Transform everything by teaching our children to be creative problem solvers, not through a broken education system that teaches compliance and deficiency, but through a new spirit of guided discovery with mentors devoted to kindling the spark within each child, so they may feel their own promise.

This is truly the lever that will change everything, given a chance. When children learn to question, when they’re taught confidence to solve problems with creativity, their lives become stories of opportunity and discovery.

Wednesday the 22nd was a true success, all the more because I had very little to do with it.  Other than driving and leading off each lesson, I pretty much watched all day, which is exactly what I want to do.  My ultimate role is to become unnecessary.  If there’s one lesson to be learned about creating sustainable laptop programs, it’s that outsiders should do less so that locals will do more.  Allow the vacuum to be felt.

After a nice continental breakfast, the group headed up the hill an hour early, as planned.  We got there before anyone else, as Elisabeth had said, which gave us time to negotiate with Mercy Corps to use the downstairs room for the rest of the workshop.  Someone pointed out that upstairs was air-conditioned and downstairs was not.  I choose ample room over A/C, especially since we’ve never actually had A/C during a Haiti workshop.  It was the right call.

My one useful contribution for the day was helping to set up the tables and chairs and suggesting we use masking tape to mark where they should be placed later on.  It really does help to have lots of room to walk behind people.  Also, choosing good locations for the power strips and extension cords prevents the usual hourly tripping that inevitably follows.  As unsexy as chair & table placement might seem, it ranks right up there with power & content & food as hallmarks of a successful workshop.

Evens led the first adult lesson, which was on the Etoys viewer.  I was very pleased to see that he had heard my remarks about projecting, as he was clearly in command of the room, but in a friendly, helpful way.   Elisabeth was likewise animated and strong in the second adult lesson.   Both of them were clearly improved from last February, which was wonderful to see.  They will certainly become our first L4 trainers in Haiti.

After lunch, we led the children outside for another activity.  I suggested the mentors lead them in a song, as we did nearly every day at AMSAI, though it was a little difficult getting everyone going.  People weren’t as used to spontaneous playfulness as they were at AMURT, which made me think we should make it an explicit part of the training, rather than “Hey, who knows a group song?”

I led the children’s lesson off by talking about making storybooks, instructing the mentors to talk to the children about character (“who is in the story”), setting (“where are the”), and conflict (“what happens to them”).   I then asked them to show them the supply box, paint canvas, and halo, which was an accelerated way to introduce three lessons at once.  My hope was to make the introduce more purpose-driven, giving immediate relevance to the material.   Also, I was condensing … we normally have ten children’s classes and this workshop we had only three.

Most of the class was mentor & child, with trainers helping as needed.  I walked around and again felt successful for being unnecessary.  The mentors had understood the earlier lessons and were actively helping the children learn the material and create the storybooks.  Some mentors were a bit too hands-on.  I saw one storybook about the earthquake that was clearly written by the adult, using words like “infamy,” etc.  But all in all, the 45 people in the room had a good experience, one that was at the same time deep and creative.  If the Haitian Minister of Education had walked into the room, I would have simply let him watch things and would be happy about it.

In the second adult lesson, Elisabeth introduced scripting, which is the first of three core computer programming concepts.  By the end of the lesson, the room was alive with croaking and honks and other Etoys sounds, with spirograph patterns on everyone’s screen, having just learned turtle geometry.

The team breakdown meet was very short.  “Everything went very well.”  We all agreed.  When we got back to the hotel, I had a quick meeting with a gentlemen from Haiti Outreach, who seemed very interested to offer the training to two schools near Cap Haitian.  I then began my preparations for the Courseware Workshop the next morning.   I felt pretty daunted by the task, not entirely sure what to expect or how to prepare.

Tuesday the 21st was our only morning free, though rather than take a needed break, I of course decided to do the hard thing: boxes.  Planning to leave at 8:00 for AMURT, I got some Mac laptop time in while drinking coffee on the hotel porch, waiting for people.  The plan was to go with the three college girls, since they wanted to see AMURT’s “child friendly zone” (aka school) in the Sineas camp.  I also asked Evens and Elisabeth to go, since they didn’t have to prepare for lessons later in the day.  By the time the girls came down and negotiated with their driver (an ongoing theme), we were running an hour late.

Evens,  Elisabeth, and I headed across town in our truck. I was kind of glad that Adam stayed at the hotel, since it allowed us to speak without a translator.  “I’ll teach you English and you teach me French.”  We spoke about many things, particularly my criteria for choosing “level 4” trainers:

  • projection — can teach a full room in an engaging, inspiring way
  • helpfulness — watches everyone, helping constantly
  • initiative — rolls up their sleeves and works without being asked

During the previous night’s breakdown, I had mentioned these, noting that Evens and Elisabeth were very strong with “helpfulness” and “initiative”.  Pretty much every time I checked, they were both helping someone.  During the laptop prep day, they were the last to take breaks, the last to leave.  The area they needed help was “projection”, since they both seemed to prefer working with people one-on-one.  I had to often remind them to be louder.

During our drive to AMURT, Evens made it clear that he not only wanted to be a Level 4 mentor, but he wanted more: to be an area coordinator.   He told me that he’s been traveling to Port-au-Prince every week to take management classes at a local college.  Of all the trainers, he seemed to want it the most.

At AMURT, we unboxed another 115 laptops while I spoke with the Dada.  The college girls had gotten a bit lost in the camp, so showed pretty much when we were leaving.  They went off to see the school, while Evens, Elisabeth and I raced back to the hotel with the laptops.

I then started carrying laptops to the hotel room, with pretty much only Zo helping me.  “We’re late and no one’s helping.”   Carrying large stacks of laptops up three long flights of stairs, over and over, sweating up a storm, I pushed myself beyond my limits, but got it done. When we finally drive up the mountain and got to Mercy Corps, it was exactly 1:00, the time for class to start. Unfortunately, lunch was late & more extra people had come.  Before we’d all eaten and we negotiated who would stay and who would go, another hour had passed, so we started at 2:00.

After introducing things, Zo led the first lesson while I acted as helper to my group of seven.  Evens later asked, “If you can’t speak French or Creole, how did you help them?”  The answer is “showing them.”  It’s  amazing how far you can get, with both adults and children, by wordlessly showing the steps and pantomiming the rest.  Leading a lesson is all but impossible without translation, but assisting is easy.

Zo did a great job leading, as I expected.  He’s great at the first criteria, “projection.”  He’s a naturally charismatic and engaging teacher.  The pacing of the lesson was hurried though, no doubt because of the late start.  I later said in the breakdown that fun is more important than thoroughness, that skipping material is perfectly fine.  People need some room to try things comfortably.

College girls

Michena’s lesson was slower, though it was missing Zo’s friendly charisma.  In person, Michena’s a funny, warm woman, but when she gets up to teach, she becomes much stricter, no doubt modeling the teachers she’s seen in the past.  One of the Waveplace touchstones is “If you’re not having fun, then they’re not really learning.”  Encouraging people in Haiti to “teach with love”, as they called it in Nicaragua, has always been difficult.  The widespread teaching paradigm is that of strict, rote, disciplined memorization, something we’re essentially the opposite of.

PRODEV partners

Driving home, we again passed through a police roadblock on the road through Canape Verde. The day before, the other car got stopped by the police, who were asking for papers, and money.  I had heard about this practice, which seems to be reserved for Haitians, not whites.  In response to the injustice, Zo started writing down the officers badge number and the cops got very angry.  Things could have turned worse, but their driver, formerly of the national security force, asserted himself dramatically and things calmed down.  By the time my car stopped to see what was happening, all was well.

Later that night, the group talked about our lateness that day.  The girls had told me that many of the mentors had shown up at 11:00, which meant they were essentially waiting for three hours before class started.  I felt awful that my team showed up at 1:00, but rather than make a decision for the group, I asked everyone what they wanted to do.  Should we show up an hour early?   The conversation went around and around.  People clearly didn’t want to lose that extra hour in the morning.  Finally it was Elisabeth who said, “We should be there before the mentors.”  Everyone agreed.

Monday the 20th started with the usual scramble at the Oloffson, though this time it was for the first day of the workshop.  I had told everyone that we would leave at 8:00, which would give us an hour to get there and an hour to set up.  As always happens, someone is late, or something gets remembered at the last minute, or people take too much time discussing logistics, etc.  We left after 8:30.

I had of course mapped a route out using Google at the hotel, but while driving I second-guessed myself and got turned around, wasting another fifteen minutes.  I know that doesn’t sound like much, but on a first day you really want to set the right tone.  You want to show up early.  After driving up Avenue John Brown, we arrived in Pétion-Ville, though I again made a mistake by remembering the Acacia cross-street, not the Mercy Corps one.  We parked in the wrong place while Michena asked people for directions.  I finally got a Skype IM to Kyle who set me straight.  We drove into the tiny gated parking lot, directed to a spot under a fruit tree (branches scraping the roof ), and we rushed upstairs to the workshop room at 9:30.

The team set about positioning tables and chairs (always a challenge), but wait!  We forgot the power strips.  Mercy Corps offered to send a driver to the Oloffson to get them, which was truly above and beyond.  The last class wouldn’t have been possible without it.  People started arriving and sitting.  It was a packed, packed room, with hardly any room to move around.  At 10:00, we started the workshop on time.   I began talking expectations, philosophy, and laptop.   One of the groups came late and I started over a bit.  We then handed out the laptops and they started exploring.  With each of the four trainers watching a specific group, we had the leader-helper thing going pretty quickly, pretty smoothly.

One of the best changes that came out of the February workshop was giving the mentors time to fumble around and explore things on their own without telling them anything.  We had them explore Sugar activities without any guidance other than the view-switching keys.  I later gave my “Confusion is Good” speech, which went over very well, with only a few suspicious looks.  Throughout the workshop, people kept saying “Confusion is Good,” usually as a joke when something was going wrong, but still, it’s an important message to get across.

After the first class, we moved downstairs to the larger room and set up for the children’s class.  With all the mentors and children, we needed 47 chairs, most of which came from our room upstairs.  A train of chairs and tables was flowing past as we discussed the next issue … some schools had more than 5 mentors, which was unfair to others.  I spoke to one partner, who agreed that one of his group would stay home the next day.  Two other schools had to send someone home.  It always happens that extra people come, though four of the five groups had extras this time.

The children assembled outside and I told the adults to hide their laptops so we could do a big reveal to the kids.  The kids came in and sat down, with each having their own mentor to sit next to, some of them two.  Lunch was served, garbage collected, and we started at 1pm sharp.  Amazing.   I spoke to the children a bit about becoming computer programmers, then asked them if they’d like to see the laptop.  I brought mine out and the kids all went “ooh”, then after a quick demo we handed one to each child.

Now you’d think that my favorite part is giving out the laptops, but after having done this a couple dozen times, that’s no longer the case.  My favorite part is watching mentors work with children for the first time.  By pairing an adult with a child directly after the first adult class, we’re giving the mentors a chance to use their new knowledge right away as they teach the children.  What was an abstract lesson upstairs becomes a real one immediately as it becomes more relevant, as seen through the eyes of an amazed child.

After 90 minutes of exploration and talk, I brought everyone outside to do my “tell an alien how to get a chair” exercise, trying to drive home the point that you need to be very explicit with computers, that “computers are very stupid … you gotta tell them everything.”  The kids and mentors had a good time.  My larger point was to show the mentors how we use kinesthetic activities to engage the children.

After the children left, we again played “move the chairs” to go back upstairs again, though later asked ourselves why we did this.  The third class, which introduced Etoys, was pretty tough, mostly because everyone was tired.  Our brains were full.  As the week progressed, we all vowed that we would never again agree to three classes per day.  It’s just too much for everyone.

As we left, I told Makeda, our translator, how much I appreciated having her translate for me.  It makes a big difference to have an enthusiastic translator that appreciates and understands the program.  She was easily the best so far.

Back at the Oloffson, we had our team breakdown meeting.  We all agreed to try to hold all the classes downstairs.  A large concern was the length of the day.  “When can we rest?” asked Zo.  The trainers weren’t happy with the 8 to 6 schedule.  I reminded them that the three long days were instead of Saturdays, and that they would be paid the same as if they had worked two extra days.  We also agreed to take breaks between classes, rather than go nonstop as we did that day.

All in all, it was an exhausting, and productive day.  Best of all, I made it through without passing out from Sunday’s sickness.