If you tell a kid, time for “math” they’ll probably groan unless they’re a bit of an “odd duck”. Math, traditionally, has been viewed by schoolchildren as boring, tedious, and often difficult to understand. STEM, now STEAM educational materials now provide the ability to convey the concepts of mathematics in a tangible way. The seemingly ubiquitous raspberry pi is partially responsible for this explosion in education related to technology. One such example of this is Kano OS.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Kano. It’s a great platform for the ~5 year olds that want a computer. Less than $200 in a branded kit, or around the same price to build your own. It’s a Raspberry Pi with a custom linux build that “kidifies” the whole look and feel. It does more than just make everything pretty, though… They’ve included “HACK/Minecraft” an educational version of the game, art tools, an adventure game that teaches the layout of a raspberry pi, and more.
What do you do when the same kid turns 8, two years into having a Kano computer? “I’m boooored. My computer locked up again”… You could schlop a Raspbian desktop imaged SD into the thing, sure. You could put Minibian on it if the kid is really interested in making it theirs, and you have the time to help them with EVERY step. Keep in mind, kids under about 10 in the U.S. usually don’t quite grasp “I could google that.”.
What I did was the hard part for them ahead of time. Minibian is the lighter version of Debian for Raspberry Pi. Almost exactly like a Debian minimal install, it doesn’t even include the firmware for bluetooth by default. But, it does have apt-get and the Raspbian repositories.
Here’s a very brief rundown of my method:
Minibian – boot to console with no network attached
Change root password, create sudoer (me) and user (kid) account
apt-get update; apt-get upgrade -y
Install packages as desired:
minetest (it’s in the repos, and runs ok on a rpi3)
browser of your choosing
other games, educational apps, etc
Now, FluxBox is the one package I want to touch on to finish this up. It is a Window-Manager. You see, Linux doesn’t have a GUI by default, like Windows does. Instead, we run X on top of our perfectly-fine-without-it OS. X comes in a couple of flavors, but it’s the part that gives you a Graphical Interface. The Window-Manager makes that interface pretty, by giving you menus and such. Window-Managers vary, but FluxBox is one of the smaller ones. I’ve tried running Raspbian desktop as it comes; it locks up, chokes for CPU, chokes for I/O throughput, and applications hang when given to a child or other poorly behaved user.
Smaller in this context means less memory utilization, less storage for the window-manager software itself, and less headache. The menu system for it is entirely plaintext, the layout and theme styling is as well. So much of this window-manager is plaintext that you can spend a great deal of time fine-tuning everything to suit your tastes. Should it fail to composite things correctly after an application closes, there’s a menu item (scriptable btw) that cleans it all up for you. Even tidies up the handles on windows that are still attached to running processes.
The end result is a raspberry Pi computer with:
a pretty, clean GUI
kid-friendly menu system
shortcuts to common web/cloud things.