When I tell folks how much Piper costs (which is around $300), there is usually some sticker shock that ensues. The next response, particularly from those familiar with Raspberry Pi, typically is "Isn't Raspberry Pi really cheap?". Yes, a Raspberry Pi is relatively inexpensive with prices ranging from about $20 to $60, but Piper gives you a unique educational experience that's worth its weight in gold. Here are the reasons why.
Piper promotes critical thinking and builds confidence
If you hand a Raspberry Pi to a kid with all the parts needed to build a computer, he/she will probably need a great deal of assistance.
You can always find some YouTube videos that will walk you through how to build a computer, but it won't necessarily teach your child how to become an independent thinker. Instead, the child will learn how to follow instructions and wire it together. Don't get me wrong, I still believe it's great exposure to be able to build a computer from a Raspberry Pi, but if you can build it without getting step-by-step instructions from someone else, that's a whole different level of learning. That's where Piper, its curriculum, and instructors come in. Instructors teach the students how to think for themselves to find the answer.
A lot of thought went into creating Piper and it shows. The Founders, Mark Pavlyukovskyy, Shree Bose and Joel Sadler, studied at Princeton, Oxford, Harvard, Duke, Stanford, and MIT. Ironically, I had to do some searching to find that information as these accolades aren't prominently displayed on their website; they've chosen to let their work speak for itself.
There are no written instructions and you are forced to figure out how the pieces fit together. Piper fosters that inner-tinkerer in kids, and this helps build critical thinking skills. When children figure things out on their own, this builds their confidence and sense of accomplishment. People like to do things they think they're good at, and Piper is no exception.
Piper Universe isn't just Minecraft
Piper Universe is a custom version of Minecraft. It actually isn't an official Minecraft product. There's no wi-fi needed to play the game (You need wifi to download more levels, but this is a one-time event). What this means is that the "social" aspect of Minecraft is not there. Kids cannot play Piper Universe with their friends. Piper Universe is focused on promoting critical thinking and teaching children about breadboards, circuitry, Input/Output and more. Videos are interspersed throughout the game and they teach kids how to wire everything. Children have to decipher what the videos mean in order to build their own gaming console for Piper Universe. This means they will build their own jump button, move forward, move left, move right buttons.
Taking the instant gratification out of electronics
As you can see from the video above, Piper Universe isn't necessarily easy to finish. Children have to work hard and put their thinking caps on in order to finish the game. When people work hard to complete something, this gives them the grit and inner confidence to become successful.
The Piper kit is essentially a computer running on a Linux Operating System. There are no fancy bells and whistles. There isn't much of a graphical interface. Most importantly, content isn't being force-fed to the children and the instant gratification that comes from text messages and social media likes/upvotes just isn't present.
I finished Piper Universe. Now what?
Piper comes with Scratch (a program developed by MIT to teach kids about code) and tools to learn Python. In the near future, Piper will release a coding curriculum. You can also use Piper to do some 3-D printing. There are some lessons plans to build your own robot car.
Was it worth the money?
Absolutely. I purchased Piper when my daughter was in kindergarten. I built it with her as she needed help since her fine motor skills were developed enough. I was amazed to see her figure out problems before I did. I'm not sure who had more fun me or her. Most importantly, I had a great bonding experience working with her and it was a great way to show her that women like to do this stuff, too. That is a life lesson that you can't put a dollar figure on.