Main thing before I come to class is to figure out the duplicating objects across pages problem. Once I’m in a quiet place takes all of five minutes to figure it out. Key is to move or resize the object immediately after drawing it and clicking Keep, to “set” it on the page. Absolutely critical to know, we probably lost a day on this problem. Also another interesting thing that only happens in book mode. Moving an object temporarily “lifts” it off the page. Ramifications in scripting, because if you were to move an object by hand (instead of say with the joystick) and interact it with something to cause it to fire a script to go to the next page, the object itself will stay above the book, and end up on the next the page.

Lesson plan is basically every thing that can go wrong in book mode, as well the technique for duplicating objects and moving them from page to page. As an example, I create a story of a shark coming after a barracuda, where I’m duplicating the shark and barracuda and changing their sizes and angles on each page to make it look like the shark is coming after then eating the barracuda.

When moving duplicates between pages, key thing is to move the object you’ve duplicated far enough off the page so that it is floating above the page instead of getting clipped by it. Can be tricky, but more often than not, the secret is to move the sketch so that its midpoint is off the page. If you see it clipped instead, try again.

For the last page, with the shark eating the cuda, we review the repaint command to paint in the open mouth and blood, which most of the kids have no problem remembering how to do.

Lesson goes well, but once the kids start in on it themselves, discipline quickly becomes an issue. Mary is not here today, leaving me and LaReesa, neither of whom is trained for this kind of madness. It’s a damn tricky thing, as some of the really creative kids are also the most problematic, and the challenge is to run the tightrope between nurturing the kids’ creativity, which is by definition a messy thing, and then to also keeping them from flying off the walls.

Problem multiplied by trying to shoot video at the same time. Makes it nearly impossible to answer technical questions and maintain discipline at the same time. Absolutely critical to have Mary here – or at least someone who can yell at these kids to get them settled down.

Fascinating though how some of the kids, like Liana, Elvis and A’Feyah, are able to retain this almost monk like calm in the midst of the chaos and totally concentrate on working on their storybooks. Elvis is doing a neat story on driving the Barge with his dad, A’Feyah on her dog and Liana on the adventures of a pinkish looking bear. Other kids are trying, but many end up not being satisfied and are continually starting over with new stories.

Another issue that comes up is page size. Originally the kids were taught to spread the page across the screen, but this becomes a problem when kids try and move objects from one page to another – as there’s not enough room “off the page” to do it easily. Easy fix, but best to just create the page in beginning with adequate space to the side of it.

As before some of the kids don’t want to keep going with their stories – when they think they’re done and class is nearly over – they are done, period. As class is almost finished, I help them explore some of the hidden toys in Etoys. In showing them the camera object, I find out that incredibly, Tracy has already discovered it on her own earlier. I asked her why she never told me about it and she said that she had forgot. Figured it must have been the thing that she was trying to think of when she said she had discovered something cool when she was exploring etoys for the weekend challenge, but she couldn’t remember it. Oh well, there went her candy bar.

By the end of class we’ve been severely taxed with major discipline issues. Whole thing pretty frustrating, especially when you add the fact that they already been through a long day of school already.

Despite that, this class seems a turning point, as it’s the first time in the entire pilot where for the most part everything works. The new mice have fixed most of the trackpad issues, the new XO system build, even more problems, and we have Etoys humming along now, with everything in it working pretty much as expected. Were we at this stage at say class three, instead of class thirteen, stunning to think how much progress we could have made by now.

Feel we’ve been a bit like the first soldiers on the beach a D-Day, getting shot to hell and taking terrible losses, but by the grace of God, hopefully making things better for those who will follow us.

It for now.

(written by Ted Coine, from newsletter)

Immokalee, Florida, is one of the poorest towns in the United States. Actually, before moving to nearby Naples, I had never seen the likes north of Mexico. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Immokalee is appalling. And to think that it’s only a forty-minute drive from the most affluent small city in America. You can see why my wife and I want to do our part to help.

Over eighty percent of the residents of Immokalee are immigrants, many illegal. Half of them are migrant farm workers, who make only $3.50 a day. Due to an exception in the federal minimum wage guidelines for farm workers, that’s legal. And it is illegal for farm workers to form unions.

It gets better: just about a month ago, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the FBI broke up a slavery ring – the seventh such group in the past few years. These were field hands kept against their will in the back of a truck, let out only to pick tomatoes, kept under lock and key under the threat of death.

Life for children isn’t all that promising. Half of the children drop out before graduating high school. Half! The other half don’t have it that good, either. Literally from birth, these children are condemned to the prison of low expectations. If they can keep their kids out of gangs and prepare them for a low-wage trade before the girls get pregnant, educators consider themselves successful.

As with other Waveplace areas, Immokalee is cursed by its economy: the low-paying blight of tourism, the slightly better wages of construction, and the single worst-paying sector of the US economy, agriculture. If Immokalee’s children want to make something of themselves, they have to leave their hometown, parents, neighbors, siblings, and friends behind. There are no job opportunities for the college-educated in this town.

Immokalee may be land-locked, but it is every bit an economic island. And as such, its children need our help. With XO laptops and guidance from Waveplace mentors, the children of Immokalee may get the same chance that our middle-class daughters do in Naples. Maybe some will even return after college to improve Immokalee, an America-Indian word meaning “Our Home.”

(from newsletter)

Very likely if you’re reading this, you love shiny new toys. Especially intriguing are the clever ones: the iPhone’s, Wii’s, and XO laptops. Handling a new inspired design is a little slice of Christmas morning, a reminder of a time when gadget play was all that mattered.

The XO is quite an eye-catcher. One look and you know it’s something to pick up and explore. Like so many toys that make our daily grind a bit better … Bluetooth headsets, touchscreen remotes, talking GPS nav … the XO excites our imagination with its swivel screen, mesh networking, and low low cost.

But here’s the thing: it’s just a box. Through all the press and praise and endless talk, the XO is merely a wrapper around the real Christmas present. Contained within its rugged plastic case, you’ll find the means to make your own toys. Forget the distractions we’ve come to crave, this little machine holds the power to fundamentally change how we think and learn.

But only if we unwrap the surprise inside, the crown jewel of the XO laptop: Squeak Etoys. As software pioneer Alan Kay has said, “The computer is simply an instrument whose music is ideas.” Etoys lets you play “idea music” with an unexpected grace. It helps you visualize and explore abstract ideas, which makes the lesson learnable. With Etoys, you make models as real as Rubik’s cubes, then tinker with them till new truths are found.

Waveplace teaches how to teach this. Just as music is best learned while working closely with a music teacher, the magic of Etoys comes across best while working with an enthusiastic mentor. Waveplace trains mentors to encourage purposeful play, to engage children in their own learning, to guide their discoveries. This transforming magic, what we call “spark”, is the shiniest toy of all.

(written by Jan Kinder, from newsletter)

As I watch the youth of today, I’m reminded of growing up in the 60’s. Our daily schedules were not hectic and complicated. We started school in kindergarten and before that, play was our classroom. We had imaginative time to expand our minds and develop our creativity, and express our individuality. Our education system, for the most part, supported the ‘teachers taught, and students listened and learned’ model.

One of my teachers however did not conform to that model and has stood out in my mind for over 35 years and influenced my teaching of children. Ms. Keilty, my Latin teacher for three years was magical. She made a dead language come to life through her creative and unorthodox teaching style. She did not teach through rote learning. She got us to think and not just recite back what she taught. We acted out stories with props and music, and even wore togas. She created a Roman forum style classroom. We were being transported to a place where learning was fun, alive, and full of discovery.

Years later I was drawn to learn the Orff Schulwerk approach to music education, which teaches that concepts and skills are built through active involvement, and not through structured methodology. It has been proven to me that play-oriented and self-discovery education are vital components in today’s educational forum.

Waveplace champions approaches and tools that allow education to come to life. The XO laptop and Squeak Etoys software engages children and encourages them to think independently. It allows a child’s untapped creativity to emerge. It let’s them share that creativity and individuality around the globe.

Many of our native children know only the Caribbean and with this comes limitations. Introducing them to other children from around the world, sharing their stories and culture, will be a real experience for them. The globe will be much more than a map. The children at our St John pilot have been excited and enthusiastic since day one. Each day their world opens to new possibilities both within themselves and beyond.

I’m sure Ms. Keilty would have loved it.

Back from Haiti. Laura and LaReesa have been teaching, plan now is for me to concentrate shooting video and let them and Mary do the primary mentoring. Heard all had gone great while I was gone, but just before class started I found they had a problem where at random times an object would be duplicated on every page instead of being on the page it was supposed to be on. Unfortunately I found out about just before class started, so there was no time for me to look intro it.

Laura started class by reviewing lesson of week before. Went over how to create a book, how to add pages, (which number of kids had forgotten) and how to bring text down to the page. She also reviewed how to make objects and pages appear behind or in front of each other.

Shooting video quickly proved to be problematic. Kids were used to me being able to answer questions for them, and were frustrated to instead have a camera pointed at them while they had a problem. Tried to have Laura and Mary answer at first, but that didn’t really work because of the quantity and complexities of all the problems. Also as I was shooting, it was very difficult to also shoot and also try and figure out problems the kids were having with their storybooks, as both tasks demanded 100 percent of my attention, and impossible to do both well.

Also couple kids definitely did not want to be camera while they were working, Aariyah especially would cover her screen every time I came by and tell me to get that infernal camera out of her face.

Aariyah was also frustrated with drawing with the mouse. She points out her drawings on the bulletin board that she has done with colored pencils and I can see she is an excellent artist, easily one of the best in the class. I tell her that she just will have to tough it out, it will always be more difficult drawing with the mouse, but if she practices, she will get better. Also that OLPC is working on activating the stylus portion of the trackpad, but it’s not ready yet. She basically tells me they can’t get it working soon enough.

Couple of the kids were having problems with having their pages disappear. Seemed to be two possibilities. One was that they were opening earlier versions of their projects, or perhaps their latest version didn’t successfully save. Also some of the kids had been going into the Journal and erasing some of their projects, and may have erased the wrong one by mistake. (I asked why they were erasing their stuff. Either they weren’t happy with it, or they thought they needed to do it so they wouldn’t run out of space on their computer) Would suggest that kids save new versions of their files every class, with the date in the file name to help alleviate confusion. Also told them they had plenty of room on their XOs, so no need to ever erase anything for more space.

Other possibility was that it looked like some of the kids might have been trying to go to an early page by hitting the minus sign instead of the previous page arrow. Obviously bad. Should think about adding an “are you sure” to the minus page command, or at least be very specific of the danger while teaching it.

Another issue – Ayele has created his book on single pages spread out over a number of different etoys projects, and wants to know how to recombine them into a single book. Unfortunately no time for me to stop and figure that one out, as there’s a bigger problem. Over and over again, kids are still having an object they created duplicate itself on every page. Seems totally random, happens to some kids but not others. Totally maddening, as there seems to be no easy fix.

I suggest to LaTiah to try repainting it from one of the pages. There are almost tears, as now the picture she drew earlier has now disappeared from every page. Whoops. Not pleasant. I try a couple more things to try and get past it, but with the pressure of everything else I’m trying to do, I can’t find the answer. Affects a couple other kids and they literally get to the point where they just give up.

Another problem is some of the kids want to do just the minimum amount of work and be done. One writes a story on how he hates his brother which is great, but could easily be worked on more. But he just won’t do it, in his mind he’s done. So I get him and another in the same boat working with the sound recorder, which quickly leads to spirited renditions of “I’m a Rockstar.” No end of fun, which moves on to infect other members of the class also.

It for now.

(from newsletter)

For the past two months my brain has been in two different places, only a few hundred miles apart on a map of the Caribbean, but worlds apart in challenges faced. On St. John we are now six weeks into our pilot. Learning most of the XO is almost effortless for the kids. Chat, Write, Record, Journal, and Browse took me all of about fifteen minutes to get a few kids started, then I just sat back and watched the newfound knowledge spread like wildfire. Learning Etoys is more like jumping into the deep end of the pool, but the kids are making amazing progress in a very short time.

Our experiences in St John became especially valuable for our Haiti pilot. I flew into Port au Prince last week, this time not to show the laptop, but now to train mentors and film kids learning how to use their XOs. It was, as you can imagine, pretty cool. In the first few days I worked with Emile, our primary mentor in Haiti, and the other teachers at the school, teaching them the basics of the XO and Etoys.

The next day we handed out seventeen XOs to students in the John Branchizio School (including Jessie, the little girl in the first video). Once I started shooting and Emile began teaching the introductory lesson, everyone was on their own, especially as I don’t speak French or Creole. It was amazing watching the kids boot up their laptops and name them, knowing that for most of them, this was the first time they’d even seen a computer. It was also quite inspiring watching the adults working with the kids, themselves also with very limited computer experience.

I would definitely like to thank the heroic efforts of Tim as well as all of you who donated your laptops for the Haiti pilot. I hope that it is a thrilling experience knowing that your laptop is now in the hands of the very first wave of children to help lead Haiti to a brighter future.

(LaReesa report)

During Bill’s session in Haiti, I had an opportunity to teach the class with the assistance of Mary. When I went to the class, there was not really much teaching for me to do. All the kids were just continuing to work on the stories that they had started during the session on Tuesday. Most of the class time, I had spent assisting the kids with what to write or problems that they were having with the starting new pages. A lot of the kids didn’t know how to create another page so the work was duplicating itself when they just clicked to move forward. For those who didn’t know, Mary and I assisted them through the process of creating a new page. I also helped students with some of the drawings. I enjoyed this session very much because the kids were very interested in their stories, and I found a lot the stories so far to be very interesting based on the ideas and pictures that they had.

Today we’re starting our pilot in Haiti, at one of the Mercy & Sharing schools in Port-Au-Prince. Our very own Bill Stelzer, leader of our St John pilot, will be teaching Emile Roulsa Jean and two others to become Haiti’s first Waveplace mentors. They’ll then start a ten-week pilot using the nineteen laptops we were able to receive in time.

Our greatest thanks go to the ten kind souls who donated their XOs last weekend, along with David Weinberger, Jerry Michalski, and Wayan Vota for helping spread the word. David & Jerry are A-List blogerati and Wayan runs OLPC News, which published my article last weekend.

For those that have wondered, we’re going it alone in Haiti, with none of the laptops donated by OLPC’s G1G1 program going to Mercy & Sharing. Our goal is to raise $250,000 to purchase one thousand laptops and train enough mentors and teachers to really engage the kids and get them excited about education.

We met with the Haitian government yesterday and plan to share our discoveries freely with them. They’re working directly with OLPC, though they’re interested in our experiences as well. They’ll be at the laptop unveiling today.

Again, thank you everyone for your kindness and your encouragement. Stay tuned for more video from Haiti next week.

(Laura report)

I introduced the digital storybook for the first time. I showed them how to pull a book from the toolbox and how to add pages. They already knew how to draw pictures, so we spent most of the class thinking of story ideas and starting drawing. The problem was that when we added pages and proceeded to the next page, usually the image carried to the new page. I didn’t know how to resolve this, but eventually it was discovered that you need to move the images after they are done to keep them on that page.

Today is Valentines Day, by default the most horrible day of the year, and generally a day of mourning for me. When I showed up at GBS the place was a nuthouse. The kids were hyper-amped on massive quantities of Valentine’s candy and their fragile brains were pretty much short circuiting before my eyes.

I had had a plan to start the class with more geometry marching on the playground, but it was obvious that that wasn’t going to happen. In fact it was obvious not much was going to happen today. Decide instead to make it a day of mentoring, to try and get all the kids caught up and up to speed before I left for Haiti on Sunday and left them for the week with Laura, LaReesa and Mary.

Actually had had an interesting day the day before though. Came in during recess to set up the Airport Express Tim had sent down, as well as to hand out the long awaited mice. No end of excitement there.

One thing about kids, they learn lightening fast when (a) it comes to technical issues, and (b) they really, really want to know. I taught a couple kids how to get onto the Immuexa hotspot using the neighborhood screen and the browser and within minutes they themselves had taught the rest of the kids around them. Like wildfire. Stunning to watch.

One thing I also quickly discovered was where fourth graders go when they get internet access. YouTube. Specifically, Soulja Boy as interpreted by Alvin and the Chipmunks. Sadly they learned that the XO doesn’t play flash videos, so after much experimentation, much of the class migrated to the school computer where they staged an impromptu hip hop concert.

One exception though was Tracy, who was just staring at the Google home page on her XO. As I walked over to her, she said to me.

“I want to see it.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“The whole world, I want to see it.”

I told her she was already looking at it. That all she had to do was type it in. She didn’t really believe me, so I asked her what she wanted to know about. She said New Jersey, so I said okay just type it in. Thought it was a bit strange as she entered it, but I didn’t say anything. When the results for New Jersey came up, I showed her how to work Google images, to see pictures of New Jersey. With that she was off and exploring. As I watched, I asked her why she wanted to know about New Jersey. Without looking up from the screen, she said it was because that was where her mom lived.

It for now.