry Pi just like the millions of us have done so far, you know that you need to connect it up to a monitor, mouse, keyboard, and you need a power supply adapter. Without those items, you won’t be able to tinker or work on the Raspberry Pi. So, for a few months, I was struggling. I would work in the evenings till 4am in the mornings just so that I can customize and setup the Raspberry Pi to the standard that I required. After a while, I began researching for solutions. I really needed a way to make my Raspberry Pi mobile, and by doing so, I can be more productive.
pi-top: A Company with the Right Philosophy & Values When It Comes to STEAM Education
As a brand influencer for many years working with so many different brands before, one thing I always believe in is that I will never represent or advocate for a brand that I don’t believe in. Why? Because I believe in integrity, and I believe in being a reliable source of information. I believe in being passionate about something that I love. You can’t effectively convince people that something is great (or right for them) unless you know the products well and you are a positive representation of who they are and what they stand for.
After many rejections from another brand, I finally came across pi-top. The brand behind the awesome creation of the pi-top , pi-topCEED, and even their upcoming pi-top  product which I am very much hoping I be the first to get my hands on. What attracted me to pi-top more than anything else was their philosophy, and how they approach and look at STEAM Education. When I first got in touch with pi-top’s Chief Education & Product Officer, Graham, he sent me a link to download a research report that they have recently published on Constructionism. As a STEAM Education Coach, I have also been emphasising on the key importance of this report to many of the local educators and professional trainers that I have been speaking to. I believe strongly that the contents of this research report constitute a “MUST-READ” for those looking to step into the education industry in any capacity.
Taking Learning Beyond the Classrooms
If there is anything that I value the most about their product design philosophy, it is the fact that it screams, “Use me Anywhere!!” With the pi-top , learners/students/makers no longer have to just tinker with their Raspberry Pi only when they are in classrooms, or at homes or at any of the local makerspaces within their cities/communities. With the pi-top , they can now take it on the go and start tinkering and working on their projects from anywhere. All they need is a Wi-Fi (that is if they intend to go online).
As a brand advocate (I don’t officially represent pi-top, I think I need to just put this disclaimer here), I see it as a personal mission and desire to talk about the brand and what they provide whenever the opportunity presents itself. Every single time a stranger comes to me to ask me about the pi-top , they all seem to share a similar response about the product, “It’s so awesome! Yeah, it really makes so much more sense for me to get this whole set of products rather than just get the Raspberry Pi on its own.” The more people I speak to about the product, the more it starts to form a pattern.
When you look at the Raspberry Pi by itself, you might not be able to see a strong enough reason to get it for your own learning, tinkering or build a mad scientist project with it. But with the pi-top , suddenly, a million possibilities will implode on the inside of your mind. From where I stand, it does give people a whole lot more reason to invest not just money into the hardware, but also their time and effort into learning about it and finally, finding ways to make the most of its potential.
What’s Coming Next
I think it is probably just as good a time as any, to share with you that I will be conducting a Raspberry Pi + pi-top  workshop later this month on the 18th May at the Digital Wonderland 2019 event, organized by none other than the IMDA. TOYTAG will also be having a booth on that day, so be sure to approach any one of the staff available and get a copy of the pi-top magazine (if you’re an educator, or works as a school administrator). And it is free of charge. The recommended pairing would be a parent and a child (if the child happens to be below 12 years of age). Kids above 12 can pair up with other kids during the event, so that is fine. And yes, during the upcoming June holidays, I will also be conducting a full-fledged course on the Raspberry Pi + pi-top . You can find out more details about the courseware (and others) when you come down to our booth later this month!
Make sure to say hi when you see me, and we can grab some selfies together, which I will use for the post-event blog article as well as on my very own social media feeds! And if you have any burning questions related to STEAM Education, we could always grab coffee together outside the event and talk more. Alright, hope you guys have an amazing week ahead! Have lots of fun tinkering!