Making with a Raspberry Pi

Pi as a Time Machine via TechRadar
Pi as a Time Machine via TechRadar

I have always had a fondness for the Raspberry Pi microcomputer for maker type projects. For example, two years ago I made an Apple Time Machine to wirelessly backup two Macbooks in our home using the original Raspberry Pi and a 1TB hard drive. I wrote a “how-to” blog post about it on a website that has been retired. Since then, there have been 2 major revisions to the Raspberry Pi and a Raspian upgrade (the Raspberry Pi version of Linux). After a quick search I found that there were some really well written instructions out there, so there was no need to create a new “how-to”. Personally I like the one from TechRadar.

The Time Machine backup device is in a closet in the basement and is only accessible via my home network. In order to keep the software patched and up-to-date, I use SSH (secure shell) to log into the Raspberry Pi. On a Mac you can use the terminal to access the Pi but I also use a Chromebook. To access the Pi via the Chromebook I use Secure Shell from the Chrome Web Store. I also use it to access the server for this site and run this “Update and Clean” script:

echo "Update and Clean" &&
sudo apt-get update &&
sudo apt-get -y upgrade &&
sudo apt-get -f install &&
sudo apt-get autoremove &&
sudo apt-get -y autoclean &&
sudo apt-get -y clean

However, since the Pi is sitting in the closet without a monitor or keyboard, I have no way to use it for its intended purpose, to learn about coding. I found that I could install VNC (Virtual Network Computing) onto the Raspberry Pi and use the desktop interface remotely. I followed the instructions from Adafruit about how to install VNC on the Pi and how to make it autostart after a reboot. I can now use a VNC client to access the desktop of the Pi. There is even a Chromebook VNC client so I can use the Pi from my Chromebook.

Pi Desktop via adafruit
Pi Desktop via adafruit

Because we never stop learning, today I learned that there is already a VNC client in my Macbook. I followed these instructions, here and here, to create a “share screen” button that now appears in the Finder of my Macbook and it allows me to remotely access the desktop of my Pi.

Now my Pi is serving a dual purpose. I am using it back up my Macbook and I am also remotely accessing it to learn about Linux and explore the coding apps found on the Raspberry Pi.

One more thing, Adafruit is one of my favourite “go-to” sites for everything Raspberry Pi and Limor “Ladyada” Fried at Adafruit is a fascinating role model for coding and building.


The Value of Coding in Schools

pubpd-codingSince the last #PubPD topic on “Coding in the Classroom”, I have been thinking about my discussions with Andrew and Scott. You can review the Twitter chat archived on Storyfy by

First a little about my experiences to establish my bias. I first learned to code in 1984. Our high school had recently acquired a handful of Commodore PET computers sharing a dual floppy drive and audio cassette media storage. It was on this device I learned to code in BASIC and coded an simple version of PONG.

Image via WikiMedia Commons
Image via WikiMedia Commons

As the technology evolved I learned to code in Pascal and COBOL. In 1988 I learned about FORTAN and SPSSx while utilizing new network protocols like gopher, telnet, listservers, usenet, and email. Now in 2016…I have no idea how today’s modern coding languages work. I tried to learn python but lost interest after a few weeks, it was to abstract. The only code I still regularly work with is HTML, CSS and CLI Linux commands. Not exactly the type of coding skills needed to make the next billion dollar app. However, it lets me function online and customize my server and website to reflect the “look and feel” I am trying to achieve. You could say I have moved away from being a coder and have become a code tweaker. I am not afraid to dive into code and modify it to suit my needs, but I lack the skills to create something new.

The importance of coding to me is similar to how I approach automobile maintenance.

I don’t know how to build a car but I can maintain it by changing the oil or changing a flat tire. These were skills I learned in automotive class in high school. I did learn to do more, but as cars became more complicated I am hesitant to go beyond these basic tasks. However, I can still tell if I am being overcharged for servicing and I can change my own tire if I get a flat.

Students should be given the opportunity to learn coding and what it takes to build simple programs. Not only will it introduce them to the skill, but many of the problems found in computer science will allow them to develop problem-solving skills.

Employers value the ability to problem-solve, process information, and be proficient with technology (Forbes). Coding forces us to think different than we would in an English class. The logic and sequential problem solving that it introduces will allow students to develop a different set of skills that can be utilized. This is not to say that those skills developed in English class are not valuable, they are just different but equally important. Coding and computer science will also likely be one of the top employment sectors when todays students graduate from college and university. According to, more than 75% of computer science based jobs are unfilled in the United States and the statistics can be expected to be similar in Canada.

We need to do more for our students. We need to develop a coherent plan to provide students with a basic education in coding and computer science. It is a valuable skill that will provide students with more opportunities.

What do you think? Leave your comments below.

New Podcast: Three Questions With Alanna King

On July 13, I participated at our local Twitter Chat #PubPD. There were 14 of us discussing the value of coding in schools both “IRL” and on Twitter. One of the people I had the opportunity to speak with was Alanna King. I asked her 3 questions and she shared with me her passion on participatory culture and critical thinking.

You can find out more about Alanna by following her on Twitter

Thanks to for organizing the event.

Axe Throwing with my PLN

photo via Olympia Aquatics (
photo via Olympia Aquatics (

We had an impromptu sleep over last night with 4 fifteen year old boys who play soccer together. As I was making coffee, I was dreading going outside to clean up the backyard after their midnight swim. When I sat at my kitchen table to enjoy my coffee and survey what had to be done in the backyard I noticed that the boys had already cleaned up the yard. I was pleased…then not pleased. I was not pleased at myself for assuming that 4 teenage boys were going to leave a mess behind them.

Assumptions are not based on fact but from personal experience from only a single viewpoint. So where did my assumption come from? As I reflected on this I recognized it was from my experiences in the classroom. After the bell signals the end of the period I usually walk around the room to see if anything needs tidying up. I often find textbooks, calculators, wrappers, and often they are where the boys were seated. Did the forgetting of textbooks and littering create my mindset that all teenage boys are forgetful and messy? Sure some are, but the word “all” is the problem. I was painting the boys in my backyard with the same brush as a few of the boys in my classroom. Do students assume things about teachers?

As a teacher, I am also aware that students sometimes forget we are regular people too. When I see them at the grocery store or the mall there is always a sense of shock to see me outside of school. There is even a greater shock when you tell them things like how you spent the weekend riding your motorcycle or going axe throwing with your friends.

axeYes, axe throwing is a real thing and tonight I will be going for the second time with teachers from my Professional Learning Network (PLN). I am not sure why I find this uniquely Canadian activity so satisfying. But I do blame Jane, Herman, and Andrea for introducing me to it. It would be safe to assume that this is not a normal activity for “teachers”, but, it is a lot of fun and a fantastic team builder. Twelve members of my PLN are getting together later today to go to BATL Grounds to learn axe throwing. It is very different than how we typically spend our time talking about education and how to better prepare students. However, during this activity we get to laugh at each other, have some competition, and spend time together learning a new skill. It gives us an opportunity to see each other as regular people doing something that others might think of as silly.

I guess it is time to lose the assumption that all teenage boys are messy and that teachers only talk about teaching. There is one assumption I am keeping…teenage boys are always hungry.

New Podcast: Three Questions with Teresa Dunat-Banks

Today I spoke with Teresa Dunat-Banks, Head of Special Education, about students with special needs and how the physical space can enhance student learning.

You can find her on Twitter @tdunatbanks