Thursday, July 14, 2011

Site Visit: Kibwezi

Yesterday we made a site visit to Kibwezi, (,, an OLPC deployment from 2009. The sponsors from Burke Church in Virgina are back checking on the progress of their deployment and updating the XOs, so we stopped in.

Already, the effects of the collaboration have begun:

  • We have connected Eric, their computer studies teacher, with Mutungi, our local partner and have begun building the OLPC Kenyan network.
  • We have learned what Kibwezi finds useful in the XOs, and have reconsidered these features for our own deployment.
    • In Kibwezi, they are very interested in using Gnome as a way to teach "normal" computer operations.
We are very excited to see this partnership blossom.

Teacher Training Session 6: Sugar

This would be the last training session of our time here. Over the term break, the teachers will continue their training with our Kenyan partners. Instead of focusing on the use of different activities as we have done, for this training session, we focused on general aspects of the Sugar OS and computing.

How it went:
(From the trainer):

·      I was at the black board, everyone had a computer in front of them, and Kikonde drifted among the teachers for when they needed help.
·      I started by inviting everyone to open an activity of their choice, so as to demonstrate using the home button, and the activity button.
·      I then demonstrated the fact that no matter what activity you were in, you could see a black bar across the top, a grey bar beneath it, and then the rest of the activity on the whole screen.
o   I told everyone to open different activities to drive the point home that it didn’t matter which activity you were it would look similar.
o   This may have been a mistake, as people focused on the activities rather than the topic.
·      Next, I had everyone save the activity through the “activity” tab, and write a custom name. At this point, I explained the confusing idea, that the cursor will look different depending on the function.
o   Arrow
o   Line
o   Arrow with spiral thing
o   Arrow with plus sign
o   Hand
o   Etc
·      This launched into a discussion of how to control the text cursor.
o   Click and drag to highlight
o   Use mouse to move text cursor
o   Use arrow keys to move text cursor
o   “The flashing line in the middle of the text is the focus, and anything you type will be inserted at that line”
·      We all then successfully used the journal to resume our activities.
·      This turned into a conversation about Disk Space, and using the star buttons to prevent important activities from being deleted.

Note: at this point, I realized a flaw in my teaching. I was telling everyone what to do, so I changed my style so I would be asking them much more questions.

·      I reviewed what we learned so far by asking questions. Everyone was on the same page so I moved to group view.
·      I asked “what do you see”
o   Some grey XOs
o   Some color XOs
·      Because not all computers were friends with each other, some were able to see all the XOs, and some only could see a few. I explained that in group view, you could see all your friends whether they were around or not. They wanted to know how to make friends, so I brought them to Neighborhood view.
·      Neighborhood view: “What do you see?”
o   XOs
o   Circles
·      I got the teachers to realize together that everyone saw the same amount of XOs, and we worked out:
·      Neighborhood view: Everyone who is here.
·      Group view: all of your friends, whether they are here or not
·      We then explored what would happen if one person connected to a different network.
o   Important lesson in troubleshooting- there are 3 networks and to collaborate you have to be on the same mesh.
·      After everyone became friends with everyone, we moved to SD cards.
·      We used the SD cards to learn about searching the journal, deleting from the journal, and sending files from one computer to another.
·      Here, we learned much about the frame as well
o   Different activities you have open.
o   Different status
§  Network
§  SD card in or out
§  Battery

This was the end of the lesson. This was a very gratifying lesson because:
·      When the time was up, I invited offered “I am willing to teach as long as you are willing to stay,” and many teachers stayed.
·      The teachers were able to walk knowing how to navigate the activities, rather than just how to use the activities.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Teacher Session 5: A Project

Today, we had our second to last training session with the teachers. After just a few days of working with them, we had them do a similar project to what we had the community members do on Saturday. We sent the teachers out with Record, and had them come back to the lab and work with write to make a project.

We are so proud, that after just a few session, the teachers have made so much progress. While just a few sessions ago, they were having difficulty with the mouse, now they are creating productive and exciting documents. Check these out: (All created on the XO in about 1 hour)

Information about the new computer lab.

Information about the school

An important message to children.


Today, we ceremoniously began the next step of our partnership with Bura Primary School. We officially opened the new computer lab, and the jointly owned computers said hello to their new home. We were honorably joined by Willingtone Ong'ande the new Acting District Education Officer of the Mwatate District, along with Assistant Education Officer and Head of the Mwambirwa Division, Stanley Mwang'ombe, Assistant Education Officer and Head of the Mwatate Division, Raymond Mwalugha, and Dixon Bongoli, the Educational Quality Assurance Officer of the Bura Division.

In addition to these dignitaries and our team, we were joined by the Bura Primary's visionary headmaster Mr. Mwangoo, his deputy headmaster, and excellent team of 10 teachers. Students also joined us, on this historic day.

Community Workshop number 2

This weekend, we held another workshop open to the community.

In attendance, we were happy to have Waiganjo, Mutungi, and Samuel, the newest members of our team. Mutungi and Waiganjo come from Kenyatta Secondary School, where Mutungi teaches science and runs the e-learning program, and where Waiganjo teaches English and has involved himself in the e-learning program. Samuel comes from Bura Girls Secondary School, where he runs the e-learning program. These gentleman have agreed to work with the teachers at Bura Primary School, when we are in America. We are very happy to have them on our team.

Knowing that we would have more numbers than our last community workshop, we came up with a plan. As people trickle in, get them started on the record activity. Then, when more came, send them out as a team to document their surroundings. When they were ready, help them turn what they made into some sort of project using Write.xo or Memorize.xo or Paint.xo.

As people did trickle in, this proved to be very successful. Our new team members would help the community members get started on record.xo . One group made this brochure about our location using record.xo and write.xo:

Other teams took photos and made memorize.xo activities:
Some teams were distracted by some of the many other activities on the XO.

Wikipedia.xo was hugely popular, as users were very interested in reading and learning.

Read.xo was hugely popular for the same reasons as Wikipedia. Additionally, we have loaded a book in Kidawida, the local language, and everyone spent a good deal of time reading this.

TuxMath.xo People were excited to get lost in the space world, and found themselves very happy to work through the math problems in order to shoot down the meteors.

We are able to see that the library benefits of the XOs will be utilized. We will want to find even more books to add to the computers.

We are also reminded, that with creativity implementation, computers make learning fun and addictive. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Teacher Session 4: Basics

Aaron explains the internet connection

For this lesson, the teachers were surprised that we were not using the computers, rather going over the basics of the responsibilities of owning a computer, that will make the project successful.

Ground Rules:

Food and drink should not be allowed near the computers – preferably no food and drink in computer room.

Computers should be completely shut down if user leaves for more than 10 minutes.
Computers and equipment should be stored in plastic boxes.  All should be completely shut down before being stored.
Computers should not be left in the sun.
Computers should be unplugged if there is a power outage. 
Computers should not be charged overnight due to possibility of power outage.
Charging of computers should be monitored by a responsible person.
User Guide will be stored in computer lab.  It is a reference book and should never leave the computer lab.
Users are encouraged to especially read the section of the User Guide called “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQs)
All computer equipment should be inventoried and tracked.

After the ground rules, we went over the basics of troubleshooting. We presented our guide to troubleshooting:

If you have a problem:

If something does not work, try it again.
If it doesn’t work a second time, don’t be afraid to try clicking different buttons.
Read the Laptop Users Guide
If the computer will not respond, be patient, it could be acting slow.
If the computer refuses to cooperate, try shutting it down and starting it up again.
If you are unable to shut it down, hold down the power button for 7 seconds to force it to shut down. Then start it up again.
If the problem persists, try getting help by:
See the User Guide Again
Contact the local support team
Visit online using the browse activity
Go to and research your problem
If nothing works, consider Reflashing the computer

Finally, we went over how the computer is able to get online, and what it means to be connected to the internet. We had a very hard time explaining what bytes are, and how expensive they can be, and how to judge when your are using too many of them. Kikonde, our Kenyan partner stepped in here, and in Kiswahili, he explained that data was like the airtime on their cell phones, and was drained with use.

Because of the advancements in mobile technology, cell phones are nearly ubiquitous here in Kenya. We have repeatedly gone back to them for analogies with the computer, and to help the teachers understand that they are more familiar with computers than they perhaps thought they were.

Teacher Session 3

We were surprised today when we came in to work with the teachers, that they brought students along to learn on the computers. In the room, we had about 5 teachers, and about 15 students.

How it went:
In the very beginning, we set the children up with TuxMath.xo . In one group, of a 5 year old, a 6 year old, and a 12 year old, the 12 year old took control and began playing. The younger children continued to be enthralled indefinitely, however after some time, the older one asked me to access a new activity.

This interaction helped us identify an important difference in how to approach various new users:

Age 5-8: Are interested in how the computer reacts to what they do in the real world. Maze, Implode, Speak, Record, Paint (though they usually aren’t able to type and get it to talk, the way the eyes follow the cursor is exciting), are activities that allow young children to explore this interaction.

Ages 8+: Are interested in exploiting the interaction between their real life actions and the digital consequences, as a way to manipulate and create. Again, once they have the basic computer interactions, Record, Paint, TuxMath, Memorize, are great activities for them to use their newfound control to make something and learn.

The most important lesson of the day was perhaps for the teachers to witness the reaction of the children to the computers, who came at them with much enthusiasm. Unfortunately, because of the students reactions, we weren’t able to spend much time working with the teachers on the ins and outs of sugar.

What our project looks like:

Members of the community take pictures of the area with the record activity.
A group of boys collaborate on a project.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Call for Solutions:

A request we've had over and over:

Is there a way that I can create classroom exercises (much like a course book), share them with everyone in the class, have the kids do the exercises, and send them back to me so I can review them, and give the kids feedback?

Share with Neighborhood:
Using this feature, everyone is editing the same document, and therefore cannot do their own work.
A mischevious student could erase the entire worksheet, and the teacher would not even know who was responsible. Doesn't work

Send to:
Using this feature, a teacher is able to send a worksheet out, and have students edit independently. When each student is finished, they can SendTo back to the teacher. In a classroom of 30 however, it is impractical to "Send to" 30 different computers, as there is no way to mass send out. Then, the teacher has to "accept" 30 incoming files, which do not even all fit on the frame. Works, but is not easy or practical

Does anyone know of an activity that allows for such "workbook" style teaching? Is there an aspect of sugar we have yet to discover that makes a good solution?

Idea for Activity: Mouse Control

We have found that many people struggle with using the mouse.

A maze type activity, with only one path, where the user would have to carefully move the mouse along a route from start to finish without bumping the sides would be very helpful for practicing.

Teacher Session 2

After the meeting with committees, we had our second workshop with teachers. Unfortunately, not all of the teachers showed up, but we had about half of them.

How it went:
The focus of this workshop was to respond to some teacher requests:
Can we use this computer for assistance with demerit lists?

  • SocialCalcActivity.xo: a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel
    • Benefits:
      • Intuitive to use like Excel
      • Spreadsheets exportable for use on Excel (haven't tested)
      • Powerful program
    • Problems
      • Couldn't get latest version (5) to run on XO
      • Older version (1) is very slow
      • Graphing doesn't work quite right
    • We decided SocialCalc is a great program to keep.

Is there a way for students to do problems and get immediate feedback?
We tested a few programs for this:

  •  Mateton: Program acts like a digital blackboard for students to do math problems.
    • Problems:
      • Cannot type numbers, must use cursor to select numbers.
      • There is no correction / feedback for students, except that it saves their steps so a teacher can look at their progress. Would benefit greatly from a "correct" / "incorrect" feedback feature.
    • We decided not to use this program.
  • TuxMath: Program is a game where you are a penguin in a spaceship shooting down math equations.
    • Benefits:
      • Terrific program for getting kids to want to do math.
      • Instant feedback on problems.
      • Simple game mechanics.
      • Many levels of play.
    • Problems:
      • Written in Javascript, does not look like typical sugar activity, so it is confusing.
      • Multiplayer support is weak, as the second player doesn't go until the first player is done which could be hours. It also is hotseat, and doesn't take advantage of XOs connectivity.
      • Levels are terms like "space cadet" and "commando" which are not undestood by non-native English speakers.
    • We decided to keep this program for use.

From this workshop, we became concerned for the future of the program. Teachers are beginning to become comfortable with different activities, but they are not yet comfortable with the actual operating system. It has become clear, that we need to more formally teach the aspects of Sugar. Frame, Views, Tabs within activities, etc.

We let teachers take computers home with them to play on them, and to bring in questions.

Meeting with School Committees

We met with the the School Management Committee and the School Infrastructure Committee, two committees made up of parents (about 20 people total). As parents and active members of the community,  the members of the committees wanted to know what we were up to, and what the computers were. The meeting started with us giving a presentation on their performance, and quickly transitioned into an interactive demonstration as we invited all of the members to play with the computers.

How it went:

  • Presentation:
    • Ted told the story of how exposure to a computer at an early age got his daughter a job high up in an academic department, and launched her career as a succesful researcher and professor.
    • The Committee members were very responsive to the idea that these computers gave their children a leg up in the future.
  • Workshop:
    • Most parents had no experience with computers.
    • They were hesitant to touch the machines, and to get them to use them required encouragement, though they were fascinated.
    • I found that their enthusiasm was different than the teachers'. They wanted to see more and more, while the teachers were more cautious. I attribute this to the fact that in the back of their minds, the teachers were thinking that sometime soon, they would need use the computers as a teaching tool, and they were more nervous in their approach.
    • The headmaster, present at the meeting, found the Kidawida (local language) book we had put on the computer, and read a story out loud to the whole meeting. Immediately after, I had many questions on how to find the book.

  • Make sure all computers are charged before demos!
    • Having the computers shut down was very frustrating.
  • People easily lose track of time when using the computers, and/or are interested to see more and more.
    • The meeting went well over the time allotted.
  • For people unaccustomed to mouse control, the mouse often ends up on the edge of the screen. It is incredible frustrating for them to have the frame come on. For beginning users, make sure the frame activation delay is on "Never".
    • My Settings > Frame > Activation Delay > Slide to the right

Sunday, July 3, 2011

An Open Workshop In Computers

Our second teaching session was open to people we had met and invited, who were interested in the computer program. In attendance, we had two teachers from a different school who were very excited, only one had any computer experience (very little). We had two university students, both with plenty of exposure to computers, one who is studying them. We had a secondary school student, who also was familiar with computers, and we had another teacher their with her 9 year old son.

We also had with us, Kikonde, a local we met who we have worked with over the past few days to get him comforatable on the XO’s. He is a university student studying computers, and speaks Kiswahili, Kidawida, and English, just like all the attendees.

The workshop was very successful, for some of these reasons we established:

1.    Instead of teachers instructed by the head teacher to meet with us, we had only people who were already very interested.
2.    Instead of a presentation from a bunch of Strangers, we had Kikombe on our team. Having him on our team helped connect us to the people we were helping learn about the computers.
3.    Instead receiving everyone at once, at this workshop, participants trickled in giving us one on one time with each of them, before helping someone else.
4.    The day was billed as a “workshop” rather than a presentation. People came ready to get their hands dirty with the computer, rather then just coming to listen to us.
5.    We did not connect the computers to the internet, and held the workshop entirely within the realm of Sugar. This limited complications (connecting, explaining concept of internet, navigating confusing web pages, etc)

With each attendee, we gave them a short demo of the home screen, and of certain activities before inviting them to try everything out on their own. This proved to be an effective method, because the learners gravitated towards the activities they became interested in.

Some things we noticed:
·      Taking the computer outside powerfully demonstrated the mobility of the computers.
·      Though the learners are seemed somewhat confident clicking around exploring, very few read instructions on the screen. GeoQuiz for example has explicit instructions, but we repeatedly had to show learners what to do.
·      It would be very helpful to bring along external mice. The trackpad on the XO can be finicky, and is really designed for very small fingers. Some of the activities become greatly enhanced with good control (paint, etc), and all of them become hindered without.
§  Perhaps paint is not a good one to demo with, because it is hard to draw with the mouse.

The session shed some light on a debate we had the night before about educational theory as it relates to the XOs.

School of thought 1: That as intructors, we should focus on activities that are built as standalone lessons. Wikipedia and GeoQuiz, for example are immediately useful to teach specific lessons. For this reason, their use is immediately clear to the classroom teacher.

School of thought 2: We should demonstrate and teach the basic tools of the XO, as building blocks, and inspire the teachers thinking about all the creative lessons and projects they can build from these tools. Record and Write, for example could be used together to create field reports in the sciences, and vocab lists for languages etc.

From the popularity of the Wikipedia activity, and of GeoQuiz, it appeared that at first, the built in lessons can be very useful, and are a great way to get new users comfortable with the usability of the machine. Hopefully, over the next few weeks, we can get comfort levels up, to where teachers really can get creative about lessons.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Call for Swahili Books

As you saw in an earlier post, we are interested in putting together a library. We thank filceolaire for giving us suggestions on where to get public domain ebooks.

We are particularly interested now in acquiring ones in other languages- specificially Kiswahili. Does anyone know a good place to get foreign language ebooks that are in public domain?

Respond in comments or to

Teaching The Teachers: Day 1

We had 7 teachers in attendance, the headmaster of the school, and our Kenyan project partner. The instructional session was in English. This provided some challenges, because although the classes are conducted in English, it is the third language of all the teachers (behind Kidawida or other tribal language, and Kiswahili).

We began by attempting to engage the teachers in a conversation so we could gauge their experience with computers. One had a computer at home that she used for internet browsing (email, facebook, google), and for the Microsoft Office Suite (spreadsheets, word processing). She also had spent some time with the XO machines that were left earlier. The rest of the teachers had no computer experience, or were not willing to talk about it. The conversation did not get going until we put the machines in front of them.

We began by demonstrating google. We asked the teachers for a topic they wanted to know more about, and by googling “bantus in Uganda.” They were excited to see that information came up, and we explained google by explaining:

“people all over the world are writing books about all sorts of topics. They put the books on the internet, and google is an assistant that will help you find the books that people write.”

Next we demonstrated the offline Wikipedia activity on XO (wikipediaEN.xo). We pulled up some articles.

A problem we encountered for both of these activities was the size of the text. We had to zoom in, but the process of having to enlarge the text took away focus, and patience.

Next, we broke into groups. Aaron helped one teacher set up an email address, by creating a yahoo account. Filling out the form presented many problems for a first time computer user:

·      Concept of traversing form box by box was novel.
·      Arrow shaped cursor, when hovering on box becomes text style cursor, confusing.
·      Dropdown menus look mostly like input boxes, difficult.
·      Scrolling down the page took precise cursor control AND new idea of holding control button while moving cursor a challenge.
·      Typing was very slow
·      Password
o   What is a password?
o   Why do the letters show up as dots, instead of letters.
o   Password requirements
o   Forget Password Questions.
·      Spam box at end of form. Why does it exist. Trouble reading.

As we had to repeat many processes (going from input box to input box), it was helpful having a second teacher as an onlooker, who was not hassled by the physical control of the device, be able to reexplain instructions in Kiswahili to the teacher filling out the form.

It’s a good idea for new users to work in groups, so they can teach eachother.

Meanwhile, Joanna demonstrated chat.xo . Unfortunately, Joanna had some trouble getting the computers on the same mesh network, and maintaining focus while troubleshooting was difficult.

Some teachers took out their cell phones when losing patience. After the lesson, we realized that really, the cell phones in are also computers, and since all of the teachers already have a great grasp on how to use their cell phones, we want to take the already learned concepts of cell phone interfacing, and apply them to the XOs.

It was exciting to watch the teachers’ transition from such hesitation, to excitement and willingness to learn, but it is apparent we have a long way to go.

We have an optional workshop scheduled this weekend (Saturday 11:00am) for the teachers and members of the community.
We are working with the teachers again after school Next Monday, Tuesday Wednesday.