Today we reached a pivotal early moment in our Boston pilots – the introduction of the storytelling capabilities of Etoys.

The curriculum we are tweaking calls for significant shifts in lesson order and content emphasis. We want to especially consider the special place of the storyteller in Haitian culture and model our use of the XO, at the simplest level, as a device for the expression of stories.

So to recap: On day one, we taught the children how to sketch, and day two we taught them about halos, the actions that manipulate these sketches. With these simple building blocks in place, on day three, earlier than in previous pilots, we showed them how to open their supplies box and asked them to create a book. We want them to learn by exploration, not through constant prodding from us.

But we didn’t drop them into this new learning environment completely wet behind the ears.

At the start of class today, instead of asking them to get in their seats and power up their XOs, Tim gathered them together in front of a larger screen, and showed them a few videos. The first video we watched was, “Giving Laptops to the Children,” filmed by Bill Stelzer for Waveplace Foundation in 2008. This video gave the students in the pilot a good idea about Bill’s role in the classroom (what to do Mr. Bill?) and re-affirmed the idea that stories created in Haiti can be shared with students in the US, and vice-versa. Next we moved on to stories told through Etoys, watching a couple of the best projects produced from the Nicaragua pilot, and Tim’s own story via screencast about Seymour the turtle (a quest loosely based on educator Seymour Papert.)

The students now have the tools, and the examples, to translate their creative potential into storybooks. It will be wonderful to watch them do this in the coming weeks.

At the same time, deeper issues of translation are at stake. Throughout the day while the children are beginning to integrate the language of their everyday life with this new scripting language, volunteers for Waveplace Foundation and One Laptop Per Child debate translation of Haitian Kreyol.

The necessity for Waveplace Foundation to use Kreyol over French in this pilot has already been established. Kreyol is rarely attached to educational materials in Haiti, but by choosing it as the official language powering the XO and the interface of Etoys in Haiti, the tools can finally be set to tell the story of Haiti in the actual language of its people.

But now many other issues are coming to light. For one, many of the technical terms, like “morph” for instance, that are consistent in design and programming platforms do not really exist in Kreyol. Another thing, issues can arise in translation quality when working with volunteers vs. professional translators (so is it better to have a poor translation, or just leave it in English, which Haitian students are likely to learn in high school anyhow?) And when it comes to literature, how do you prioritize what work is most meaningful to start with in translating to Kreyol? Finally, many Haitians who regularly speak Kreyol have never been taught to actually read and write Kreyol. We see evidence of this in the Graham and Parks Elementary school pilot, where all eight Haitian-American students converse in Kreyol, but so far only two have felt comfortable enough to switch the language on their XOs.

So what are the right translation decisions to make?

Undoubtably, these issues will be sorted out in the near future as time goes on and consensus is reached. It is a great thing though, that these solutions are being found now during the US pilots, and not during the launch in Haiti. At this time, I suspect discussion of language will likely need to be focused on far more crucial policy-based and historically derived investigations, and bringing those notions into the present in order to shape Haiti’s future.

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