Spent a surprising amount of time today organizing the many Waveplace computer files we’ve accumulated over the years. Between all the documents, spreadsheets, Etoys projects, visual designs, photos, videos, and Sugar backups, there’s a treasure trove of past activity, all spread out in different places: my laptop, our media drive, our wiki, our shared iDisk, our version-control repository. Add to that Beth’s laptop, which likely has a few dozen files I don’t know about, and we’ve got a serious information management mess.

Today’s focus was a courseware inventory in preparation for our courseware meet in Haiti during my trip. Quite a lot is done, but it’s all over the place, with inconsistent file & folder names, wildly different designs, and needless duplication. First, I need to collect & organize the important bits, then “put the shine” on everything so it looks part of a professional and consistent system. I simply can’t present what we’ve got now.

What a lot of work, and all without actually creating something new!

Waveplace basically does three things: train new mentors, support laptop projects, and create courseware. Nearly all of our time is spent on the first two, mostly because those are the easiest tasks to fundraise for. Courseware always seems to be an “also ran”, mostly due to lack of time & money.

The courseware we’ve created has either been self-funded or done by volunteers. The volunteer work tends to be infrequent and unfocused, without much connection to teaching in actual classrooms in the field. This was one of the central insights from our last St John workshop. The courseware we created while working with the kids was considerably better than courseware created back at home. There’s just no substitute for trying things out directly with the children who will be using it.

Given this, I’m thinking about a new policy: courseware only gets made & tested by certified mentors. Certified means: 1) taken a Waveplace workshop and 2) completed six weeks teaching in one of our laptop programs. While this might exclude a great number of talented educators from possibly volunteering to make courseware, the truth is that there’s just too much to expect an outsider to understand. Nearly all of it is pacing & guidance & setting expectations. The topics being taught and the nifty interactive ideas are minor in comparison. Unless you’ve been in it, often, you really can’t imagine this; you can’t anticipate.

Courseware made by volunteers is invariably made to be taught by that specific educator (or similar people) in settings they’re familiar with. It’s rarely made to be used by Very Different Teachers in Very Different Settings, usually with people using computers for the first time. This is an essential problem with the Etoys and Sugar communities: they’re mostly made of innovators who create material for other innovators.

Waveplace has finished its beta “Squeaky Tales” courseware … 30 lessons (with videos) that teach how to teach Etoys on the XO. To see examples, or to become a beta tester, visit here

We took everything we learned in our first pilot (in the Virgin Islands) and started completely over. The pacing is much better, as is the storytelling component, which was crucial in St John. We’re using the beta courseware in our three pilots this summer, and will then start completely over and make a physical textbook and DVD series (in English, Spanish, and French). All will be sold at cost for physical materials. (We’re a non-profit.)

In other news, we finished our intensive teacher workshop last week in Immokalee, Florida. The teachers are very enthusiastic. For the next two months, they’ll be using the courseware to teach 42 children, each of whom received their very own XO last week. Larry Abramson from NPR spent a day with us, listening as we taught the teachers and later the children.

Lastly, we’ve just finished prep work for our 4th pilot … this time on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua in a school that currently has no electricity. If all goes well, we’ll be starting that pilot in mid-July. When this pilot finishs, Waveplace will have given both XOs and training to more than 100 children and 20 teachers.

For more on the Immokalee and Nicaragua pilots, or to hear about our Haiti pilot, read the current issue of our newsletter, visit here.

You can also subscribe to it by visiting here.

(from newsletter)

To say that the last few months at Waveplace have been busy strains the very definition of the word. Aside from finishing our first pilot and helping our second through some very tough times (see below), I’ve been traveling the US, fundraising for our Saint Vincent and Immokalee pilots this summer. We’re also laying the foundation for as many as thirty courses with 600 laptops next fall.

More than this, we’ve completely revamped our Squeaky Tales courseware, half of which was unveiled yesterday to a select group of “beta” reviewers. What you see on the website under Tutorials is the “alpha” courseware we used in St John. Our beta courseware is a vast improvement, which we’ll be testing out this summer. After the pilots, we hope to take the courseware and create a professional textbook and DVD series.

Before that’s possible, we need to raise more money, as we’re now reaching the end of our startup funding. With months left to finish our pilots, courseware, and film, we’re short on funds. If ever there was a time to click donate to help, this is it. Each dollar we receive will allow us to improve our courseware and documentary.

Waveplace has been a roller-coaster ride, no doubt, but we’re getting closer and closer to realizing our vision, that of engaging the children of the world to take ownership of their own education, so that they may excel in jobs that don’t yet exist, so that they may someday solve the problems of the future.

Today I posted my twentieth Etoys tutorial in the Squeaky Tales series, bringing the total to five hours of ten planned.

Each fifteen-minute screencast forms the basis for an hour of hands-on instruction with a child, with the mentor first presenting the concepts in their own fashion, then leading the class for the remainder of the time. The videos themselves are aimed at the mentor, not the students, though I suspect older students could watch the videos on their own.

Now half done, I’ve been spending time on techniques to manage complexity. Just like a real software project, the beginning is fresh with clean white designs, but midway through it’s a mangled mess of coalescing code.

I also posted a 25 minute video of me talking into a camera, explaining the Waveplace vision. I’ve had the same conversation about two hundred times in the last six months, so I figured it’d be good to get the rap down on tape. The video breaks down into ten minutes on education, five minutes on the XO, and ten minutes on Waveplace. Let me know if you find it helpful.

I’ve just posted my eighth 15-minute Squeaky Tales tutorial, bringing the collective time to two hours of Etoys fun. My plan is to create four 15-minute movies each week for the next eight weeks for a total of ten hours of video tutorial.

What topics will I cover? Well, I’m trying to make the Squeaky Tales series as subject-neutral as possible. My hope is that this approach will allow mentors to adapt the concepts to different ages and subjects more easily. By necessity, there will be rudimentary math concepts like addition and multiplication, but these will be presented as a means to another end, not a discussion of math itself.

As the name of the series implies, my ultimate goal is storytelling. I’m teaching programming as a means to telling stories, which hopefully will engage students that might otherwise be timid about math and science.

Towards the end of yesterday’s Squeaky Tale, I tried changing the color of something and found (while recording) that I didn’t know what I was doing. My first reaction was “Oh geez, I should reshoot that” lest I lose face to the viewing public. Instead, I left my mistake in the video, since it helps demonstrate an important point.

Programming is about making mistakes. You try something, see how it goes, try something else, and grin at your flaws. A programmer that thinks he knows everything in advance is a bad programmer.

Such an approach might seem alien, since our educational system continually insists that there’s a right answer to everything. As any artist, scientist, or programmer will tell you: there aren’t any right answers in this world, and there’s nothing wrong with being wrong.

I’ll be writing a lot more on this. For now, ask yourself if you feel bad whenever you make a mistake. If yes, does it help?

I’ve just posted the first two screencast tutorials on Squeak Etoys.

The first movie discusses how to install Squeak Etoys and the latest OLPC Etoys image on your computer (particularly if you own a Mac). The next shows Etoys in action for about fifteen minutes.

Over the long weekend, I got some very positive feedback regarding my Squeaky Tales series. People seemed to like my movies, though my first attempts had some video compression snags which forced me to temporarily abandon Flash video in favor of Quicktime. The downside was that the movies took a long time to start, since they were essentially fully downloading before beginning.

Today I worked out the kinks and encoded them back as Flash FLV movies. They should start up more quickly and should also be more compatible with different systems. FLV is the video format used on YouTube.

I just posted Squeaky Tale #2, which introduces a new character in the plot besides Seymour the turtle. As before, let me know if you have any problems. Also, keep the kudos coming. It helps to know you’re out there!

I’ve just posted the first two screencast tutorials on Squeak Etoys. Originally, the plan was for us to be in St John right now, prepping for our three-day Etoys workshop at Caneel Bay. Since the funding didn’t materialize, I’m making these short movies instead, hoping they’re enough for Bill & Mary to struggle through on their own.

The first movie discusses how to install Squeak Etoys and the latest OLPC Etoys image on your computer (particularly if you own a Mac). The next shows Etoys in action for about fifteen minutes.

My next screencast will be on Tuesday. Let me know if you were able to view these movies. I used two different approaches to encoding the video, so I’m interested to see how others fare on different systems.