We arrived back in the States about a month ago, but we haven’t stopped working on our project. Here’s a brief sketch of what we’ve been up to:
- Uploaded a ton! of pictures to our photo site
- Attended an event at Congress called “Using Laptops to Fight Insurgencies”, where OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte spoke, as well as OLPC supporter Senator John McCain.
- This past weekend, three of us went to Boston to the OLPCorps & Interns Summit to discuss and follow-up on the deployments as a whole.
What we’ve got planned:
- Writing up a larger, best-practices and evaluative document on what we did in Madagascar – what worked and what didn’t.
- Continue fundraising to support Lova Soa, as well as Madagascar School Project’s expansion school in a nearby town. (it’s being built as we speak!)
- Investigate the possibilities of getting more laptops for MSP to support increased enrollment.
- Continuing to advocate for OLPC in Madagascar.
Thoughts? Questions? What would you like to see from us?
This past week we started more specific learning projects. Since this was our last chance to work directly with the kids, we wanted to ensure that they had the necessary skills to document their work. We started small, with the assignment for each child to take a picture of something outside, and we built up to working with video so they could record themselves singing a song or introducing themselves.
On Thursday, the second to last day, we asked the students to build or make something with all the packing materials that came with the XO delivery. Since we had 50 kids playing at one time in two classrooms, this became pretty chaotic. We originally assigned the kids into groups but many decided to work in pairs or by themselves, or decided to loot building materials from a neighboring group. The kids were certainly not afraid to try new things or explore without direction. The results of this learning project were astounding. The kids came up with so many creative uses for the boxes, making cars, drums, towers, fortresses, and hiding places. Then we had the children use their computer to take pictures of what they had done.
On the last day of the camp, the parents gathered in the morning to thank us for everything we have done for their kids. One of the parents even presented us with a gift of eggs, which we very much enjoyed. We showed the parents, teachers, and kids a video that I had compiled of the opening ceremony and took a group picture at the very end. The children love seeing pictures or video of themselves, so this was a real treat for them.
Working with the kids over the past 3 weeks has been amazing! There is so much more to say about our experiences here, but we will back in US soon, so we can share our pictures and videos that we have taken. It is hard to leave this community since we have become so close to this project and all the people involved, but we will still be able to follow the future of this school, its students, and the successes of the computers.
Thanks to a power cord malfunction, we will not have internet access until we return to the States on the 26th. Our work is going well, and once we have a reliable connection, ze’ll have plenty of photos qnd stories!
Apologies for typoes – this is a French keyboard!
We started our second week of computer camp today. We had planned to spend some time with the kids exploring Maze (surprisingly enough, an activity where you go through a maze), and then finally have a small Maze tournament with the children racing each other to see who could complete the maze the fastest. However, the power at the school went out about 10 minutes after all the kids got settled.
Power outages are fairly frequent, occurring several times a week and lasting anywhere from under a minute to more than a day. Normally, a power outage just means we have to cook by candlelight after dark. At our computer camp, the lack of power meant that about a fifth of the computers ran out of charge within the first half hour. Even the kids with laptops that were mostly charged quickly ran through their batteries because of frequent restarting; the kids have a tendency to freeze the computers by opening too many activities.
We tried to adapt by letting some children play on our personal computers, but eventually we had all the kids play outside, in hopes the power would return. It never did, so we spent the entire day playing outside, teaching the kids Red Light, Green Light, Jump Rope, and Freeze Tag.
Its hard to believe that we only have two more weeks here. I wish we had more time to work with the kids and the teachers, but the delay in customs really cut into our time with the XOs at Lova Soa.
As committed as we are to One Laptop Per Child, we’ve realized there were some other world goals that we think deserve serious consideration:
One Laptop Per Dog
Two and a Half Laptops Per Child
One Child Per Dog (we considered One Dog Per Child, but we wouldn’t want to limit each child to only one dog)
Two Chickens Per Kate
Twenty Kilos of Onions Per Zucchini
Eight Tanks of Cooking Gas Per American in Madagascar
One Marine Per Rogue Gang of Robbers
One RaoRao Per Child
Zero Step-Down Transformers Per Madagascar
Fifty Rabid Rats Per House
Zero Rats Per Rat Trap
-Mary, Michael, Kate & 25
Yesterday, we had the opening ceremony for the laptop program at Lova Soa. All of the farents came with their children, as well as the teachers, staff, and directing committee of Lova Soa. The village chief and local mayor also attended, giving speeches to honor the occasion. They thanked us and the Madagascar School Project team for bringing the laptops here, and stressed to the parents the importance of protecting and caring for the computers. The mayor even led the crowd in a song, spelling "misoatra," which means "thank you" in Malagasy.
We were finally able to hand each child their assigned laptop. They were extremely polite, saying "thank you" in English to us. They caught on very quickly to the computer interface, and were even able to open some of the activities to play while we spoke to the parents. The children had an accidental affinity for the features of the laptop that are the least entertaining (the Control Panel, the Linux Terminal, and the incredibly complex TamTamSynth Lab that we still haven’t really figured out).
Today was the first full day of our computer camp. We have purposely made the camp as unstructured as possible so the kids can explore the laptops in a truly constructionist fashion. However, a methodology of experimentation means a lot of things will go wrong before they’ll go right. The children had an accidental affinity for the features of the laptop that are the least entertaining (the Control Panel, the Linux Terminal, and the incredibly complex TamTamSynth Lab that we still haven’t really figured out). They also really enjoyed the button on the screen which flips the orientation of the screen 90 degrees clockwise. Apparently all of the activities are much more entertaining when viewed upside down or sideways!
So little time!
So – we’ve got 100 XOs. What now? Well, we wish we had ten more weeks to get our project done, but we’ve got 25 days. We’re in high gear now, energized by the laptops, adjusted to the culture and the village, and friends with teachers and staff.
This week has been intensive teacher training for about three hours a day. Due to the agreement we signed with customs (making someone financially responsible for any lost XOs, and requiring school ownership rather than child ownership), it seems we will only be deploying at Lova Soa, and not at both it and St. Paoly’s as originally planned. There are complications which means that this plan may be for the best. Lova Soa is also in all likelihood expanding from two classrooms (~60 students) to 6, meaning our full deployment will be absolutely necessary. We’ve also been able to do much more work with the Lova Soa teachers, and it’s run by MSP, while St. Paoly’s is locally run. All in all, we’re just making do with what we have.
Teacher training has had ups and downs. There are a lot of ups. On Tuesday, we introduced a learning activity that took several hours, the Paper Plane Project. We explained to the teachers what paper airplanes are, and demonstrated how to make several kinds. We then divided the teachers into groups, where they created their own planes. They documented the creation process using a variety of programs, including Record (taking photos, audio, and video), Paint, and Write. They threw the planes and measured how far they went using Distance. They then shared their final products in front of the class and on the XO.
One down has been that the server isn’t set up yet, which makes sharing anything difficult. We have 10 active XOs, and the wireless mesh created by the XOs is supposed to support 10. It does, kind of. We’ve crashed the network and computers when everyone paired off to use distance – too much communication. Sharing the plane project in Write also didn’t work too well – only 5 out of 10 were able to connect, and only one XO was able to load the full document (the others just saw a blank Write screen). There’s the issue of the frame, which we may end up resolving by taking each of the 100 XOs and making them less sensitive to hitting the corners (the frame is like the Start menu on a PC, except it shows up when you touch the corner and creates a border around the screen. It can be distracting, and, if you are not great on mouse skills, hazardous). And, of course, there’s the language barrier. The teachers have varying English skills, and two speak better French than English (the others don’t speak French at all). In a nice coincidence, the teachers are taking English lessons for an hour before teacher training, and the English teacher, Mr. Josy, has stuck around for XO class for the past few days. Not only is he fascinated by the XO, he’s fluent in English and Malagasy, so he can help us out.
What else? We’ve gone through Write, Distance, Chat, Paint, Speak, Record, Browse, Maze, sharing… Besides sharing, click and drag is still hard for the teachers. In Paint, changing color takes 4 steps – in Microsoft Paint, it takes one (this issue confounds me – why do the XOs require you to click a menu button, choose the color on the wheel, choose the color on a triangle, and then press OK just to change to a basic color? Oy vey – far too complex for something so simple). Distance was fine once we staggered the activity, as the network overloaded itself. Write has been buggy on a few computers, and won’t allow you to properly wrap text around images. And the touchpad – oh, the touchpad, you never fail to mess up in the middle of a project. But we’re working through the issues and getting there.
Tomorrow’s the last day of intensive teacher training, and the teachers have been assigned to create a lesson plan they could use in the classroom. Though we’ll be modeling potential activities during the 12 days of summer computer camp, we want to get an idea of where the teachers stand. Since the method of teaching here is
teacher-centered and based on oral repetition of things on the blackboard, it will be interesting to see if the XOs have sparked any ideas. We plan on giving constructive suggestions and more or less noting where the teachers stand, rather than turn tomorrow into a constructionist audition. We can’t change a teaching style in 10 weeks, much less the 4 we’ve really had, but we can plant a seed, and hope it grows.