A Raspberry Pi is a hand-sized computer you can use to do fun projects, as well as learn to code if you want. Plus you can buy colorful cases, even build a case from Legos.
This article describes where to get one, how to get set up, and several Raspberry Pi projects to keep you busy for days. Links to everything are at the bottom of this article, in the Learn More section, to help you get a quick feel for everything then set you loose on the internet to have fun. Where possible, I’ve linked to articles which often have helpful comments sections where people discuss common issues as well as alternatives.
Where to Get Your Raspberry Pi
Quite a few places now sell Raspberry Pi units. Start with the Pi foundation site, which includes links to a few distributors. I’ve also bought from Adafruit in the US which includes lots of add ons, tutorials, and other helpful materials.
In addition to buying your Pi board, be sure to get an 8 gigabyte SD card to hold your Pi operating system and any files created while you use your Pi. You also might want to buy a few accessories. For example, you'll also need a computer monitor or TV with DVI or HDMI connectors, as well as a keyboard and mouse with USB connectors. The preferred monitor connection is an HDMI connection and USB is preferred for keyboard and mouse. However, there are HDMI (on the Pi) to DVI (on a monitor or TV) cables and USB to PS/2 connectors available; it's simply an extra step or two to find these additional connection types.
It also might help to find and use a small shoe box-sized container to hold your Pi and any cables and other parts. Makes it easier to find things over time. And you should consider a power strip: the two power plugs I used cover two plugs instead of covering one plug on my power strip. You might have to move plugs around for everything to be cozy.
How to Set Up a Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi foundation is the best place to start, with their download page. If you want to see how simple the process really is, here’s their NOOBS setup video with Carrie Phillips demonstrating the process:
For beginners, definitely install the NOOBS (New Our Of the Box Setup) version of the Raspberry Pi software. It includes Raspian (also called Wheezy) which is needed to set up Minecraft, if you want to go that route. But NOOBS also is designed to be easy to install and use. Once you get familiar with Pi, it’s easy enough to buy another 8 GB SD card, repeat the process in this video, and install a different operating system.
How to Set Up Minecraft on Raspberry Pi
The first, perhaps most natural, Pi project involves installing then modding Minecraft. Most people are familiar with Minecraft and tweaking the game turns out to be a great way to experience what makes your Raspberry Pi so special. Kids, teachers, and parents love the combination. The only negative? Minecraft Pi is a basic version of the game. But modding the game turns out to be relatively easy.
Here’s a brilliant explanation of the Minecraft game and how Minecraft plus Pi work so well together:
While there is an official Minecraft Pi page online, probably the best way to find, install, and use Minecraft on Pi is to search for online tutorials (Raspberry Spy linked below is best I found) and then look at topic pages at the Pi foundation site and the Codecademy PDF book with 225 pages showing how to mod Minecraft on your Pi, for when you get bored of simply playing.
Martin O’Hanlon also has a site with Minecraft code, StuffAboutCode, and the video above also mentions ScarabCoder, another site but created by Nicholas Harris, a 12-year old. You might even buy his ebook about Minecraft and Pi for 99 cents on Amazon.
Remote Control Your Pi
Once you set up your Raspberry Pi, you may notice there are lots of cables and stuff to keep track of. That’s the reason I recommend a shoe box or similar size box to hold your Pi and its bits like cables. However, once you have your Pi board running, there is an easy way to connect without cables and from your regular desktop or laptop computer. Instead of cables, you use VNC, or Virtual Network Computing.
Even better, this type of connection is called headless because there is no dedicated monitor for your Pi computer. But it’s also handless, armless, and legless if you think about it because you can use your computer monitor, keyboard, and mouse to run your Pi.
Details on how to run your Pi with it sitting on your desk with no wires and no monitor are below. I’ve also included links with instructions to connect to your Pi with SSH, another important skill and setting.
The One-Button Audio Book Player
This is a great project to expand your Pi skills to include a breadboard, a little wiring, and some modest scripting. Being able to press one button to hear an audio book helps an older or visually impaired person who maybe doesn’t have great sight but loves to listen to books.
Coffee Table Arcade Game
This project looks really neat, like something you find in an arcade. But it’s fairly easy to build if you’re familiar with Pi and a few other things. You will need a 24″ monitor (in the US, MicroCenter and others sell AOC monitors for cheap) and a table.
People also hack IKEA tables for this type of project since they’re inexpensive and often easy to cut pieces out for the monitor and buttons.
Math Fun with Raspberry Pi
Pi projects don’t have to be all about hardware. The NOOBS operating system includes a software application called Mathematica. J. FermÃn CÃ¡ceres and others at CalfunTech have created a presentation, Wolfram Language for Kids, you can copy/paste mathematical functions into Mathematica to get some fun results and learn the Wolfram language.
Where to Get Help with Raspberry Pi
I’d start first with the Pi foundation forums by searching for words or phrases that describe the problem you want to solve. If you can’t find your question already answered, then post a new question. Be sure to include all the important details: which Pi unit, operating system (for example, Raspian), and exactly how you got stuck. This is common operating procedure for any forum, of course.
Where to Buy a Pi
How to Install Raspberry Pi
Minecraft on Raspberry Pi
How To Setup Minecraft On The Raspberry Pi
Includes screen shots, how to create a desktop icon on your Pi, and comments include solutions to save your Minecraft world. Be sure to read the comments to find issues and workarounds.
How to Setup a Minecraft Server
How To Capture Minecraft Screenshots On The Raspberry Pi
Remote Control Your Pi (Look, No Monitor for Pi)
Connect to Your Raspberry Pi with SSH
The One-Button Audio Book Player
Doesn’t require advanced skills. Do read the comments, however, for links and tips.
Coffee Table Pi
Wolfram Language for Kids
Make Your Garage Door Email, Tweet, or SMS
How to Rename Your Pi
Build a Raspberry Pi Case with Legos
More and More and More Raspberry Pi Projects