One STEAM Lesson, 100% More Confidence – “pi-tops Are a Game-Changer”
Jerald Jolito is an instructional technologist, science and robotics teacher at Pecos High School in Texas. The school’s mission is to provide excellence in education within a positive, creative atmosphere that empowers students with critical thinking, problem solving and decision making skills. Jerald has recently started to use the pi-top Learning System in his STEAM lessons.
School size: 646 students (Grades 9-12)
Student teacher ratio: 22:1
In order to deliver outstanding STEAM lessons, Pecos High School wanted to find a product that would engage their students, enable them to get hands-on in their lessons and also spark creativity and originality in problem solving. The school started using the pi-top Learning System to develop these areas within STEAM subjects. Since he started to use pi-tops with his students, Jerald says that at least 90% of his students are more engaged, 90% plus have learned to problem solve their way through roadblocks in their projects, and a full 100% are more confident tinkering, making and reverse engineering.
What were the school’s challenges in delivering STEAM lessons?
Pecos High wanted to deliver STEAM lessons that would engage students of all abilities, increase their understanding of design processes by having them experience those processes for themselves, and give students a through grounding in both electronics and programming.
They also wanted to enable their students to be creative and come up with original ideas that they could then bring into the physical world by making and building their ideas.
Jerald told us that pi-tops are the perfect solution, because they come with an Inventor’s Kit and the tutorials on how to use it. In his words, they make “the class more engaging for the students and easier for me to teach!”
So what is it about the pi-top Learning System that meets the school’s needs?
Jerald says, “I love pi-top, the product, because it is plug and play. I purchased a few Raspberry Pis two years ago, but we weren’t able to use them in class because the monitors that were available were industrial grade. We had to find the monitor driver and install it using the terminal, which is intimidating to students that are new to programming. We also had to install the operating system. With a class of 20 plus, the amount of questions that come up gets overwhelming. With the pi-tops, we did not have any of these issues. We took the pi-tops out, inserted the micro-SD card with the operating system already installed, and just started working on learning how to use them.
“Overall, the hardware and software feel very robust. I love the use of the magnetic strip, Hub and Proto-board. I think they are a very good way of modularizing the Raspberry Pi platform. The battery lasts a very long time and that is a big plus! I also love the interface. It’s very appealing to the eye and does not scare beginners away. Including a set of tutorials in pi-topCODER was brilliant. It really helped streamline the process of learning the system.
“The lessons are beginner-friendly and also very fun even for people with experience working on the Raspberry Pi. My students did not have any experience working with the Raspberry Pi prior to using the pi-tops and they quickly grasped the technology.
“The pi-top curriculum is also great for collaborative learning. My students have had an opportunity not only to work with each other and try to solve programming or hardware issues, but they also get to collaborate with professionals who are willing to help them resolve the bugs in their projects. Just yesterday, our students teleconferenced with a software engineer in the U.K.”
Jerald says that an added bonus is pi-top’s tech support. When he’s had trouble getting a project to run, they’ve been “easy to reach and are quick to respond with a solution. I think that is important, because it keeps the students moving forward with their projects and keeps them from giving up.”
How have the students responded to the pi-top Learning System?
Jerald says that he has seen “at least 90% of my students being fully engaged when we are using the pi-tops. More than 90% of them learned not to get discouraged and keep going even when faced with roadblocks in their projects. The other less than 10% get discouraged, but keep going anyway! I have observed that 100% of my students are now more confident tinkering, making and reverse engineering because of their experience with the pi-top Learning System.”
Students of all abilities have responded well to using pi-tops because they are convenient to assemble and start playing with, but scalable enough to be challenging even for advanced Raspberry Pi and Python users.
Jerald told us about a student who has had straight ‘A’s since freshman year. “He is obsessed about getting everything right the first time and was really frustrated when his group couldn’t get their pi-top project to work. I could see how hard it was for him to go through the failure. He saw other groups failing and trying repeatedly until they completed their project. His attitude started to change and he has become more comfortable with not getting things perfect the first time. As a result, he does not burden himself with too much pressure, and now enjoys the making process more.”
In the words of Blanca Gallego, a sophomore at Pecos High, “My favourite pi-top feature was the step by step projects that were very simple yet informative to the learning process.” Thanks, Blanca!
Feedback from parents
Parents who have seen or heard about the pi-tops are very excited as well. As Jerald says, “Many of us grew up in the pre-computer or closed system computer era, and for them to see their children hack a computer to make things is very awe-inspiring.”
Overall, the pi-tops have been a great success in engaging students of all abilities, increasing understanding by getting hands-on, sparking creativity, and fostering resilience.
Jerald’s final words: pi-tops are “Engaging, exciting – a game-changer.”