Raspberry Pi Shopping List

The Raspberry Pi is a $35 computer.  Trouble is, it needs more stuff to make it go.  This Raspberry Pi shopping list will help you be sure you have all the essentials and will suggest add-ons that will let your students do more experiments and build more things.  Prices below are from the spring of 2019.  If you find problems with this list, please tell me by writing to Bob.Brown@Kennesaw.edu.  I want to correct errors and make this a truly useful list.

I recommend one Raspberry Pi with parts kit for every two students; that allows students to work in pairs and learn from each other.  I've made a list of precautions your students should read.

The Bare Minimum

Although there are ways to connect remotely to a Raspberry Pi, students will learn best if they can put their hands on the equipment.  The items on this list will allow one pair of students to use a Raspberry Pi and perform simple build-it experiments, such as making one face of a traffic light.

A Raspberry Pi:  The newest, latest, greatest, and coolest Raspberry Pi (as of fall, 2018) is the Model 3 A+.  Best for classroom use is still the Model 3 B+.  The plus is important; it's a major improvement over the Model 3 B.  You can save a few bucks by buying older versions but they'll be obsolete sooner.  You can buy the Model 3 B+ from Adafruit for the advertised $35.  At the moment there's a limit of two per customer.  That will likely be relaxed as the supply improves.  If you need more than two, Arrow has them in quantity with a small discount and free shipping.

I've recommended the Model 3 B+ largely because it has on-board Ethernet, four USB ports, and there are lots of accessories for it.  However, the 3 A+ has a smaller form factor and is $10.00 less expensive.  It does have on-board WiFi, so to use it on a network, you will need WiFi available and accessible to your student projects.  The 3 A+ also has only one USB port, so you'll need an external USB hub to connect both keyboard and mouse, or a keyboard / trackpad combo device.  That cost could more than offset the less expensive sale price of the Pi itself.

A power supply:  The Model B+ needs a 2.5 amp power supply with heavier-gauge wire than one finds in phone chargers.  Adafruit has the right power supply for $7.50.  There's a check-block in the link to buy a Raspberry Pi that will add one to your order automagically.  Don't skimp on this; your Raspberry Pi might run erratically or not at all with an inadequate power supply.

An SD card, possibly with operating system:  In place of a hard disk, the Raspberry Pi uses a micro SD card, such as might be used in a camera.  The Raspberry Pi Foundation recommends the SanDisk brand. You can get a 16GB card with OS installer from Adafruit forRaspberry-branded and SanDisk microSD cards $15.  You can save money by buying a five-pack of blank SD cards for less than $25 and installing the operating system yourself.  A larger card probably isn't necessary unless you are doing something unusual, such as duplicating multiple cards.  You can get a blank 64GB card for $12 from Amazon; 32 GB cards cost only about $7.55 each in packs of two. 

You will also need a microSD to USB adapter to work with these cards on a desktop computer.  The five-pack in the link above includes a suitable adapter.

It's important that you get a Class 10 micro SD card. That will have a symbol that's the letter C with the number 10 inside it.  Not all cards work.  There's a compatibility list, not by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, available.  My suggestion: Get the 16 GB blank cards, in a batch so they're all alike, and load your own O.S.  You will need a few extra cards.  Students can corrupt an SD card by turning off power without a clean shutdown.  You can correct the problem by reloading the card, but you'd like to give the student a new card while that's happening.

An operating system:  Even if you buy an SD card with the OS installed, you will want to re-install the OS every term because your SD cards will have old student work on them.  The Raspberry Pi operating systems are free to download, and the Raspberry Pi Foundation has instructions for downloading and installing an OS.  Use Raspbian, not NOOBS.  Be sure to set aside some time if you need to do 15-20 installs!  We've written some instructions for duplicating multiple SD cards.

A USB keyboard and mouse:  You'll need a USB keyboard and mouse for each Pi.  (Bluetooth works, too, but wired devices will be much less fiddly in the classroom.)  You can probably find these in a closet at your school.  If not, a keyboard/mouse combo will cost $15 from Amazon.

A monitor and cable: The Raspberry Pi video output is in HDMI format.  If your school has HDMI monitors, you're good to go!  Just plug the HDMI cable into the Raspberry Pi.  If money is burning a hole in your pocket, you can get a 20" HDMI monitor for $70.  Bigger ones will cost more.  You'll also need an HDMI cable for about $7. 

No HDMI monitors and no money?  Your school's monitors probably have DVI inputs.  If so, you'll need an HDMI to DVI cable for about $7.  The DVI connection doesn't carry the audio signal, so you may need an audio cable or headphones as well if you're doing things that require sound.  You may need to enable audio on the headphone jack.  Right-click the volume control (speaker icon) on the top right of the screen and click "analog" if "HDMI is selected.

There are HDMI to VGA converters, but not all of them work well.  If you have to go that route, be sure to read the reviews, looking for "works with Raspberry Pi," before you order.  I've tested this one and it seems to be OK.  It's less than a foot long, so you'll need a regular VGA cable, too.  If you have VGA monitors, you probably have suitable cables.  The VGA connection doesn't carry the audio signal, so you may need an audio cable or headphones as well if you're doing things that require sound. You may need to enable audio on the headphone jack. Right-click the volume control (speaker icon) on the top right of the screen and click "analog" if "HDMI is selected.

Parts!  The whole point of the Raspberry Pi is for kids to build stuff; otherwise, it's just another computer.  An education parts kit for about $19 will let students experiment with LEDs, a pushbutton, a buzzer, a couple of sensors, and other material.  You probably want to consider these to be expendable and plan on buying new kits every year or two.GPIO Reference Card

A GPIO reference card:  This is a small plastic gadget that slips over those 40 GPIO pins and provides labels for them.  Without it, your students absolutely will damage your Raspberry Pis by connecting the wrong pins.  The education parts kit in the link above includes a GPIO reference.  If you have a parts pack without the reference, you can buy them on Amazon in packs of 25 for about a dollar each.  There's also a printable image that will let you make paper references.  Try printing on index card stock if available, and be careful forcing the pins through the paper.

A case, maybe?  You can find many cases for the Raspberry Pi, and most starter kits include a case.  You don't need it.  If your students are building stuff, they'll work with the Raspberry Pi out of the case anyway.  Instead, pick up a plastic storage box like these for two dollars or so each or see what the Container Store has.  (If you want to store cables, too, you'll need a bigger box.)  You probably want to put each Raspberry Pi and its SD card in an anti-static bag for storage.  Twelve bucks will get more than you can ever use!

But I really want a case!  OK, look into Pimoroni's Coupé Pibow 3 B+.  At $10.00 plus shipping, it will add nearly a third to the cost of the Raspberry Pi itself.  However, it is cool, and it protects your Raspberry Pi while leaving all the hackable stuff accessible to your students.  It also provides protection against short circuits, particularly on the bottom of your Raspberry Pi.  Some Assembly Required.™ Beware: Not all versions of this case will work with the Model 3 B+; you need part number PIM341.

Bottom line:  If you have keyboards, mouses, and DVI or HDMI capable monitors, you can equip each pair of students for $80-90.  You may be able to bring the prices down further with education or quantity discounts.

Very Cool Extras

With the material above, students will be able to make lights blink, buzzers buzz, and detect things in the physical world. To do more things, students will need more stuff.  Depending on how you organize your class, you may not need one of these for each pair of students.  For example, you may have some students working with the Sense HAT and some working with the Explorer HAT.  (HAT is a somewhat tortured acronym for Hardware Attached on Top.  It sits on top of the Raspberry Pi just like, um, a hat.)

Motors! ...and motor controllers: Kids love to make things go, and an early request is likely to be for motors, wheels, and gears.  There are three kinds of small motors, and you will want to choose the kind for your application.  DC motors can run forward or backward, and the speed can be controlled by turning power on and off very quickly, a technique called Pulse Width Modulation.  Servo motors can be commanded to rotate to a specific angle, so they can be used to do things like open and close doors.  Stepper motors can be precisely controlled, like servo motors, and can also rotate continuously.  You probably want to start with ordinary DC motors, perhaps like this one for $4, and progress to the other types as requirements dictate.  You will also need a motor controller like the Explorer HAT that's just below.  Other kinds of controllers may need a battery pack to power the motor independent of the Pi's power supply.  Powerful motors will also need a battery pack.

Explorer HAT: Add motor controls, inputs, outputs, and touch switches to your Raspberry Pi with the Explorer HAT. $23.

Robot Rover: Put your Pi on wheels with the Robot Rover. For younger kids, this pre-fab chassis will put them on the road to building a robot.  In addition to the Rover itself, you'll need something like the Explorer HAT and a battery pack. $25 for the chassis only.  Older kids might design and build their own robot chassis.  The Raspberry Pi Foundation has a robot project to get them started.

Distance sensors, also called rangefinders, and light sensors may be needed for work in robotics.  The parts kit in the "Bare Minimum" section includes temperature and motion sensors.

More parts:  Students will let all the smoke out of a few LEDs every year, and they may want parts not in the "Bare Minimum" kit above.  SunFounder makes several parts kits, like this one, that let students do more with their Raspberry Pis.  Multiple prices; the one in the link is $36.

Camera board:  Take still pictures and videos with the camera board.  The board itself is $30.  Accessories include cases, tripods, and pan/tilt housings.  There's also an infrared camera.

Sense HAT:  Measure temperature, pressure, humidity, and orientation with the Sense HAT and display the results on an 8x8 RGB LED matrix.  $40.  There is a Sense HAT emulator in the Raspbian operating system.  Students can test and debug using the emulator, then demonstrate with a physical Sense HAT.  That way, one Sense HAT module can do for an entire class.  There's even a web-based Sense HAT emulator that your students can try with just a web browser.

Piano HAT: Use the Piano HAT to make beautiful music with your Pi with an octave of piano keys plus more touch-sensitive controls and programmable LEDs.  $20.  You will need speakers or headphones to plug into the audio jack if you want to do anything with music or sound.  Pro tip:  Your classroom will be much calmer if you get headphones.

Many more HATs:  You will find page after page of HATs at Adafruit, and a search will find even more.

Much, much more!  Try "raspberry pi add-ons" in your favorite search engine and you'll find hundreds of things to add fun to your Raspberry Pi.


You want books?  The Raspberry Pi Foundation has a more complete list than I could ever make.  An important thing to know about books is that the Raspberry Pi hardware is evolving so fast that authors and publishers are having a hard time keeping up.  Almost all of what you read will still be useful, but the newest Raspberry Pi will likely have goodies not covered in whatever book you buy.  You can read the first two chapters of Raspberry Pi for Dummies free.  Another book to consider is the Raspberry Pi User Guide 4th Edition by Eben Upton and Gareth Halfacree. It’s less expensive than many others, and Upton is a co-creator of the Raspberry Pi. The fourth edition was current when this was written; if there’s a later edition, prefer the later one.

More Raspberry Pi Resources

Copyright © 2018 by Kennesaw State University
Creative Commons BY-NC-SA License

Last update: 2019-05-15 17:46