Prepared for class by getting last two XOs reflashed with the latest system build. (Tuesday Elvis wouldn’t give up his computer, willing to deal with occasional cursor madness, so he could bring it home with him) Spent the drive out to Coral Bay thinking about class, most especially how to get the kids motivated to learn this stuff. Today is the fifth class and there are still kids who don’t have lesson one down.

As usual, had kids run around to burn off excess energy. Easy to forget that some of these kids have started as early at 6:30 am, and have already had a full day of school, so a lot being asked of them to go back into heavy thinking mode. Unlike Tues, good number of kids in attendance, probably 14-16. Both Mary and LaReesa were there to mentor.

Goal for today was to try and get everyone through the list Mary had posted on Tuesday. Draw a object and make it move. Draw another object and make it move too. Then get one of the objects to detect the other and make a sound.

Tried a new approach, aiming for much more interactivity on the kids’ part. Asked them what they wanted me to draw. Motorcycle came up and I drew that. I asked who was riding it, they said a mouse (after some discussion) so I drew that onto it. Then I asked what it should be chasing after and they said cheese, so I drew that. (Swiss cheese, as I’m Swiss) Also had them picking the sound effects.

Set the two in motion, all the while asking the kids what I should do next, script wise, to get them moving. Kids starting to have a good grasp, of what needed to happen, but even more important, they were all engaged, there was not a single kid who was off in the ozone layer. Next I asked how to get one to detect the other and then I did the color detect/ sound script. Every, every step of the way I asked what I should do next. Although they didn’t always have the right answer the kids were at least usually in the ball park. If something didn’t go as planned when we ran the program, I would ask why they thought it didn’t happen as planned.

When I finally had the motorcycle riding mouse chasing after the cheese I was amazed to see how engaged the kids were. They were all in suspense, watching as the objects raced around the screen. When the mouse would run over the cheese, and would make the sound, they were all like “yeah!” Then asked them if they were ready to try and they were all ready to go. From that point on the kids were pretty much on their own – with me, Mary and LaReesa going from kid to kid, or small groups of kids, helping them. It was pretty much nonstop, there was never really a point where each of us wasn’t helping someone.

Also with nearly every XO with issues reflashed, we had considerably less computer issues. The random cursor madness seemed to go away, but two computers, Vanessa’s and Tracy’s developed issues. (I had earlier reflashed both of those computers) Hooked a USB mouse to Vaneesa’s and that seemed to fix it, but we only had one so I had Tracy work on the Whiteboard computer.

Troubles there because all the kids would rather work with a mice, they were all clamoring to have one. The trackpad it just damn hard to work with. Lack of response makes it very difficult to select and move stuff, let alone try and draw. I have worked with the trackpad alone and then hooked up a mouse to the XO and believe me there is no comparison, it much harder to use the trackpad. As a result the kids are having to put all their effort concentrating on just moving things around, leaving not much left of their brains to think about what they are doing.

Although a few kids seemed forever stuck in the drawing phase, many more than before were getting the scripting part which was extremely heartening.

Number of reasons I believe, for the kids still stuck in the drawing stage. Some of the kids in fact cannot read. The best they can do is try and memorize the position of tiles I am using while demonstrating on the whiteboard. This of course is almost impossible. (In my notes for the OPLC eToys programmers, I suggested color coding the different script families – as well as number of software modification suggestions to compensate for the trackpad issues)

Other kids I think just had a problem drawing something they were satisfied with. Part of the limitation was that we (me, Mary and LaReesa) were drawn to kids that were actively asking for our help. Certain kids weren’t getting what they were supposed to do, but I didn’t realize that until I was walking around looking at everyone’s work, as they hadn’t been asking for any help.

All in all though I was extremely pleased with how well the class did, elated even. Complete turn around from the two classes before. The kids went past their normal 45 minute burnout time. In fact we had a tough time getting some of the kids off their computers so they could get ready for the bus, which hasn’t been the case before.

Also in this class introduced the idea of prizes as suggested by Susie. For next Tuesday, I told them that whoever made the best discovery in eToys over the weekend would get a prize. My suspicion is that no one will do it, but when I eat their giant chocolate bar in front of them, I suspect we’ll have a better response for the next contest.

Also interesting I saw Tracy in town the next night, while I was talking to Laura. (the other mentor) She was staying with her Aunt in Cruz Bay. I asked her if she had her laptop with her, but she said no, it was at her grandmother’s house.
She was playing a gameboy the whole time she was talking to us. Kills me now because I never asked her about it. (how does she like it? – what kind of game would she make if she could? – those kind of questions) Interesting though, as she’s a girl, and totally caught up in this video game, which was not the case back in my day when it was pretty much a boys only kinda thing.

Gives me hope man.

It for now.

(written by Susie Scott Krabacher, president of M&S, from newsletter)

On our January trip to Haiti we had a special treat to show the kids at our Mercy House Orphanage, the new XO laptop designed especially for children by the geniuses at One Laptop Per Child. OLPC had just announced the country recipients of the donated laptops from their Give One Get One program and, praise be, Haiti made the list. (Although as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere it’s hard to imagine how it couldn’t!)

After setting everything up with Tim Falconer, president of Waveplace Foundation, our Mercy and Sharing team met up with up with Bill Stelzer, a tech mentor and documentary filmmaker with Waveplace, on the tarmac of the Port au Prince airport. It was very exciting as he was carrying with him one of the very first XO laptop to land on Haitian shores. I cannot state enough the need for these computers for our children. Resources are extremely limited in the areas where we work, and these technological marvels will not only rocket our children’s education into the twenty first century, they will also give them a window to the outside world.

When we first showed the XO laptop to the kids they were completely captivated. Even though they’d never seen anything like it before, they took to it instantly as I showed them how it worked and explained the wonders it could do. They quickly mastered the camera program, as well as Tam Tam, a music making program, before I took it away to show our teachers.

After waiting patiently for me to finish my XO presentation to the adults, our little indomitable Jesse took off with the laptop and soon had a crowd of children around her as they put their heads together to figure it all out. (Get those adults out of the way!) It was incredibly inspiring to watch, especially as Jesse walks on prosthesis. The world that this laptop will open up for children like her in Haiti is incalculable.

I cannot put into words how important this opportunity is for us, and how thankful we are to be considered. Anyone who knows me knows of my heartfelt desire for our children at Mercy and Sharing to grow up as the future leaders of Haiti. Even more than charity, our foundation is dedicated to giving our kids the education they need to survive, and the mindset to lift Haiti out of the bonds that have chained it since its creation. Considering where many of our children started, this may seem a tall order, but I believe fervently that through God’s strength and our own, we can do it. We just need a bunch of those cute little da gum computers.

Came to class with three more reflashed XO’s, hopefully would clear up some of problems. Brought too Squeak Installer and eToys image on my USB drive. Also before class I spent a lot of time trying to think how to motivate the kids, to get them looking forward, as we had been pretty much stuck on lesson two for the past few classes and I wanted them to get an idea that there was more to etoys than just having the objects interact on their own. Thought it might be a good idea to at least introduce them to the joystick, to this idea that they would eventually be able to create games that had some resemblance to what they were playing at home.

When I got to class, I started setting up the PCs with eToys while the kids played outside. Thankfully Mary was there along with Laura today. She had tried to call me last week to let me know she couldn’t be there, but unfortunately couldn’t get a hold of me.

As soon as we started rounding the kids up I saw that there was an immediate problem. Most of the kids weren’t there. There had been some confusion about the after school bus driver and some of the kids, thinking they wouldn’t have a ride home, just took off.

In the end there were only nine of the nineteen signed up present. (Another problem is that a number of the kids are in remedial after school (as I understand it) on Tues for the first part of the pilot, they are supposed to come late, but they usually end up skipping our class anyway.)

I started with my Swiss Angelfish and then asked the kids what they’d like it to chase after. They requested a Starfish. I then set up a Joystick and showed them how you could chase after the Starfish with the Swiss Angelfish, using the Joystick. All though all the kids were paying close attention, I was really hoping that I would see a couple light bulbs go off – as in Wow, with the joystick I could make a game where something did this!

Not the case. By their expressions I could see they were interested, but no light bulbs. Could also see that the explanation of how it worked was too long for them to follow. Oh well.

After that we went to our lesson. To clarify things, Mary wrote down a very list of what we were to accomplish that day and hung it up, which was quite helpful. (Pretty much same as we’d been doing before, did not even attempt anything with the joystick.) Also helpful was with only nine kids (and probably the nine most motivated kids) and three teachers we able to get a much better handle on helping the kids get through the stuff.

Even still we continued to have XO problems, though they were reduced from the week before. And amazingly too, even with 3 to 1 ratio there were still kids waiting to have their questions answered. Kids interacting together while they were working seemed to be happening, but kids solving each other’s problems, not so much.

All and all we did make some great progress, but also didn’t get every single kid all the way through lesson two, which I would of liked.

After class I talked to Mary about not seeing light bubs go off in the kids’ heads with the mention of the joystick function. She said that this was just the way it was. Education was not perceived as of great importance.

All very troubling for me, as in theory I’m supposed to get these kids to wow everyone from their families, to the people of St. John, to the Governor of the Virgin Islands with their creativity and programming skills. Would like to think it would just happen, as that’s what’s supposed to happen for kids this age, but man oh man. Am curious to have a target class of VI public school fourth graders – where you just give them about an hour’s worth of instruction then leave them on their own to figure it out for ten weeks. Would they get farther along in etoys than us? Possibly, but I’d be pretty amazed.

*So how do you get your XO to be an iPod? Well in some developing countries, what they do is use the record function and hold the XOs mic to the radio, then access the resulting from the Journal. You’d think that having access to MP3’s here in the first world, it be an easy matter playing them in the Media Browser. Well no. Trying to playback media on the XO is a mess. Record a video using the Record program then trying to replay by accessing the file from the Journal seems not too work. First it opens the media browser instead of record, then it moves you through a bunch of confusing menu options, then finally it doesn’t work at all, whatever option you try. It also blanks out the Browse program altogether, requiring a restart.

With the MP3’s, slightly different story. By default they open in the mpeg player in eToys. (not the media browser) You have to answer a non intuitive menu option. You can only open one at time. You can’t easily open the MP3 files from within eToys. (If at all, navigating to Journal in the Open dialogue brought up nothing for me.) It’s also very easy to loose the link and have to close and reopen eToys again.

Now there may not be wisdom in turning the XO into an iPod, but when these kids come to me with questions, I can’t stand not knowing the answers.

It for now.

(from newsletter)

The villages above the dry river on the north windward side of St. Vincent are distinct from the rest of the island. Populated by the indigenous Carib peoples, they have been largely cut off from the rest of the island ethnically, socially and environmentally. Change is in the air as a new bridge spans the river and a new road is under construction to link these rural enclaves to the rest of the island. Still the children here are sorely lacking resources that many of their Vincy peers take for granted.

The children of Fancy village, the northern-most community, do not have a library. Many families do not have electricity or indoor plumbing. While there is an elementary school in the village, older children endure long daily commutes on the only rickety bus that the village has available for public transportation. Jobs are hard to find and money is scarce. Still the village holds a kind of magic.

This village is an ideal location for the Waveplace pilot. The people speak a dialect unique to the Caribs and hold traditions and lore that only exist in this particular place among this inimitable people. The opportunity for these children to create a treasure trove of their distinctive perceptions and knowledge using the XO’s is exceptional.

Lack of access to reference sources across disciplines severely limits their competitiveness in academics across fields. The XO computer would provide a leveling ground with their peers. It’s a truly relevant resource for youngsters to explore, communicate, interact, engage and influence others both locally and globally.

Having spent many months and days in the bush, at school, running camps, swimming and farming side by side with these loving, amusing, delightful young people, I know first hand the gratitude and joy that they will bring to the pilot. It will certainly change their lives in a creative way that they truly deserve. The new road is sure to impact the village in ways yet unforeseen – both positive and negative. The Waveplace pilot will help them walk down their individual roads to the future armed with a new sense of voice and confidence in their own capabilities. Everybody benefits.

(from newsletter)

Thursday January 10th was a historic day for the Caribbean. After months of behind the scenes work by Waveplace foundation, we finally handed out the OLPC laptops (among the first off the manufacturing line!) to the fourth graders at Guy Benjamin. As I rolled video, Principal Dionne Wells spoke to the kids while LaReesa Williams began passing out the XO laptops. Needless to say everyone was pretty psyched. Before you knew it everyone was plugged in, charging and setting up their XO’s with their own names and custom colors.

Next I took the kids on a tour of their new machines. When we got to the neighborhood view, one of the kids asked what all the little XO’s icons were for. I told her that was all of them. She didn’t believe me at first, so I told her to mouse over one of the icons. When one of her classmate’s names came up, there was a collective squeal of delight kids as they realized this laptop was like nothing else they’d ever seen. (Go automatic mesh networking!)

When we started our first eToys lesson, I asked the kids if they knew any computer programmers. Between them all they knew about three. I then told them that they were all about to become computer programmers themselves, some of the first in the Caribbean for their age, and that they were going to have a lot of fun, but parts of it would be hard too. And that when it got tough, they needed to keep in mind how amazing what they were doing was.

Since then, I’ve seen a dramatic gulf between theory and reality in the classroom, yet at the same time I really have to hand it to these kids. (As well as our other mentors, Mary Burks, LaReesa Wiliams and Laura DiCicco.) We are up against a lot of unknowns, doing something we’ve never done before, but these kids are really putting their hearts into it. I’m looking forward to the next eight weeks.

Great article about Waveplace in the St John Tradewinds. Talks about our Virgin Islands pilot, which is into its second week. We also launched our new website, which has a terrific new video from our trip to Haiti earlier this month.

(written by Dionne Wells, GBS principal, from newsletter)

First let me begin by thanking Timothy Falconer and the Waveplace Foundation for having this grand vision. It is through their foresight that we are able to say today how successful this pilot program is going at Guy H. Benjamin Elementary School. I am proud to be associated with this endeavor and look forward to watching it grow from school to school and across the entire district.

When you walk onto Guy H. Benjamin School, you see fourth graders walking around the campus with green and white laptops in their hands. I have come into the cafeteria and seen students eating breakfast and working on their laptops. During lunch time when students should be running around and playing with their friends, on the picnic table they sit and work on their laptops. Students are lined up at my door in the morning to ask me how come only the 4th graders have the laptops and if they will get an opportunity to be in the program as well. It warms my heart to know that my students are eager to be involved in such a technological endeavor.

The Waveplace program has broadened the students understanding of computers and the art of computer programming. The exposure that they are receiving through this program will introduce them to computer related careers that could be used to market the Virgin Islands. They will also be able to share what they have learned with their families at home.

When I think about how big this program is I become overwhelmed and honored that my school has been chosen to be a part of this movement. I look forward to seeing where we will end up once this program is implemented across the district. Once again on behalf of the faculty and staff of Guy H. Benjamin Elementary School, I say thank you for this opportunity.

Yesterday in a talk with OLPC, we were again confronted with their “airdrop model” of laptop distribution (the term is mine). OLPC advocates a “full saturation” approach to giving laptops to schools and countries. When Waveplace then says, “Our plan is to start with a smaller pilot and scale teacher training to assure effectiveness”, they counter with their belief that larger numbers have a magic all their own. Their experience is that full saturation is more important than scaled training.

Now these are smart guys with a lot of experience at this, so I’m tempted to believe them. I’m also aware that this airdrop model has been a chief criticism of OLPC’s approach. While I agree with making a laptop that’s “better than a bad teacher, or no teacher”, I’d have to say I’m with Alan Kay when he says, “you can buy pianos for a school, but they work better with music lessons,” so much so that it’s the chief mission of Waveplace. We make laptop lessons. Moreover, we’re following Alan’s advice with a one-to-seven teacher/student ratio, which seems opposite of OLPC.

So here’s the question … does OLPC’s airdrop model have merit? If you drop a thousand laptops on a school system so that every child has one, does a kind of kid-to-kid ecosystem really emerge that’s beyond the reach of adult interaction? Or does it just seem so because we’re increasing the odds of incredible anecdotes from a small percentage self-starter students?

They think they can tame you, name you and frame you
Aim you where you don’t belong
They know where you’ve been but not where you’re going
And that is the source of the songs
– john gorka