In the year 2000, world leaders made eight pretty incredible promises, which are known as the Millennium Development Goals.

The first of these goals is to reduce by half the number of people living in extreme poverty by the year 2015. Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than $1 USD per day. More than 1.5 billion people qualify, which is roughly 1 out of every 4 people alive. Two-thirds of these people don’t have access to clean water, and malnutrition is so bad that six million children die EVERY YEAR before their fifth birthday. That’s a holocaust-sized catastrophe every single year.

Where is this happening? Here’s a list of the twelve countries with more than half of their population living in extreme poverty:

1. Zambia 76%
2. Mali 72%
3. Nigeria 71%
4. Central African Rep. 67%
5. Madagascar 61%
6. Niger 61%
7. Gambia 59%
8. Tanzania 58%
9. Zimbabwe 56%
10. Burundi 55%
11. Haiti 54%
12. Rwanda 52%

All countries are in Africa, with one Caribbean exception. Haiti has nearly five million people living on less than a dollar day, and it’s a mere 600 miles from the United States.

My mom brought me to Haiti when I was eleven. I remember walking the streets of Port-Au-Prince and asking her about the children. She told me they were starving. “If they’re starving, then why are their bellies so big?”

Well, what can we do? I’d start by telling other people you know, since the biggest crime is the almost complete lack of knowledge in the States about such things. As for myself, I believe that lasting answers are all about education. By proving the Waveplace approach in the Virgin Islands, we’ll give strength to OLPC’s mission elsewhere, particularly Haiti.

One thing’s clear … if we’re not doing something, then we’re essentially standing idly by while children die … one child every three seconds.

I’ve just posted my eighth 15-minute Squeaky Tales tutorial, bringing the collective time to two hours of Etoys fun. My plan is to create four 15-minute movies each week for the next eight weeks for a total of ten hours of video tutorial.

What topics will I cover? Well, I’m trying to make the Squeaky Tales series as subject-neutral as possible. My hope is that this approach will allow mentors to adapt the concepts to different ages and subjects more easily. By necessity, there will be rudimentary math concepts like addition and multiplication, but these will be presented as a means to another end, not a discussion of math itself.

As the name of the series implies, my ultimate goal is storytelling. I’m teaching programming as a means to telling stories, which hopefully will engage students that might otherwise be timid about math and science.

Just had the Shift Happens video link sent to me. Quite an eye opener, as is the terrific Pay Attention video, which focuses more on teaching.

Put simply: within our lifetime, the “rote jobs” will ship overseas. It’s clear from the numbers. What’s left are “spark jobs” … high creativity jobs.

Our schools aren’t teaching spark. They’re teaching rote.

Towards the end of yesterday’s Squeaky Tale, I tried changing the color of something and found (while recording) that I didn’t know what I was doing. My first reaction was “Oh geez, I should reshoot that” lest I lose face to the viewing public. Instead, I left my mistake in the video, since it helps demonstrate an important point.

Programming is about making mistakes. You try something, see how it goes, try something else, and grin at your flaws. A programmer that thinks he knows everything in advance is a bad programmer.

Such an approach might seem alien, since our educational system continually insists that there’s a right answer to everything. As any artist, scientist, or programmer will tell you: there aren’t any right answers in this world, and there’s nothing wrong with being wrong.

I’ll be writing a lot more on this. For now, ask yourself if you feel bad whenever you make a mistake. If yes, does it help?

I’ve just posted the first two screencast tutorials on Squeak Etoys.

The first movie discusses how to install Squeak Etoys and the latest OLPC Etoys image on your computer (particularly if you own a Mac). The next shows Etoys in action for about fifteen minutes.

Over the long weekend, I got some very positive feedback regarding my Squeaky Tales series. People seemed to like my movies, though my first attempts had some video compression snags which forced me to temporarily abandon Flash video in favor of Quicktime. The downside was that the movies took a long time to start, since they were essentially fully downloading before beginning.

Today I worked out the kinks and encoded them back as Flash FLV movies. They should start up more quickly and should also be more compatible with different systems. FLV is the video format used on YouTube.

I just posted Squeaky Tale #2, which introduces a new character in the plot besides Seymour the turtle. As before, let me know if you have any problems. Also, keep the kudos coming. It helps to know you’re out there!

I’ve just posted the first two screencast tutorials on Squeak Etoys. Originally, the plan was for us to be in St John right now, prepping for our three-day Etoys workshop at Caneel Bay. Since the funding didn’t materialize, I’m making these short movies instead, hoping they’re enough for Bill & Mary to struggle through on their own.

The first movie discusses how to install Squeak Etoys and the latest OLPC Etoys image on your computer (particularly if you own a Mac). The next shows Etoys in action for about fifteen minutes.

My next screencast will be on Tuesday. Let me know if you were able to view these movies. I used two different approaches to encoding the video, so I’m interested to see how others fare on different systems.

In the last two days, I’ve been teaching twenty-year-old Nicole to use Squeak Etoys. She’s never done any programming before, nor does she really know why she’d want to be a programmer, which puts her in the majority. I’m teaching her as warm-up for some video tutorials I’m making for the general public, the first of which is rendering right now.

Teaching a novice to program is a humbling task, particularly for an expert. I’m mindful of the pacing of my presentation. Too much and eyes glaze over, too little and boredom sets in. Constructionism is a great fit to the task, since pacing is about keeping the student engaged, which happens more easily when they feel connected to the topic. Making and keeping that connection is the tough part.

It’s a little like flying a kite. You start pulling in a direction and hope the wind takes hold. If you pull too hard, the kite won’t fly. Once flying, the kite moves to its own muse, with only subtle guidance from below. When the string goes slack, give a little tug and suggest something new to try.

This is the way to teach Etoys.

Yesterday we received our very own XO laptop from OLPC to play with. We’d seen one up close at Squeakfest last August, but now we’ve got time to get to know it and show it off to others.

Here Paula’s trying Squeak Etoys on it:

As you can see next to her 15″ MacBook, the XO is made for little hands. I was very pleased with its performance. Fedora & Sugar booted in a minute and Etoys loaded in about ten seconds which is plenty fast enough.

Also very impressive was the reflective display. You really can read things in full sunlight, which I had heard about but didn’t really appreciate till today. It’s a wonderful thing to behold, and saves power as well.

There’s too many things to note in one post. Tonight I upgraded to the latest build and talked with some of the developers. They’re inches away from code complete, which is always a heady time in any software project.

An excerpt from IRC:

<Mitch_Bradley> has NN seen the new screens?   I need affirmation.
<cjb> You're a unique and beautiful snowflake.
<jg> does that mean he melts and becomes all wet?
<kimquirk> I think it was just the flake part...

Anyway, today I make my first Etoys tutorial movie. More tomorrow.

So here I am, with three months of research, and nowhere to use it. Over the summer, I immersed myself in the writings of Seymour Papert and the works of Alan Kay and Mitch Resnick, both of whom drew inspiration from Papert. I’ve been walking around with a running dialogue in my head, inspired by the same ideas that launched OLPC and countless other efforts.

So what’s Papert’s point? What’s the common gist of the half-dozen books he’s written, starting with “Mindstorms” in 1980?

Okay, I’ll give it a shot. Seymour Papert thinks that we’re programming our kids in school in much the same way that we program computers.

“Yeah kid, here’s a fact.”
(dumps information in kid’s head)

“Now pay attention, here’s a skill.”
(dumps in kid’s head)

“Here’s more facts.”
(Dump, dump, dump)

“Okay, quiz time … regurgitate what you’ve learned.”
(reference memory and display earlier data)

So the point here is: do the kids actually learn anything, or do they learn how to play the game … how to memorize facts and skills. This approach is called “drill and kill” in some circles, and it’s really our education system.

It’s also how we teach dumb computers to do what we want. We enter data (facts) and we create programs (skills). This allows computers to regurgitate in the same way many kids do …. without understanding.

This is a very big problem.