Our overall goal with Waveplace is to teach children to become digital storytellers. Just what that means, and can mean, is really the crux of where we’re headed. I’ve been thinking a great deal about this.

Most schools define computer literacy as being able to operate Microsoft Office and maybe do a little web design. They’re missing the point. That’s like saying, ‘If you know which end of a book to hold up, and you know how to turn to Chapter Three, then you’re literate.’ Literature is first and foremost about having ideas important enough to discuss and write down in some form. So you have to ask, “What is the literature that is best written down on a computer?” One answer is to make a dynamic simulation of some idea that you think is important, a simulation that you can play with and that you can learn from.
– Alan Kay

To aid in my explorations, I’ve been researching the early days of film, learning how they created the conventions we now take for granted, such as reverse angle shots and zooms. To us it seems obvious, but to them, each baby step away from “point the thing at a stage and film the actors” was a breakthrough.

I’ve also been researching interactive fiction, which began in the 70s as text adventures, but has progressed quite a bit, though it’s largely unseen unless you use the word “game”.

What’s the future of digital storytelling? How we will evolve past pre-computer modes of expression? What will our children’s children look back on as obvious that we ourselves cannot yet see?

(written by Amanda Adams of Mercy & Sharing, from newsletter)

During the most recent period of rioting and civil unrest in Haiti, we at Mercy & Sharing were forced into “emergency mode” to keep the precious children in our care safe. A bright spot for us was the more than 160 Haitians we employ in our operations in Haiti. Some of these amazing people courageously risked their lives to navigate around mass riots and burning barricades to deliver food, supplies and life saving medicine to our orphanages, schools, feeding centers, clinic and abandoned baby unit where we care for abused, neglected and abandoned children. Some of the workers were even stranded at the Mercy & Sharing facilities, unable to get home due to the extreme danger of the situation in the streets — leaving their own children and families alone during this very dangerous time. Without these dedicated workers, our children could literally have starved or died from a medical condition. The situation was critical, with some of the worst rioting we’ve seen in the 15 years we’ve been in Haiti.

Domestically, Mercy & Sharing was able to acquire more than 100 tons of food aid for Haiti. And, in just over two years, Mercy & Sharing has sent more than 230 tons of food and aid — this is more than most countries (Brazil 18 tons). This brings the Mercy & Sharing donation total to over $3.31 million in food and aid, and $2.35 million in financial aid to Haiti — that’s almost $6 million dollars in total aid! The food and aid generated by Mercy & Sharing is almost 23% of what the United Nations has been able to generate in their world wide effort.

With the worst of the rioting now over and the streets somewhat calm, we have cleaned up and are back in business full swing. We are even expanding our feeding programs to help 1,300 more hungry children. Without support from friends and partner organizations, we wouldn’t be able to do this — Thank You. For more information on Mercy & Sharing, please visit haitichildren.com or call us at 1-877-424-8454.

(written by Mary Burks, 4th grade teacher, from newsletter)

The pilot at Guy Benjamin School in St. John has come to a close. At its inception, all persons involved understood that we were delving into new technological territory. There were some initial roadblocks due mostly to some hardware problems that were resolved. The students were excitable, malleable, and productive. Some picked up the skills step-by-step as they were introduced. Others holistically delved, experimented and learned through risk-taking. Yet others became experts at gaining the attention of the teachers and mentors for special “how-to” tips.

Four students were selected as winners at the end of the pilot. Liana won for the best overall story using Etoys, incorporating story, art, and animation into one smooth piece. Her story was 17 pages long and included every skill that had been taught in the pilot. She illustrated her story, proofread and edited her text continually, and used holders for special animations. Tracy won for the best story. She wrote a very lengthy tale about a lonely mango that one day became a beautiful tree. A’Feyah won for the artwork she drew in a story about her dog that waits for her every day after school, wagging its tail. Vanessa, best scripting, wrote a pirate tale with wonderful animations of her pirate finding a treasure chest.

While involved in the pilot, I doubt even the authors knew just where their stories were heading. The projects were in a constant state of change, from art to story line to animations to, well, starting all over again. As the children learned skills in Etoys they massaged their projects to include the best ways to incorporate the new things they were trying out. The project wasn’t about a story. The project was about creating a story out of all the cool stuff they were learning how to do.

Students, teachers, and mentors learned much. In the end, I stand in awe of the progress the students made, the levels of collaboration they achieved, the final projects they produced, and the camaraderie they grew to feel for each other. Staying after school until 5:00 was no small commitment on their part. The students never failed to impress me with their adaptability. The final projects were all awesome. In a word, the pilot at Guy Benjamin School was successful.

(written by Crissi Corbin, from newsletter)

When I first started teaching, just eight short years ago, teachers were given the ability to make and create their own curriculum. As a new teacher I was constantly seeking out new tools to help me educate my students. I had to be creative and make tools to use. Since then, the pendulum has swung the other way. We are now forced to use specific curriculum products. Now I feel my hands are tied much of the year with having to force my students who are below level to use materials that were well above them. It’s not the materials that are negative but the manner in which we are forced to use them.

I recently read a book titled Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire by Rafe Esquith. In his first chapter he talks about Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development. He talks about how many classrooms are directed by the lowest level of moral development, which is doing it because you fear the wrath of authority. I feel that not only are classrooms being directed by fear but many school districts as well. District administrators are pushing for scores to be higher so that they are not taken over by the state or loosing much needed funding. Teachers are in a panic to make sure their students meet the standards.

For the first three quarters of the year my class was busily cramming for the PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment). It has just been in the last month that I have broken from the curriculum restraints and decided to do what I feel is good teaching, such as having my students read a chapter book for a change, which has now turned many students back onto reading rather than away from reading. Because of this, I feel like I having an impact on my students for the first time this year.

To be good teachers, we must fight this fear of not measuring up. We must remember the real goal of our profession, that of reaching and engaging our students in a personal, immeasurable, way.

(from newsletter)

A child has the right to their own wonder, to their enthusiasm, to their innate curiosity as they explore the world around them. A child has the right to ask questions and be heard, to hear answers from adults without impatience or contempt. A child has the right to create beauty as their heart compels them, to be encouraged in their community without fear of apathy or ridicule. A child has the right to learn freely.

Too often we adults get caught up in ourselves, in the demands of each day as we try to survive. Nowhere is this more true than in the poorest areas of the world, where survival demands its due in every moment of every day. Too many of our children have the eyes of adults, weary well beyond their years, their wonder stolen much too soon.

But there’s a new hope this year, arriving in the form of little laptop computers from OLPC. With these new laptops, Waveplace Foundation is teaching Caribbean kids to become digital storytellers, to use these little machines to help nurture their talents for the benefit of all.

As adults, we see computers as a tool for our work. We see only their pragmatic side, and so think of computers as a necessary job skill. At Waveplace, we see something else as we watch children with their new laptops. We see pride in their eyes at being given such a special gift. We see excitement as they learn to do wondrous new things. We see determination to solve the next puzzle, a look we imagine on their faces in the future as they tackle the world’s troubles.

To a child, having their own laptop is like having a special confidant, a secret sharer, one with infinite patience and continual encouragement. In the Waveplace course, children learn to program these computers, which is a creative and effective way to teach problem solving. The confidence they get when they’re able to do this is incredible. It’s changing how they feel about all learning. They become more enthusiastic and more engaged.

More than this, these laptops connect them to the world. Just as books have carried wisdom through the ages, these computers connect children to teachers and students from afar. Even as the harshness of their home begins to crush their spirit, these laptops are a window to what’s possible, to the certain knowledge that they have a right to learn, and grow, and dream.

Not bad for two-hundred bucks.

Had a great trip to Saint John last week, finishing up our ten week Waveplace pilot with the fourth grade class at Guy Benjamin School. I got to teach the class one day, which was great fun, and for our last class, we had each student present their storybooks, then gave out four iPods as prizes. The judges were me, Dionne Wells (their principal), and Jamie Elliot (a local reporter).

Mid-trip we presented the results of the pilot to the new USVI Education Commissioner by having A’Feyah, one of the students, sit with the Commissioner and show her what she had learned. From what I hear, our meeting was a great success.

Here’s a webcam shot of me, Jan, and Bill with our XOs, just before taking the ferry to St Thomas to meet with the Commissioner.

(written by Peter Wholihan, from newsletter)

“The opportunities that young people hold for the Caribbean region, where two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30, cannot be underestimated.” (Caribbean Youth Development, World Bank, May 2003).

Cell phones in the pocket, iPods to the ears, GameBoys in the hand, young people are connected. Are schools? What exactly are our youth connected to and how do they use technology? How about Student Cell Phone Pictures, Passa Passa, and YouTube? If you know what I am writing about, you are connected. If you do not, ask a young person and watch the reaction. To paraphrase Thomas Friedman in his book, “The World is Flat”, are we preparing our children for the race ahead? No!

The same World Bank report also spoke to the importance of schools to students in the Caribbean:

Connectedness to schools is highly protective against all risky behaviors, including using drugs and alcohol and engaging in violent or sexual activity. For example, among school-going adolescents, the probability of sexual behavior falls by 30 percentage points for boys and 60 percentage points for girls if they are connected to schools. Conversely, the school system can have devastating effects on those youth with low academic achievement by not granting them a place in school and, as a corollary, making them feel socially excluded and “worthless.”

Are our youth using technology? Yes! Are they harnessing these tools in innovative ways. Yes! Can we do a better job of providing them with guidance and educational knowhow to become better citizens and contributors to our society as a whole? We must! The alternative is too dire to contemplate.

I am excited to be involved with Waveplace. Not only is the organization geared to provide students with their own laptop computer, but more importantly its main emphasis is on course materials and training in the innovative use of technology. This approach can be used in the Caribbean to harness and encourage youths attraction to technology and to build greater capacity into our human resources to be brought to its full potential. My hope is programs such as these can have concentric and profound educational, economic, and societal benefits for the Caribbean and beyond.

Welcome Waveplace!