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Piper Raspberry Pi DIY Computer Kit Review: the Fun Way to STEM

Piper Raspberry Pi DIY Computer Kit Review: STEM Learning Tool

The Piper Kit is a build-it-yourself Raspberry Pi computer project in a box that provides a fun introduction to the world of engineering and technology using the STEM education curriculum. It’s a great interactive way to build critical thinking & problem solving skills with fun hands-on lessons. The lessons provide an introduction to practical applications of building electronics & basic coding skills for young ones.

STEM Education focuses on teaching four disciplines: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics. Recommended for children ages 8-12, the Kit uses a Stanford endorsed curriculum developed by Piper. It includes a Raspberry Pi 3 board and comes with everything you need to have fun building and learning. Hands-on interactive lesson plans let you to build your own working Raspberry Pi computer. Endorsed by Steve ‘the Woz’ Wozniak co-founder of Apple computer.

Piper Raspberry Pi DIY Computer Kit Review: STEM Learning ToolOverview

You’ll begin by building the actual computer together with your child. Once the computer is built you can boot it up and begin to navigate through the lesson worlds and complete the levels and tasks using the electronic components included in the kit. When you’re done you can do some minor packing and close up the box for next time. It’s a fun, hands-on learning activity that you can go back to again and again.

It’s never too early in our opinion to begin shaping the way your child learns to open up their world for the future. The activities are developed to build critical thinking and problem solving skills. The hands-on tinker time is a great first exposure to electronics and prototyping. Our 5 year olds, with lots of guidance love playing with the Piper computer. They call it “my computer” and are so proud that they built it and completed the levels with dad. You’ll want to have a clean flat surface with a little room when you are engaging in the lesson plans as the tasks require you to build electronic components to reach the goal for that level.

Take some time to participate and guide your child through the lessons as they may need help. The tasks are designed to be challenging and not impossible but don’t expect to hand this off to your 8 year old child have expect him to know how to complete it all on his/her own. This is a learning activity and you will need to provide some guidance and/or help in the beginning. If they knew what to do already you wouldn’t need this.

Piper has provided the Raspberry Pi Computer Kit with Minecraft Pi edition as a courtesy so that we could provide first hand review coverage of the unit and install experience to our readers.

Piper Raspberry Pi DIY Computer Kit Review: STEM Learning Tool
What’s inside the Piper Raspberry Pi DIY Computer Kit

the Specs

The Piper computer measures 3.5” x 6.5” x 11” assembled and is made of 5mm pine wood. A 7″ LCD screen displays at 800×480 resolution and seats inside the box lid. A dual output port 1A/2A 6000mAh Lithium-ion battery provides power to both the Raspberry Pi board and LCD screen. The Raspberry Pi 3 board comes with 1.2GHz CPU, 1GB RAM, HDMI, USB,AV jacks, built-in WiFi, Micro SD card port and pre-installed NOOBS Raspberry Pi OS and the Piper Software on an included microSD card.

Piper Raspberry Pi DIY Computer Kit Review: STEM Learning Tool
Raspberry Pi 3 Board

The Piper computer Kit comes with all the pre-cut wooden panels and hardware to assemble the computer case/box. The box is hinged and has a buckle lock so you can close it up and carry it with you. In addition the Piper Kit comes with a controller box, speaker, mini mouse, battery, HDMI and USB cables to complete the computer.

Buttons, jumper wires, LED lights, piezo buzzer, Switches, 2x breadboards are also included to complete the lesson plans and create the gadgets necessary to finish the levels.

It can be helpful if the adult has some knowledge of how to navigate a computer, flash a memory card and generally be comfortable using a computer. Though you may not need any technical knowledge, the familiarity with technology certainly helps in case you are presented with a technical glitch as your quickest support may be the community forums. That said, we did not encounter any issues building or booting the system, it all went smoothly and by the numbers for us.

Piper Raspberry Pi DIY Computer Kit Review: STEM Learning Tool
Building the Piper Raspberry Pi Computer Kit

the Build

Building the Piper kit was a lot of fun for our boys. Even though the Piper Computer Kit is recommended for ages 8-12, that didn’t stop our 5 year olds from wanting to be involved building it. You’ll need to determine if your child is ready to embark on this journey at this young age. There’s constant hand-holding going on but it has become an activity that we go back to and rerun levels again and again.

The kids love participating and getting hands-on, they think it’s so cool!

The instructions are layed out on an enormous blueprint style coated paper and provides you a visual diagram on what to build when. The instructions are pretty easy to follow, though sparse with verbiage on some details, you just need to follow the visual diagrams. The wooden panels, screws, nuts and bolts all seemed to go together easily and as expected. The build is not that difficult but the boys had a blast helping.

Since the box is made of Pine wood you’ll ultimately be faced with the expanding and contracting of the wood resulting in loose screws. After a couple of weeks we had a couple/few screws fall out or become so loose that it was about to fall out. You can invest in a threadlocker like a Loctite or other gel style applications or simply go and re-tighten the nuts every so often.

Piper Raspberry Pi DIY Computer Kit Review: STEM Learning Tool
Piper Control Board

the Coding & Lessons

Pre-installed with 8 lesson plans the Piper Kit provides interactive game style lessons that require you to create electronic gadgets to complete the lesson/level. Upon entering the level, you’ll need to navigate the Minecraft style world and complete tasks like building working buttons, switches, LED light, buzzer using the components and wires included.

Your child will be introduced to basic engineering concepts like Parallel circuitry, Polarity & Breadboarding that are layed out in the Minecraft environment that many children are already intimately familiar with.

The storyline places you as the damaged robot who needs to complete tasks to fix itself so it can save the world. Each planet is a lesson and you navigate that world, find your task and build the component to complete the level.

Your mileage may vary but Piper states there’s about 8-12 hours of play time to complete the lesson plans after which you can run them again or enter creative mode where you can free play.

You use the control box to walk and the mouse to interact with the world. The tasks are fun to do but are designed to be challenging so you’ll want to be there to provide some guidance. You’ll ultimately need to create a gadget and then code in the game to control your hardware gadget, sensor, button, buzzer or other item you build. The term “coding” is relative here, as the lesson plan does NOT require or teach development code like Basic, C++, Java or other…

Piper Raspberry Pi DIY Computer Kit Review: STEM Learning Tool
Piper Raspberry Pi NOOBS OS

Raspberry Pi

Outside of the lesson plans you can also access the Raspberry Pi desktop and run the Minecraft Pi edition game. The game is limited but the kids enjoy playing it and exploring with a UI (user interface) they are already familiar with. If you have another Raspberry Pi with Minecraft Pi edition, it is possible to locally network the pair to play together in the same world.

Since the Piper Kit uses the Raspberry Pi 3 board, there’s also lots of fun things you can do and program from running game emulators, build practical controllers for lights and other things around the house, build an interactive mirror, build a mini computer for your car and much more. There’s no hard drive as it’s all stored on a micro SD card, so you can ultimately flash another card and boot into another OS like Linux or Ubuntu.

Piper software updates are available OTA (over the air) or in downloadable/flashable format.

The mouse included has a retractable flat cable on it and the control box provides a key input, it’s ok and works fine for our 5 year olds hands but for larger children you may opt to simply plug a full size mouse. It’s also possible to plug in a full size keyboard for easier use outside of the lessons/levels.

What could be improved

Using the computer can be slightly cumbersome since there’s not enough space inside to keep all the components in the same spot whether the box is open or closed. You’ll need to do some arranging when you open it to use or close it to store. Perhaps some options for cable management and/or a way to lock components down in their spots would help.

We would love to see more lesson plans or pre-configured things to do after the pre-installed 8. Additional lessons are available for PURCHASE but the link seems to be broken on the Piper site at this time.

When you are inside the lesson world/game your goal is to complete the task for that level. Once you reach the task area a visual/virtual diagram of what you need to duplicate (the gadget), however if you turn your view or move to see other areas of the project diagram you can sometimes fall through the virtual design/diagram and become stuck in a surreal portion of the virtual world that can be a little frustrating. There were a handful of different times where we felt there was “no way out” or the system would hang and had to simply hardboot the computer by turning the battery off.

Piper Raspberry Pi DIY Computer Kit Review: STEM Learning Tool
Piper Raspberry Pi Computer Kit packs up for portability

the Wrap up

The Piper Raspberry Pi Computer Kit is a STEM education tool with hands-on interactive lessons that help develop critical thinking & problem solving skills for the modern world. Building the computer is a fun family activity to do and your kids will love the idea of building their own working computer. The content is engaging, challenging and creates a fun way for them to learn about engineering and technology hands-on. We highly recommend the Piper Computer Kit, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Piper Raspberry Pi Computer Kit w/ Minecraft Pi edition $299.99