Raspberry Pi

My summer project for the boys and me came in the mail yesterday: a Raspberry Pi. It’s a tiny computer (motherboard) that you can use to teach programming to kids. It also has many real-world uses. My real-world use for it will be to replace our huge computer tower that we have by our TV with this tiny computer.

We use the computer tower to access the internet through our living room TV, which is how my youngest child watches homeschool videos. We don’t really use the hard drive part of the tower, so I’d like to move the whole tower to a computer desk where it can be used as a computer instead of a media center. This credit card-sized motherboard can sit on a shelf  and be our media center instead. Bonus: more space in the entertainment center!

Before I do that though, I’m going to let my kids play with it first. I borrowed a book from the library called Adventures in Raspberry Pi.

I’m going to have either Corran or Thias (or both!) program through the book. The main programming language used is Python. Corran has already had a taste of Python and says it is a little bit harder than Java. That is okay. I think once he sees what he can do with this little computer, he will be excited!

I ordered our Raspberry Pi 3 Model B through Amazon for about $40.


I had seen pictures of the motherboard online but nothing prepares you to see it in person. It is tiny!


Four USB ports (we plan to use two of them for a mouse and keyboard) and Ethernet. There is built-in wireless but it is still useful to have the option for a wired connection.


Full-size HDMI port for hooking up a monitor or a TV.


Audio/visual connection and a camera interface (For the Raspberry camera).



The micro SD card slot is on the underside of the motherboard.

I think the Raspberry Pi also has some applications in robotics and possibly with our Lego Mindstorms robot. We are going to start with the programming part first and then go on from there. If I am able to use it as our living room media center, then we will probably need to buy another one or two to use for other applications!




Lego Challenge: Build a Car for an Egg

Today’s challenge to from Gather Love Grow is to build a race car for an egg.  Here are the goals for the challenge.

1- build a race car that can carry an egg.

2- race the car down a ramp while carrying the egg and make it to the bottom of the ramp safely, without breaking the egg.

3- you must use 4 wheels (my kids asked if they could just slide it down without wheels. It doesn’t flip over as easily. But nope, you NEED 4 wheels, at least, or else it doesn’t qualify as a “car”. No boat races!)

We raced ours down part of our driveway rather then down a ramp since we have a convenient slope in the driveway.  Only our 3 oldest participated since the younger two were not really up for this one.  They used some Easter eggs we have around the house to help make an egg sized compartment in their car, and for their practice runs.

Our 12 year old came up with a car that had many pieces on it.  I think all those pieces were to help protect the egg.  The car ended up having even more tires once it made its way to the hill.  He said they were training wheels.  His car lost pieces on its way down the hill, and ended up broken into many pieces.  However, his egg survived the drive down the hill.

Our 8 year old built a car with a compartment on the inside.  The egg fit perfectly into the compartment and protected the egg.  His egg also did not break.

I really thought our 7 year old would have a broken egg.  His car had a large compartment in it were the egg would bounce around as the car drove down the hill. However, his egg survived the bumpy drive intact.


Thank you Isabelle for a fun challenge.  Please go to the Gather Love Grow blog to see the cars that Isabelle’s children made.








A Study in Electromagnetism  

A couple of days ago I was searching for experiments that our boys can do with their Lego Mindstorm robot, and I stumbled across an amazing website.  It is called TeachEngineering, and has curriculum for K-12 teachers.  Some of the lessons are short experiments, but it ranges up to hours long sessions that have PowerPoint presentations.  There are easy and hard lessons on a wide variety of subjects.

One of the shorter experiments is to make an electromagnet, and is intended for children in grade 4.  There isn’t a large list of items needed, in fact most of the items are real cheap or may be something you have around the house already.

I truncated the lesson quite a bit because I just wanted it to be a fun experiment, and I adjusted the material list somewhat to fit what I had on hand or could buy cheap.  I will put the link to the full lesson with a more complete material list and the teaching points at the end of the post.

Material List

  • 22 gauge wire (I used scrap wire I found at work)
  • D Cell batteries
  • 4 inch nails (I bought 5 inch at Home Depot for 7 cents each and used some 1.5 inch nails I had on hand)
  • Electrical tape
  • Paperclips, staples, anything small and metal


We quickly discovered that one of  our batteries expired in March of 2011.  I have no idea how it ended up in the battery box for so long.  It could have been an old used battery that somebody put in the box while getting out a new battery.  What I do know is that the old battery didn’t work at all.

To start the experiment, cut a section of wire about 24 inches long for each child (or adult because this is kind of fun).  Strip around 1/4 inch of the insulation off of both ends of the wire.  Wrap the wire as tightly as possible around the nail leaving 2 inches of each end loose so that it can be taped to the battery.  Put the end of the wire near the point of the nail on the positive lead of the battery, and the other end on the negative lead.

If the wires are loosely wrapped then the electromagnet will not work as well.  The object is to have the wire wrapped tightly and have the coils as close as possible.  Let your children wrap it as they want, but then if they make it loose show them the difference in the magnet based on the wrapping of the wire.  The magnet will also work better if the coils are closer to the tip of the nail then the back.

Just so you know, the ends of the battery will get warm to the touch due to the power transference.  I wouldn’t leave the wire taped to the battery long term after completing the experiment.

Once you have your magnet set up then you will be able to pick up metal items.  This will not be a super powerful magnet, but it should be able to pick up several paperclips and staples.  We only had plastic coated paperclips so that might have affected the number we could pick up.

I was even able to pick up one of the 5 inch nails with my electromagnet.


Our boys wanted to also use real magnets to see how those also worked.  Our 6 year old put a magnetized rock on his electromagnet and was able to pick up a large number of paperclips.


We also used the smaller nails with the same length of wire.  That allowed for many more coils around the nail, and made a better electromagnet.

This was a quick, simple and fun experiment.  I was able to teach my boys about magnetism and how an electromagnet works.  We were able to discover that tighter coils are better then loose, and more coils worked better then fewer.

This is an easy experiment and shouldn’t require an electrical or electronic background.  I would recommend it to anybody that wants to teach their children a simple physical science lesson.

To learn more about the experiment and lesson check out this link.




Lego Challenge: Make Something Symmetrical

Today’s Lego Challenge from Gather Love Grow was to make something symmetrical.  I was able to explain symmetry to the 11, 8, and 6 year old, however, the 4 year old didn’t quite get it.  He made shapes, but they don’t really match each other.

Our 11 year old built a “guy”. It reminds me of something, but I can’t quite place it right now.


Our 8 year old built a suit of armor. Some of the colors are not exactly the same, but I am not sure if he could find matching pieces. I think he put the most thought into his creation.


One of the creations at Gather Love Grow was a video game. Our 6 year old like that idea and this is his version of a video game.


Many thanks to Isabelle at Gather Love Grow for another Lego Challenge.  This one was helpful in teaching about symmetry to the younger kids.



Lego Challenge Build a Rainbow

Today we are bringing Gather Love Grow’s challenge to build a rainbow out of Legos.  The rainbow could be free standing or need to lie on a flat surface.  I told my boys I wanted them to build it where it could stand on its own.

We ended up with 3 rainbow shaped builds, and one flat build that was mostly rainbow colored.  We do not seem to have any purple bricks, so there will be a lack of purple in the rainbows.

Our 11 year old made his rainbow shaped with clouds below it. It isn’t rainbow colored though.
Our 8 year old had a very good rainbow. We didn’t have purple, but he did a good job building the rainbow into the clouds.
Ian (1)
Our 6 year old made a flat rainbow colored square. He substituted black for the purple.
Our 4 year old made his sort of rainbow shaped, but without any of the typical rainbow colors.

Thanks again to Isabelle for another Lego challenge.  If you want to see more Lego rainbows then head over to the Gather Love Grow blog.


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Lego Challenge: Build a Cake

Today’s Lego Challenge from Gather Love Grow was to build a birthday cake.  Again each of our children took a little different course when building the cake.  They all made smallish cakes, but each one look different.

Our 11 year old made a very small cake decorated with a mini minion.
Our 8 year old used a Legoland piece, and has fire on his candles. He thinks his cake looks like a castle.
Our 6 year old made a cake for somebody turning 2. It is lemon, strawberry, blueberry, and chocolate flavored.
Our 2 year old built the tallest cake. It started small, but he kept taking it away and making it taller.
Our 2 year old wanted to get involved with this one. She even got some pink into her cake.


Thanks again to Isabelle at Gather Love Grow for another fun Lego Challenge.



Lego Challenge: Build a Snake

Today’s Lego Challenge from Gather Love Grow is to build a snake.  This is a harder challenge because the build has to be out rather then up.  Lego’s are much easier to build up, so building on a horizontal plane can be hard.


Corran, the 11 year old, made a nice snake all of one color.  Lynn had to make him go back to work on it, so I wonder what it looked like before.



Matthias, the 8 year old, made a multicolor snake.  I think it has a good snake like head.



Apparently, I took a bad picture of Ian’s snake.  I thought the boat was the head, but he says it is the tail.  It is a rattlesnake.  He is 6 years old and has a unique mind.



Please go by Gather Love Grow and check them out.


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