After class today, the teachers pull me aside. “We just wanted to say,” they begin, “That…before you came along, we had no idea how to use Etoys. We are learning a lot. It’s great!”

I’ll be honest; I swelled with pride upon hearing that. It was such a relief to know that the teachers are appreciating class. Today was a particularly difficult day. We covered lesson 4 in Etoys, which I think is when things start to get a little bit complicated. First, I showed them how to save things to the Squeakland Showcase. This took a good amount of time as the internet was really slow. I told them the students wouldn’t have to do this, just them. I gave them login names and passwords that they could use, and I said if they wanted to share projects created by their students, they could save them to a USB drive and then upload them themselves, or even login under the teachers’ name on Etoys, so that the kids don’t have to go through what could be a disastrous few days of trying to get everyone set up in Squeakland (for example, it took a couple of class periods to get everyone email addresses. I don’t even want to think about the Squeakland Showcase!).

After that, I told everyone to draw something quick over a period of 30 seconds. The class today would not be about drawing- we already know how to do that. Instead, it would be about how to manipulate a drawing. Three of the teachers drew up nice pictures really quickly. Two of them had troubles with their computers so it took longer. Then as I helped those two teachers with their respective problems, the three teachers would continue to embellish their pictures until they just had to the do the thing all over again because the picture started to get too detailed. Good grief, it must have taken an hour just to get five little drawings made. I think the teachers saw that I was mildly frustrated, but I still tried to make a joke. When it took me literally 60 seconds to draw a flower, I laughed about how I could have drawn a whole garden of flowers by the time they had each finished their respective drawings! They laughed too.

The issue is that the teachers are at this point quite comfortable with the way the XOs and Sugar work. The problem, however, is that the teachers are not comfortable with some mechanical things that Etoys requires- clicking and dragging, for example, or, something that is really hard, clicking and dragging and pressing “shift” at the same time (Miguel was having trouble with this and as I patted him on the back I joked, “I know it’s three fingers at once, but don’t worry, you’ll get it- you do have ten fingers, anyway!” and he burst out laughing). When entering in http://squeakland.org on the Navigate activity, the teachers are constantly adding extra letters, forgetting slashes, etc. Reminds me of the “good old days” when I was first learning how to use the Internet and I was forgetting little details like that, too.

Though this might come in handy when teaching scripting- because now the teachers can relate to the need to have everything exactly right or the computer won’t respond correctly.

So once the first hour passes and we have our drawings in order, everything else goes smoothly. I printed the images that the Columbus School for Girls students created- large replicas of each handle in the halo- and distributed them among the teachers. The teachers were then able to write little notes on the page of each handle so that they could remember what each one does and how to use it. Great! By the end of the afternoon, we had forests, gardens, strange and unusual sizes and colors of cheese, houses, roses and squiggles (the squiggles were created by Professora Arlete. She took absolutely FOREVER to do everything – she gets frustrated pretty easily with the computers – so when she FINALLY made the first squiggle I just said “stop it right there, that’s plenty!!!”).

Thank god.

At this point it had been about an hour and forty minutes. I asked the teachers if they wanted to continue into the next lesson or if they wanted to rest and go home. They opted to go home. This was fine; we did a full lesson and that is all that was important. For a few minutes, we sat around and talked about the future. This week it’s just me and the teachers doing lessons; though because of students’ exams we won’t have class tomorrow. Next week the teachers need to grade the exams, but there is the possibility of teachers being able to come and do a class in the afternoon, either with just me or with the students. Miguel had told the students to come to class this Friday and we would give them the low-down.

I told the teachers that their homework tonight was to essentially decide what they wanted to do. This needs to have a strong foundation, so if they don’t even want to teach the students at all until the fall, we can consider that if we have a plan. Instead, we can spend this summer learning Etoys at a slower pace, and lesson planning for the incoming school year. Or, we can start students up on Monday, keep them for about 90 minutes and then have teacher classes in the afternoon (sort of like how Waveplace did in Haiti) so that the teachers can always stay a step ahead of the students. Whatever they want to do, it’s fine by me- as long as they find a solution that works for them.

So that’s where we are. They are thinking about how they want to organize their class, and I will support them. They’ll tell me the verdict on Friday. I still need to talk to the director about paying (or his lack of paying) the teachers for their work over the school year, but I am hoping that my presence is already reminding him that he needs to turn their hours into the Ministry of Education. The teachers have begun to ask me for their own personal laptop computers. When I talked to them, I realized that it seems that they are not looking for anything special- just something smaller than the enormous computers that are in the computer lab, something transportable, and something adult-friendly (unlike the XOs). I told them the only thing that was holding me back was the shipping fee, but they said they would pay it.

Well, if I can arrange for some donated laptops and then have them pay the shipping, we’re golden. So that’s my plan right now.

Roberta still hasn’t made an appointment with the American Embassy, so I need to get on her back about that to make sure we have time to do it while I’m still here. I’m also hoping to talk to the Taiwanese Embassy, which apparently takes interest in medical and educational projects on the island (and if we have public health curricula, they could definitely pay for that). A few things to do on my list, many of which hopefully will be worked on tomorrow when I have a day off from school.

Besides that, everything else is just gravy. I know the teachers are happy that I have returned. I think in all of its pilots, Waveplace really does its best to keep in touch with people and help them feel supported. Though we don’t have funding to continue the Haiti program yet, we do still keep in touch with our mentors. Both the Petite Riviere and Darbonne mentors have since had parent-teacher meetings, where the parents insisted that the program must continue because their children are enjoying it so much. It’s so nice to hear that…that even when class is hard, ultimately the students and teachers are very much valuing the time they are spending with their computers. Now how to find the funding to continue the learning…

At 10am I began my walk from the STeP UP office to the São João school. Walking there takes about 30-40 minutes total, and though my bags are heavy I somewhat enjoy it- passing through neighborhoods, a long stretch of bakeries, shops and a garage, the bustling market with many taxi and motoqueiro stands, then waterfront, with old, rusted ships that beached ashore long ago and soft waves lapping at the sand below a short cement barricade. And then, of course, the São João School, a pinkish colored cement building behind gates, outside of which women sell jaca and bananas and cookies and lollipops.

The teachers were inside the school, waiting for me. Professora Arlete wasn’t here yesterday but she’s here now. Her eyes smile as I walk in. “Elizabeth!” She exclaims. “I am this very moment writing an email to you!” I look at the computer screen in front of her- one of the big clunker computers that are from the early 90s- and sure enough there is an email addressed to me there. Professor Nelys is there too and we laugh as Arlete writes her email to me, in front of me.

When Miguel, Adelina and Mirian arrive, we head to an empty classroom and set up shop. Today, I explain, we’re going to learn Etoys. My idea is to have students create their own storybooks by the end of the summer camp. But first, of course, we need to learn how to use it.

Unlike the teachers of other Waveplace deployments, these teachers have been using the XOs all year long so they are extremely comfortable with the way they handle (in fact, Nelys instant messaged me on Microsoft Messenger yesterday, from his XO. I had thought it was impossible and asked him how he did it. “I have tricks,” he had responded with an emoticon smile). For this reason, we literally breezed through lessons 1, 2 and 3 with ease. Even Professora Adelina, who is a bit older than the other teachers, was keeping up quite well.

And it wasn’t even that the teachers were hanging on – they were actually surpassing me to the point that I could hardly teach the material. When I showed them how to pull text from the Supply Box, they were immediately asking how they could resize it, change the color, etc. When I showed them the grab patch and the lasso, they used that and then quickly started recording their own voices with the sound recorder, without me even having mentioned its existence yet. In some ways the speed at which they were learning was a negative thing- they seemed to lose interest relatively quickly because this stuff was easy for them.

But, of course, this is only the beginning. There’s a lot more than that came from.

Like for example, the idea of creating little pictures to compile into one big picture is new to them. They get it but they still don’t *quite* understand why one would do that. When we move to animations soon I think it is going to make a lot more sense.

We are focusing less on “how to teach” at the beginning, and just working on getting the teachers comfortable with the material. The reason why we’re doing this is because the teachers have already been teaching this computer class for an entire school year. The material has certainly been different, but I’d like to see what they’re doing. With each teacher taking over a group of about 20 students by themselves, I want to see what their technique is and will be. They are experienced so I am hoping for the best. However, I do know that the high teacher/student ratio will be different, interesting, and, well, potentially hazardous. But there’s no way to truly know until we get started.

Miguel’s computer nearly ran out of battery in class. He went to the office to grab a big long power strip that the OLPCorps had made for them. He plugged his computer into it…but the power strip wasn’t working all that well. We weren’t sure why. After some shifting the plug around in the socket and a bit of confusion we got it to work relatively well, but I’m concerned that one day these power strips may stop working entirely. And when they do, the teachers are going to have to learn how to make new ones…or something.

The computers are quite dirty and definitely need to be reflashed. Arlete took one of the students’ computers out of the director’s office as she had left hers at home. It was covered – I mean COVERED! – with orangeish dust from the schoolyard. I told the teachers that it might be a little extra work, but they should wipe these computers clean and then reflash them before the fall. I might actually consider doing that myself before I leave. Even though the students will be using the computers over the summer program, at least there’s a smaller chance that they’ll mess them up in two to three weeks.

Talked with Roberta today. She said the US Embassy is currently accepting funding applications, which is great news! She’s going to call them and find out when we can come over to talk to them. We’re working on making the funding application a little bit different for each location we approach, in hopes we can divide the costs and conquer that way.

No word yet on the car battery. I basically need to ask Dany about it right now but haven’t had a chance to.

Tomorrow we’re starting with lesson 4, which I actually think the teachers are going to like very much, as it has to do with resizing and re-coloring their creations, which is something they’ve been wanting to do for a while now.

Stopped by São João this morning around 10:30, after students’ exams were over for the day. Four of our five teachers met me at the school and we moved into an empty classroom so we could talk a bit about how we want to organize this summer program.

The teachers explained to me that students are in exams this week and then next week is a sort of evaluation period, so students won’t be available for the summer program until the week after that (what I believe will be two weeks before I leave). This is both good and bad news. Obviously I want to spend time with the students and am going to miss them. But at the same time, the later we start, the better my chances of getting my lost suitcase back which had some really nice teaching materials (as well as toolkits that I had bought for each teacher so that they could fix their own computers) that I’d love to use. So in a way I don’t mind that we’re starting later than normal. I have faith that the teachers will be able to teach their students how to make storybooks in Etoys without me. That will be our goal this summer…to learn the Basic Etoys lessons and to make storybooks. I think it’s a worthy goal.

As the students are still in exams, tomorrow I am going to start teaching the teachers. I explained that it will take a few hours each day for multiple days to learn Basic Etoys. I also have faith that the teachers will learn rather quickly, as it’s only five of them and they’ll be able to gather around my computer and pick up things pretty fast. Etoys 4 has been translated into even Portuguese than Etoys 3, and the teachers are overwhelmingly grateful to see that change. I also passed around a few materials I printed for them, including the ten Etoys lessons that I translated into Portuguese (as well as a fresh copy of the Troubleshooting Guide); an XO manual which is essentially a translation of the ominous (and entirely in English) Help activity on Sugar, translated by a noble and secret source; and a guide to Etoys created by the Squeakland group and used in Brazil.

There are no words to describe how happy the teachers were to see lesson material in Portuguese. All they could say over and over was, “Oh, this is so much better. Oh, this is so much better!” I know they’ve been dodging the hurdles of English throughout the entire school year and I know they will be grateful to get a little break in their own language.

They also seem excited to learn how to use Etoys, which has been a sort of dark corner for them, especially since Etoys 3 was not as Portuguese-friendly as Etoys 4 (like for example, the little bubbles that pop up to tell you what each button means are now in Portuguese and not English, thank God!). I showed them storybooks that students in Haiti made and the teachers definitely seemed interested in the idea of their students making similar ones. I also told them that we’re going to head to a few bigwigs- UNICEF, the UN, the Ministry of Education, even Voice of America and a few banks here in São Tomé- looking for donations to see if we can get enough computers for the whole school. They nodded their heads enthusiastically, especially Miguel, when I explained that I’d like to eventually get rid of our Saturday classes over the school year and just start using the computers in the classroom. That is my dream. Dona Roberta at STeP UP has been helping me re-work my funding proposal so that we can go together to these organizations and make our requests. We also thought it’d be a good idea to have a sort of “open house” for potential funders to come and watch a class in action, to see how it’s going so well, and to then attend a Q&A session afterward.

A meeting also needs to be held with parents of our students. Unfortunately, even though students have been told that they need to turn their computers in at the end of the year, they have been slow to believe it. They have been using the computers all year, anyway- it’s not easy for them to think that they will actually give them back after all this time! Because of that, we’ve had a couple of computer brutalities- a torn off “s” key, a ripped off antenna. The teachers want to have another meeting with the students to talk about computer care, to tell the parents that the students have to return the computers at the end of the year and to build a better system so that students really do take care of their computers throughout their “loan”. I suggested the idea of building a sort of computer library like our Waveplace mentors are doing in Petite Riviere des Nippes, in Haiti. That can allow students to continue the learning even after they leave São João. The applied technology school that STeP UP is hoping to build would also be a solution to this, as students would be able to continue learning with computers after their time in the XO laptop program.

I asked the teachers how energy was at the school. They said it is better now than it was when I was here last, but it’s still not perfect. I brought up Mike Dawson (OLPC Afghanistan)’s suggestion of getting a car battery to hook the wireless router to, so that students can at least use the internet even when there isn’t electricity. Then the battery can be plugged into the wall and recharge when there is electricity so that it can be used later. Their response was much like mine when I learned about that idea- GENIUS! We’re going to look into it right away.

I also asked teachers about payment and if they were getting paid okay by the Ministry of Education for their extraordinary hours. They sort of grew quiet and hung their heads. Apparently they have been submitting time sheets to São João’s director, with their signatures and all. At first the director passed them along to the Ministry so that they would be paid, but lately he hasn’t been doing it so the teachers have not been getting the payment they earned. We’re not sure why this is the case and the teachers asked me to talk to the director so I’ll do this in the next couple of days. We wonder what could possibly make this man not want to pay the teachers- perhaps he’s just being lazy and will get around to it. Perhaps he’s slightly, well, jealous that they’re getting extra pay (since they’re putting in extra work) and he isn’t. Whatever the reason, I’m going to find out and hopefully fix it.

It seems the teachers are pretty stable on their own but definitely are benefitting from me being back and checking in on things. I wish I could replicate this model in every country in the world. So far I think it is working extremely well and I am so impressed with the teachers’ dedication and interest.

We’ll see how Basic Etoys lesson 1 (and hopefully 2) go tomorrow!

The five USB flash drives that I purchased for my teachers are stuck somewhere in Boston or Lisbon in my checked baggage, among other small things like that for class. I say to myself over and over, “At least it wasn’t the computers that were lost. At least it wasn’t the computers.”

Today I scrounged around in all my bags and ended up finding a perfect total of five used but still functioning emergency flash drives that I had hidden in various bags in case of emergency during our time in Haiti. Thanking my lucky stars right now as I reformat them and put on the materials that were on the other prepared drives.

Had a great talk with Ned (STEP UP) over lunch today. STEP UP is hoping to build an applied technologies shool where students can go to learn how to fix computers, create solar energy and other things that can help them get a leg up in a developing country. This school could have an incredible symbiotic relationship with the laptop program at São João. Students that go on to this applied technologies school could learn how to better fix the XO laptop and build up quite a little market in computer repair. Students who participate in São João’s program who may not have otherwise had an interest in school or technology may now want to attend a school such as the one STEP UP wants to create. There are just a wealth of good things to talk about if this pulls through.

It’s Sunday so between the laptop over-thinking I have also been laying on Ned’s dock, soaking in the sunshine, then sitting on his porch and watching the waves. It’s been a quiet day but a good one. By tomorrow morning I will be fully prepared to visit the São João school, see the teachers and get ready for a great week of planning, organizing and learning. This works out quite well, since tomorrow is Monday and there’s no time to lose! Also hoping to talk to Roberta at STEP UP about speaking with UNICEF, the UN, USAID, etc. Will probably send her a copy of my funding proposal to see what she thinks.

Until tomorrow-

Beth

Well, a lost bag, a mix-up at the check-in desk in Lisbon and a canceled flight later, I have finally made it to São Tomé!

TAP USA and TAP Portugal had trouble communicating with each other, and the message about my laptops had somehow not traveled from the former to the latter. I had smartly (or perhaps luckily) decided to check in a whopping four hours ahead of time, and well worth it- it took nearly two hours of Skype calls from my computer to TAP USA, a really frustratingly busy supervisor at the check-in desk to Portugal and a series of frantic emails to finally get the 30 computers I was bringing on behalf of Waveplace and STEP UP OLPC on the plane.

Of course when midnight (departure time) rolls around, the flight is cancelled due to technical difficulties!!

So now I have a lost bag, a tired ego from fighting with the TAP Portugal officials, and a 24 hour flight delay. Things turn out for the best though- I’m put up in a beautiful five-star hotel in Lisbon, I make a few friends with some Portuguese political campaigners and therefore have dinner buddies, and actually spend a really nice day being a tourist in Lisbon (and showering, arguably the best part).

When I finally arrived in São Tomé, the adventure was not quite over. Waiting at the baggage claim for nearly two hours, my São Tomean friend Kilson came up from behind and surprised me. It was great to see him (and have an extra pair of hands). He’s also a smooth talker, which was exactly what I needed as I approached customs.

The uniformed men were kind but firm. They asked me what was in the boxes. I told them I had educational materials for the São João School.

“What kind of educational materials?” They asked.

I took a deep breath. Kilson began to explain, having actually taught a class with me last fall. “They’re small computers made for children.”

“Yes,” I jumped in. “They’re used so they have very little value, but they are specially made for children and donated by Americans to be used at the São João School.”

“Oh, so they’re like the Magalhães?” One of the officer asks, referring to the XO laptop’s Portuguese cousin, as we take a computer out and show him.

“Yes!” Kilson and I exclaim in excitement.

“Well, in that case,” the officer continued, “they stay here.”

Oops. Wrong answer, maybe. But that’s ok- I had a backup- a letter from the Embassy of the USA with the official embassy seal, as well as various other letters from donors and other people involved in the program. I showed him the letter and repeated again. The computers are already used, they’re not worth much, they’re donated to the kids at São João, it’s a program that is supported by the embassy, etc. etc. The officers tell me to leave the computers then and the embassy can come and pick them up.

I reminded them that the nearest American embassy was in Gabon, on the mainland. He took the letter and went to his supervisor.

When his supervisor came over we explained again. Then Kilson said the magic word. “They’re gifts,” he told the supervisor. “We already have a program going and now we’re just expanding it. The school isn’t paying anything. They’re gifts.”

The supervisor puts the computer back on our carriage and says nothing. “Let’s get out of here,” Kilson says urgently, “fast”. We break for the door, knowing there’s only a short amount of time before maybe the supervisor changes his mind.

Dany, Ned’s (the director of STEP UP) driver and my friend, is outside the airport waiting for us. Miguel, the head computer teacher, is there as well. Both of them were there yesterday morning too, before they learned that the flight had been cancelled. It’s a sigh of relief when we finally get back to Ned’s house, a breeze coming right off his dock onto his porch and windows.

We open up the boxes of computers and they have made it without a scratch.

Ready to head to São Tomé e Príncipe, the small, two-island nation off the west coast of Africa. Will stay a month to help teach Etoys to the kids that I kickstarted a program with on behalf of the non-profit organization, STeP UP (http://www.stepup.st). Now we’re taking on new challenges, bringing more computers to the kids at the São João School (have about 20 in hand, which is 20% more computer than we started with, yay!) and developing a summer program with the students and teachers of last year’s program, then slowly easing them into another year of fabulous learning.

Not to forget, of course, another fabulous field trip to the beach, among other things.

Stay tuned as I blog about the adventures that await, starting June 23rd (though I don’t get in to São Tomé until June 25th). Also will do some cross-posting on my STEP UP OLPC (what I call the resulting organization) blog at http://stepupolpc.bethsantos.com.

Can’t wait!

See John Engle’s post in the Haiti Partners blog:

http://www.haitipartners.org/2010/06/xo-laptop-exchange-in-virgin-islands/

Catch a few notes about Realness and our Waveplace workshop in St. John:

First places to look:
-Waveplace in the St. John Source on May 30: http://stjohnsource.com/content/news/local-news/2010/05/30/one-laptop-child-comes-st-john
-Waveplace in the Tradewinds on May 26: http://www.stjohntradewindsnews.com/index.php?limitstart=6

Some writings/bloggers that have been keeping us busy:

Students and faculty at the Columbus School for Girls: http://csgolpc2010.weebly.com

Some great blogging by Christoph Derndorfer of OLPC News:
http://www.olpcnews.com/use_cases/education/waveplace_mentor_workshop_on_s.html

Sugar Labs’ own Bernie Innocenti with pictures and some comments: http://codewiz.org/wiki/blog/2010/06

Last day in St. John.

Had a blast swimming with Tim’s daughter’s nanny, Nicole- renting kayaks and snorkeling equipment and finally hitting the water!!!

At Gifft Hill today. Class is going well but everyone is rowdy. End of the school year activity I suppose. We’re all working on our storybooks and they’re actually going extremely well. The kids are adding animations and pictures to their stories which are really fun. Not sure if they really did it simultaneously with the Basic Etoys lesson, but regardless of that fact they seem to be learning very quickly.

Having some severe problems with saving on Etoys. It seems like there are a handful of students who are saving their projects and then losing either portions of their projects or the entire project when they try to open it again. Not sure how to resolve this…but we need to look into it. I never saw this bug in Haiti, but then again, kids weren’t opening projects they had been previously working on much…

A couple of stragglers- Mike Dawson and Salim Hayran from Afghanistan, Bernie Innocenti from Sugar Labs. George Hunt, Jessica Curtis, Adam Holt, Richard Smith and Larry Wright all left today. It will be sad when all is quiet again.

More details to come when I’m back home and rested 😉

And I mean that when I say it, too. Last night, we all sat up in the yoga pavilion (ie, gazebo high on a hill overlooking maybe one of the most beautiful views on Earth), watched some movies Bill made in his various trips to Haiti and then talked about something that has been simmering throughout the whole Realness Summit.

This “thing” is the creation of an organization, a co-op, or some sort of group that would help seed, support and follow up with small deployments that are directly or tangentially related to the OLPC community. We all are beginning to realize that small deployments can be very powerful, and they can even grow into large deployments if they are just cared for. Yet there is no organization that takes care of them to the level that they need.

The way I see it is a bit different from other people. Though then again, everyone’s opinion of what the group should be is a little bit different. Some just want it to be a website with resources that can be sought out by people in small deployments or people interested in starting one. The way I see it, it’s an organization that acts as a parent organization to these small deployments, so that they feel supported, they feel that someone is keeping an eye on them, and they feel that someone cares if they find success in their project or not. It’s providing the tools for a small deployment, no matter how small, to be long-lasting, and, ultimately self-sustainable. It’s creating educational content, making the coordinators of these small deployments well-versed in fundraising/grant-seeking/publicity initiatives, following up with them and checking in on them from time to time, perhaps even gaining a 501(c)(3) status so it can handle the finances of these small orgs too.

It’s basically not giving up on these small deployments, because they are the ones that usually have the people with the fight in them. They are the ones that can move with the slightest change of wind, and even though this can be a negative thing, it can also be very much a positive thing. They are the ones that are the most flexible, the most able to move, the most able to grow with the tide.

Much has been learned from this Realness Summit. We all understand that we’re in it together. We may be a pretty spread-out family, but we have very similar experiences. We’re all here to support one another, to offer advice, to give suggestions, to, if all else fails, both gripe and celebrate together. And I think that has been the most beneficial part of Realness over all- to get to know faces and personalities. To become one with our common visions and our common goals. And that is what will strengthen us all.

People are dropping one by one, heading home or, if they’re really lucky, continuing on various other travels for OLPC and other initiatives. It seems to be a constant flow of goodbyes here at Maho. I’m going to miss it – the sun, the mosquitoes…okay, maybe not the mosquitoes, but I’ll still miss it!

A safe trip home to everyone as they continue on their way. Last day of our workshop at the schools is tomorrow and I know we are all a little bit sad to be leaving!