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.

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:

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!

An interesting focus on the day today has gotten me thinking.

It started with my presentation on São Tomé and my assistance in the presentation on Haiti, as well as Mike Dawson and Salim Hayran’s presentation about Afghanistan. All three of these deployments have visible elements of success and all three have good advice to share.

And then, after a nice swim in the ocean and a day that was quite full of sunshine, we sat down with it: models. What model works in a deployment and why? Is it better to have a group of mentors teaching students in an extracurricular class (Haiti)? Is it better to have teachers do that (São Tomé)? Is it better to use the computers in the classroom instead, where class is being held anyway (Afghanistan)?

There are pros and cons to all, of course. I had always thought that my inability to use the laptops in the classroom was a negative aspect to our program, a failure on my part. Yet if students use the laptops outside of class, teachers are able to earn a little extra money per week, helping to stimulate a rough economy. Not only that, but the teachers are giving active attention to their computers. Rather than spending five minutes on them doing a quick activity in a lesson, they’re engaging with them for three hours straight.

But at the same time, if you don’t have a great payment setup with the Ministry of Education as São Tomé does, it can get pricey having to pay teachers for their extra hours. And how do you support that? It may be $100 per month per teacher – half the price of a laptop – but it’s still a sum that can’t be shouldered by one person, especially if multiple teachers are involved.

Which has brought me to the conclusion: If you can pay the teachers, you can do anything.

I come to this conclusion because sometimes paying the teachers is the least sustainable part of a deployment and the most necessary. Teachers around the world certainly don’t make much – a decently truthful generalization. If you can create jobs, build salaries, then people will carry the program on their own. They like the education. They want to help their students. But they simply cannot do it for free.

But if you can pay them, then they have a reason to meet every week (or twice per week, or everyday). If you can pay them, then the scary feeling of uncertainty disappears. They can take more risks in their educational initiatives and in their teaching. They can be more open to the use of the laptop, they can work to find a program that fits their school and their culture, they can shoulder more responsibility, they can take more initiative. If you can ensure a stable system of payment that will extend into the long-term, you can ensure a program that will run long-term, too. And that’s the first step to getting an educational system with the laptops that works.

Other things you need: educational content, perhaps content to last at least one year (and content that can be adjusted for use in different countries so that it’s not a cookie cutter world), a good support system (teachers email regularly and people come by the school to check up regularly too, though less frequently). Wherever you have laptops, you must have follow-up. You can’t leave a deployment alone to itself. You need constant communication and evaluation.

Many say: START SMALL! Maybe Uruguay didn’t do it…but many did, and those are the ones that are still chugging. How many small deployments are there in the world? 100? More? Fewer? How can we connect them to one another? How can we help pick them up so that they find the solutions that are potentially scalable as a project grows?

Are we going back to my thoughts yesterday about a non-profit that can take care of the small deployments?

So many things we talk about, so many notes. Tanya Kleider (OLPC-San Francisco – her mother, June, did a deployment in Madagascar) is taking some amazing pictures and I know that Jessica Curtis (New York) has been taking lots of notes. Would love to combine this all on the Realness website for an all-encompassing collection of Realness 2010!

Day two of Realness and it starts off with a bang- Bernie Innocenti of Sugar Labs/OLPC Paraguay and Christoph Derndorfer of OLPC Austria/OLPC News really set the stage for some amazing presentations over the next two days. Both of them regaled us with tales of success and tales of challenge.

There are a number of things that Bernie and Sugar Labs hope to do in order to improve sugar- getting the computers to start up faster, making the XO printer friendly, building full keyboard navigability, improving the friend view and creating an error message when you copy too many items to a USB (currently there is no such error in Sugar). The versions of Sugar work on a six-month release cycle, constantly improving upon one another but still unfinished as of late.

Christoph structured his presentation on the elements of AC/DC- or rather, Academia, Communication, Documentation, Community and- an element added later to the bunch- Sustainability. These five elements are essential to OLPC and its many deployments. They all work together to make something successful.

The last element, sustainability, is an interesting one. Its the big S word, the overarching goal of many OLPC deployments. But how can it be achieved?

I think this is the ultimate question for many. We are all trying to make ourselves as unnecessary as possible- all desperate to bring about an educational phenomenon with, perhaps, just a child and a laptop. For Waveplace, mentors are also part of this equation- but they are meant to help and not hinder the learning process, and they are, for the most part, locals.

Yet OLPC still asks- how can we help a country of children to learn, how can we expand their opportunities, how can we help them grow from within themselves, their culture, their own home country?

In the afternoon, a small group of us stayed behind in the main pavilion instead of going to class. We had a structured discussion about failure- what causes the failure of an OLPC project, what aspects of successful OLPC projects have failed, and, most importantly, how to prevent these failures.

I talked a lot about my work in São Tomé (biggest failures: lack of materials in Portuguese, no continuation after OLPCorps for the program to carry over the school year, unreliable electricity and internet) and some things about Haiti (biggest failure: not being able to find funding fast enough to continue our programs).

We made a list of things that are essential to a successful OLPC program- the ability to communicate with teachers and students (language ability), having a local person with connections in the community on the ground, making sure teachers (and potentially students) are knowledgeable about how to repair computers. The lack of languages that the Help activity is available in. The failure of setting objectives in various OLPC programs, preventing people from being able to accurately find success. Barriers and challenges such as battling customs, imperfect infrastructures that don’t support, for example, internet when there is no electricity.

Mike of Afghanistan said to me- if you’re having problems with connecting to the internet in São Tomé because electricity is so dodgy, why don’t you hook up the wireless hub to a battery that can charge when there’s electricity at the school? It was a genius solution. Of course we can do this!! That way we can be sure that there will be internet in class and we won’t have to rely on a crazy electricity connection. Amazing what happens when you put some heads together.

A couple of us (Mike, George Hunt from New York) thought of the idea of creating a small manual of how to and how not to start an OLPC deployment. It could be…a checklist of items that are absolutely necessary for a deployment to work out, even a small outline with areas that should be filled in about what the objective of the program is (and other things). We could distribute it on the OLPC website or the wiki. I know that there is a deployment guide already, but sometimes so much information is overwhelming. It might be nice to have something smaller, easy to read, and not overly detailed.

June Kleider talked a bit about her Madagascar deployment- in a town where cell phone reception only started functioning in 2008. The only internet cafe in the area had two computers in it. Most of the children in the program had never seen a computer before.

It’s amazing to think about a situation so Spartan. Not even São Tomé was that removed from the information age. I identify strongly with June’s mission to bring more computers to Madagascar, and I see her as of the same blood- not really officially affiliated with anyone, just trying to lend a hand and educate some kids, in the face of a feeling of a world fighting against you. I respect that greatly.

George thought of a genius idea that has been getting me thinking, a lot. He thought about the idea of starting a nonprofit organization that supports small OLPC deployments. That way small deployments can get tax deductible status as a 501(c)(3) organization. They can also get support in how to work a deployment, how to make it sustainable…it could be so smart. I don’t know what OLPC would think about it, but it’s something I am insanely interested in.

More to come tonight- discussion, questions, maybe even some answers if we’re lucky. Stay tuned.

It’s amazing the movement that Realness is already beginning to make, and we’re only one day into the summit.

Here are the countries represented in Realness 2010:

São Tomé e Príncipe
USA, including the Virgin Islands; Columbus, Ohio; and Cambridge, MA

The global reach is outstanding- a collection of experience all in one place and time. We have representatives from OLPC, Sugar Labs, OLPC News, non-profits, government reps, computer software and programming groups, schools, even individual volunteers and interested observers. We come all representing various angles of the OLPC experience- the masterminding, the creation, the distribution and dissemination, the educational content production, the school organization and, most certainly, the teaching.

It’s an amazing situation. You have a question, and you’re almost guaranteed to get an answer from someone who was intimately involved in the process that you’re asking about.

This morning we had a long presentation by Tim about the beginning of Waveplace and its current reaches. It was great to finally be able to show the OLPC community what Waveplace has been up to. After Tim, Adam Holt of OLPC talked about OLPC’s place in the world right now, and what it hopes for in the future. As expected, there were lots of questions. People wanted to know if OLPC would eve make content (no, but it wants to work with local organizations that can produce educational content for their respective countries). People wanted to know where Adam wanted to see OLPC in three years.

It set the scene for a number of structured talks that we’ll be having over the weekend. Some of these subjects include: Failures and what always seems to go wrong in OLPC deployments- and how to avoid those mistakes in the future; content creation, who should do it, and how; and what OLPC should do with the 3,000 laptops marked to be sent to Haiti- how to develop a worthy program there. Other potential subjects: alternative energy solutions to power the XO, how to best work with local government and non-government organizations to improve a laptop deployment, and how to best publicize, recruit volunteers for and fund an education program using the XO.

So much to talk about, so little time.

This afternoon I am at the Guy Benjamin School again. I’m filled with pastries after being recruited to make some purchases at the school’s bake sale. Still trying to decide if that was ultimately a good decision. GB is pretty busy today- as school was cancelled yesterday due to a flood warning, the girls now have to cover two Etoys lessons in one day. Yet Bernie Innocenti of Sugar Labs said it correctly- our mentors are extremely well organized and really have the class working smoothly.

What a silly sort of dream that we’re running in class today. A kid has a technical problem with his computer, oh, there’s Bernie Innocenti from Sugar Labs in to fix the content on a kid’s laptop. Something’s wrong with the hardware? Oh, there’s Richard Smith of OLPC, jumping on board to unbrick the computer. It’s like if you had issues with your Windows Media Player and suddenly Bill Gates were to walk by and help you. Or if you were having trouble with the filament on your incandescent lightbulb and Thomas Edison just jumped in to help you out. What minds we have here! What resources!

Bernie walks around asking students how they like their XO and what problems they are having with the programs. Richard fixes a computer that doesn’t seem to be starting up right. They both sit down and watch the rest of class continue.

The Etoys lesson is over and now kids are using other Sugar activities and the internet.

“Does a fish sleep?” One of the mentors shouts to the students.

The kids’ fingers fly across their keyboards, searching on Google for the answer. When a student finds it, the room quiets while he reads the answer, hidden in a paragraph about the nocturnal habits of fish, in particular, bass.

“One more question,” one of the mentors, Whitney, says. “How many miles a day does a tuna fish swim?”

“Two miles!” one student yells. “Wait, 440 miles!”

“Look it up!” Whitney tells her.

At the Gifft Hill School, there are flowers all over the projector screen. They keep duplicating, one after another. “Make sixty!” One kid shouts. “Make a thousand!” Exclaims another.

Today is the most calm, disciplined day I have maybe ever seen in my whole experience with the XO laptop. It is also because the Guy Benjamin school was closed today due to flood warnings so we have double our mentors, plus a whole bunch of Realness participants that wanted to come and join in.

We have 20 students, and about 16 adults. Today, class is not One Laptop per Child but One Mentor per Child!

Got the morning off so we could all be tourists- unfortunately it’s been raining like crazy so we haven’t really benefitted much from the time, though we did have a fabulous talk with some of our Realness participants while in the pavilion. Mike Dawson of OLPC Afghanistan, Richard Smith/Adam Holt of OLPC and Christoph Derndorfer of OLPC News and I all sat down for a good old talk about the reach, content improvement and other strategies of development for OLPC deployments worldwide.

It’s amazing, really- the more we discuss, the more we have to talk about. Up ’till now, there has been little chance for people to look each other in the eye and just figure stuff out- ask questions about other deployments, seek solutions to their own deployments- and now we have that chance. We were talking about the success in Uruguay and then said out loud, oh, we should ask Carlos Rabassa about this, he’s coming from Uruguay and will be at Realness this weekend.

It’s funny, the information age. Sometimes you really feel gratitude for the good old method of sitting down with someone, getting a drink, and talking shop.

And that’s exactly what Realness is all about.

It’s 3:05pm and we’re walking down the hallway of the Julius E. Sprauve School (JESS), heading to class. Our students at the end of the hall can hear our voices and our feet- they come running out of the room, bounding into our arms. There’s a lot of yellow in this school- the walls are yellow, the students’ shirts are yellow. The air conditioner is strong but it still feels like you’re in the tropics because the school is just so colorful.

Today, Wednesday, we’re teaching the kids how to create sketches using the paintbrush tool in Etoys. At JESS we’re making our own fish ponds, showing the kids how you would need to draw your pond and each fish separately so that the fish can “move around” in the water. In Haiti, we were afraid of telling students to do one thing in particular because it made them less imaginative. But sometimes when it comes to learning I think the idea isn’t a bad one to have the students make their own versions of the same thing. By all creating a fish pond, for example (of varying shapes, colors and sizes), the skill of being able to move the fish around in the pond communicates more clearly to each student (versus if the students had each drawn something different). Students also feel more comfortable helping each other because they each understand what the other student is working on.

It’s not perfect, but as you learn with Etoys, nothing is ever truly perfect. It’s just figuring out how to learn from all aspects of your experience- the pros and the cons- that makes the difference.

At the beginning, class is a little bit loud. Kids play music on their computers (the same music that I am accustomed to hearing in Haiti and São Tomé- amazing how this music is so global). But once they get drawing, they grow quiet. They pay very close attention and they listen to their teachers. I watch the mentors interact with the students. They had divided them into five groups (one group for each mentor) around the classroom. Each group faces the projector at front, but they are physically separated so that the mentors can walk in between them and help them out.

Abraham sits in the back. He can’t focus enough to make a fish- he wants to make a big pond with polka dots and then he wants to fill the whole canvas with yellow, and then he wants to put a huge circle on top everything. But if you keep with him, if you give him a minute, you can show him the value of making a pond and then adding a fish later. If you just push him a little bit, he presses “keep” after making the pond, he draws this fish and then he’s *amazed* that you can move the two drawings separately. These are things the kids may not have figured out on their own…but now that they know them, they are all the more powerful for it.

After drawing, the kids talk about their stories in groups. They’re completely engaged with their mentors. It’s a beautiful sight.

Twenty minutes later Abraham is back in his seat (after cruising the classroom for a bit). He’s typing madly away at his computer, a beacon of focus. “The Life of Abraham Browne,” he types, “by Abraham Browne.”

Dinner after school goes quickly as the Columbus girls are prepping for a midnight cruise. Adam Holt and Richard Smith of OLPC arrive a little bit later in the evening, just as dinner is ending. Bernie will be here tomorrow…and the summit crowd is really starting to come together.

Tomorrow is a morning off. I see myself laying on the beach, shooting the breeze, working on my tan, you know the deal. It’s Realness….and it’s Maho.

Class today goes great. George Hunt and Jessica Curtis have joined on board and came with us to class today. It was great having them join up. We’re expecting some new people tomorrow evening too- can’t believe the summit is already here.

Today we worked on Etoys Lesson 2 and tried to build interest among the kids in storytelling, using the book item in the Etoys supply box (which is something students learn in Lesson 2). I was with the Guy Benjamin School today, the same school that Waveplace did a pilot with a couple of years back. We were, in fact, in the same room that Waveplace was in the first time around, so it was an interesting and slightly eerie thing to see the scene of the first Waveplace video in real life.

It’s so interesting being here after being in Haiti. The ability to teach in English is an incredible asset to teaching Etoys…the kids are just learning the material SO fast…almost too fast for us to be able to keep up with them! I see people interacting with the kids in ways that I never felt able to interact with our kids in Haiti. And they are more engaged.

I certainly don’t believe that my native language is the only language that Etoys can be effectively taught in…but it’s certainly nice to not have to deal with bad translations, things left in English, and holding back fun ways of explaining something for the sake of translation and comprehension.

Today the girls finished lesson 2 in 30 minutes. With an hour left to go, they came up to me and asked what they could do. I reminded them that we had wanted to start integrating a little bit of storytelling, and maybe they could talk to kids about elements of a good story. They agreed to do that, and worked on it for a bit before Tim and Larry came by with some new laptops (a few kids had laptops that weren’t working so we replaced them with ones that were working). Even with the craziness of getting the new laptops in the middle of class, we were still able to finish the lesson. It’s interesting to see the differences in a country that speaks English and is, to put it bluntly, wealthier.

Christoph mentioned putting more emphasis on Sugar, particularly during this short time period that we have. I think that’s a great idea. Understanding the way Sugar works (the journal, the different views, connecting to the network) is essential. I’m excited for the Realness Summit to begin, when we’ll be able to talk with even more members of the OLPC community about their ideas on how best to develop a program with these XOs. I’m always interested in hearing about other experiences, that is for sure.