(written for OLPC News)

We’re told the first twenty laptops off the OLPC production line went to our 4th graders in the US Virgin Islands. These lucky kids are taking part in a ten week pilot program conducted by Waveplace Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to bringing digital media skills to Caribbean children. One month into our first pilot, we’re starting another pilot in Haiti next week, and we need your help.

Waveplace is all about mentoring. While OLPC’s notion of “pick up and learn” has appeal, we find that mentors make all the difference. You wouldn’t expect a child to learn music or baseball on their own. A kid might noodle around a bit, but the real magic, what we call “spark”, can only come from an experienced guide, someone whose love for learning shows through as they teach.

Waveplace works with local Caribbean groups to find motivated mentors, then trains them to teach Squeak Etoys on the XO. From our pilots, we’ll develop a textbook and DVD set, which we’ll make freely available to the world this summer. You can get a taste on our website where five hours of video tutorial can be found. We’re also making a documentary of our experiences, since books and screencasts only get you so far. There’s no substitute for actually seeing a mentor engage a group of kids. It’s inspiring.

Anyone can teach the basics of word processing and web browsing, but we’re after much more. Our goal is transform how each child views their own education, for them to feel a new ownership and interest in exploring their world. We’ve seen this spark again and again in the work of Papert, Resnick, and Kay, but we’ve also seen this approach fail without proper tending.

Alan Kay, who’s on our board of advisors, has said, “Logo was a great idea and it failed. It didn’t fail because computers couldn’t do Logo, and it didn’t fail because Logo software was bad. It failed because the second and third waves of teachers were not interested in it as a new thing.” We’re afraid the same thing could happen with OLPC, which is why Waveplace puts so much emphasis on courseware development and first-hand experience with Waveplace mentors. Our goal is not only to spark imagination, but to tend the fire well into the future.

As I said, we need your help. We’ve raised only half the money needed this Spring for our pilots, courseware, and documentary. If you believe in what we’re doing, then please donate some money on our website, however little.

More immediately, we need donated XO laptops, since OLPC said there are none till May. This is a problem, since we’re flying to Haiti next weekend to start our pilot there. If you’d like to “Give Two, Keep None”, please click “contact” on our website. We need eight more laptops before leaving next Saturday, and another twenty for Saint Vincent next month.

To see the Haitian children who’ll get your laptop, watch our videos.

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