Tinker on the Raspberry Pi Zero

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In my last post, I discussed how to setup a Raspberry Pi Zero (the $5 computer) in “Headless” mode, meaning no mouse, keyboard or monitor. You remote control into the Zero using a free program, VNC.

The reason for moving in this direction is that I’m seeking a way to teach a circuit building/programming class that is flexible enough and inexpensive enough for a wide age group. I have taught a tinkering class, Where Hardware Meets Software, for a few years using Arduinos, but have felt limited by using the Arduino software for younger students.

Last week, I saw a mention of C4Lab’s Zero Zebra Plus. It holds the Zero is a wood case and includes a breadboard. The cost is $10. I just received it yesterday and here’s some observations.

Its pretty straight forward to get the Zero installed in the Zero Zebra. This setup makes the breadboard easily accessible to the Pi’s GPIO pins. I soldered on a female header onto the Zero, so students can use a male to male cables for wiring.  The only thing missing that would be fantastic is if the Zebra had labels for the GPIO pins.

There are two big pluses for using this setup as opposed to using an Arduino setup. First, since you can use VNC to remote into the Zero, you can use any device to control the Zero. VNC is available for free for use on Macs, PCs, Chromebooks, iPads and Android tablets.

Second, you can use a variety of programming languages to control the GPIO pins on the Zero and build circuits, all for free. The Pi Zero can run Scratch, Python, Processing, Java, just to name a few.

The video below shows a simple Blink circuit and program in Scratch. The cord from the Pi Zero to the Mac Air is just for power.

My thinking is that students in different classes can share the same Pi Zero and each student would have their own MicroSD card for storage.


Raspberry Pi Zero                                 $5.00

Wireless USB Adapter                       $10..00

MicroUSB to USB Adapter                  $4.00

16G MicroSD Card                               $7.00

2×20 female header                               $1.50

C4Labs Zero Zebra +                          $10.00

Total:                                                   $37.50

Stay tuned as I test this setup in the wild.


  1. Hi David — I love this idea. I was trying to do something similar for my 8th grade class a couple of years ago, but I wanted the Pi’s to broadcast their host names to be visible to VNC on student iPads. I couldn’t get a simple reliable build where vnc and bonjour would load on each pi. I quit on the idea when I decided that it would be more reliable to go with the Light Blue Bean as an arduino that could be programmed with a block based language – Tickle, directly from student iPads. This too is not a perfect solution, but it’s reasonably good. I am really looking forward to the Bean +, and I am developing a motor shield for that to make wiring easier. If you get a reliable build on the pi zero that will work with ipads, I would love to hear about it. Best of luck!


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