The iPad is a great tool for consuming and creating media. You can record and edit photographs, videos and music. Reading and writing text is something that can be done on the iPad easily. The iPad is touted as an educational tool. However, as a computer, you still can't really programs on the iPad. Making apps for the iPad is hard (both because of the programming complexity and closed App Store ecosystem). The reduction in the cost of computer power means that people have more and more computer power available to them. However, fewer and fewer people know how to create computers. Most of the devices we have are polished, but locked down. People rarely tinker with their laptop or smartphone.
On to the stage comes the Raspberry Pi. The Pi is among the world's cheapest computers. It is about the size of a smartphone, features all the connections to hook up to a keyboard, mouse, monitor and network cable and it only costs $35 (there is an older cheaper one for $25). It runs on free, open-source software recorded on an SD card. It is cheap enough so that students can "afford failure." Most of the computers in a school are locked down; not even the teachers are allowed to install software. The Pi gives students a sandbox to play in. It gives the students the opportunity to create software, not just be consumers of software.
Bill Van Loo has begun using the Raspberry Pi in his school with elementary and middle school students. Students in a week-long summer camp program set up their Pi's and started programming code for Minecraft. This sort of creative activity engages students in higher order thinking and problem solving, but it also gives the students a purpose for learning. In his presentation, Bill Van Loo described the process of building a circular tower in Minecraft. Writing the code to do so required revisiting how to convert polar coordinates (in which it is easy to give the equation for a circle) into the rectangular coordinates (which describes the world of Minecraft).
I was thinking this summer that I might take a vacation somewhere as a reward for graduating. Vacations are expensive, so maybe I will do that next summer. However, I can probably afford to pick up a Raspberry Pi and tinker with it. I'll never teach a programming class, but the Raspberry Pi offers the potential for a club or extra-curricular activity. It also gives me the power to create something more than just an awesome blog, but to create something that actually does something (Like run Doom!).
Returning to my iPad, in another session I came across Explain Everything. It is a video capturing/screen-casting/whiteboard application for the iPad. It allows users to import Documents, PowerPoints, PDFs and a host of other file formats. Then, the users can annotated or mark-up the file before exporting the as images or as an MP4 video. Users can get a similar product for PC's called Jing for free. However, the file format that Jing saves in is difficult to upload and edit. Explain Everything videos can either be immediately uploadable to YouTube or can be loaded into (the free) Microsoft Movie Maker and further edited. Best of all, unlike other videos editing software, Explain Everything only costs $2.99.
For the cost of parking and the gas to drive out to MACUL, I could buy a computer and start learning how to code. For the cost of a muffin at MACUL, I could download Explain Everything and start flipping my classroom.