I Fly Like Paper
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.
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