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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Class Notes, December 5th

December 5, 2009

Today was the day we were planning on showing the kids the beauty of the Internet. We have tried to do this already over two class periods, and have lost power each time; today was no different. After first gathering, we broke into three classes, with two teachers in each class. Upon barely starting up the Navigation program, the power went out.

We then went into a variety of other activities. We talked to the kids about good and bad use of their computers, and had them make a list of things NOT to do with them (ie, give them to babies, drop them on the ground, get the keyboard wet, etc.). Then we had the kids type up this list of things not to do using the writing program. Many kids finished rather quickly, writing up the list correctly with good punctuation and use of accents. We asked them to then change the color of their font, take pictures of other computers and chargers, put them in the document, save the document with a memorable name, etc.

We also experimented with the “paint” program, asking the kids to draw pictures of whatever they'd like. Many drew really beautiful, decorative houses, families, etc. Others played with the different shape and color functions. Another class played with the Scratch program, creating animation masterpieces with cats chasing mice that say “please don't eat me!!”

The kids are all over the map when it comes to ability. Some kids are extremely quick and finish tasks very easily. Other kids still have significant difficulty doing the easiest things- moving their cursor to a different part of the screen in the “write” program, enabling the “undo” function, dragging windows, even powering down the computer. It becomes quite apparent which students are using their computers at home and which are not, because the ones that use their computers at home are already quite proficient in usage.

Next week, after we use the Internet (fingers crossed), we're going on a field trip to the beach for a picnic. The kids are instructed to bring 20,000 Dobras, or the equivalent of about $1.40, to help pay for gas. The Ministry of Education will hopefully be supplying us with a bus (gas not included). It'll be a great way to say goodbye to the kids for our last class, though I am hoping to return in August (though this year's 6th grade will be long gone by then).

The kids cheered upon learning that we're going to the beach, but are saddened that I am leaving. They are not aware that I'm not coming back until much later, though some kids have asked. One girl asked me if I was going to bring all the computers home with me when I left. I told them that they are here to stay, but that everyone has to turn theirs in at the end of the year, but besides that they are for them. Her face lit up. It was as if I had given her the most wonderful gift.

I think it is today that I have finally decided that OLPC is a success here at the São João school. The kids- and teachers- are already mastering the Scratch program; a program I know absolutely nothing about. I am so proud to have been able to walk by a classroom and see teachers writing directions on the board about how to make the cat meow, without knowing anything about it myself. I felt proud to be able to look at one of the kids today and see something they did on their computer, and then be like, “how did you DO that?” Then the student explained to me the process they took to make a file appear, a little mouse run, a program work. Another student today showed me a plethora of activities he downloaded from the Internet, navigating himself through OLPC's wiki without any help from me; something that I had yet to teach the students because I thought it might be too complicated, being in English and all. A few kids crowded around him, asking how he downloaded so many new programs, and he explained to them. I try to encourage the idea of seeking help from your peers rather than your teacher. The kids know so much more than we do already, sometimes. I know that I will still be leaving these teachers behind relatively unprepared to be on their own, but as time passes I am feeling more secure that they will be able to do this themselves. That the students will keep them moving forward.

Not only are the kids (and even the teachers, who are all quite eager) picking up things like crazy, but they are all still very much interested. They like coming to class; they are enjoying the learning experience. When the girl's face lit up when I told her that she would be keeping the computer for some time, I knew that OLPC has re-energized the learning experience in a place where students are often told to write and repeat. It felt good to nourish this inherent sense of discovery.

The teachers are being paid by the Ministry of Education; this is a success. We are not sure if we are doing a summer program because I will not be able to be here until August. We're still deciding if we want to do it or not. If we do, I will have to fundraise to pay for them. There are a number of computers that cannot connect to the internet. I spent about three days downloading the necessary program to reflash the computers, but then, about halfway through the download of 450 MB in a VERY slow connection quite normal to the island, the download failed and I gave up. I am making a list of computers to reflash for when Paul comes in January.

We are hoping to get some spare computer parts from OLPC so that we can be self-sufficient in repairing damaged computers. Elves Reis, who took a computer hardware course and speaks English, is prepared to fix these computers using the website that was given to us by OLPC, once those parts come to us. Kadma, one of the students, still has a smashed computer screen. I am hoping that if we get parts, we will be able to fix her problem, though I am not sure. She has been sharing with other students for a number of weeks now. I so desperately want her to keep learning.

We are also hoping for the funding of a generator from the American Embassy, based in Gabon. If we are lucky, we will be able to have a generator and enough gas for about five years. We'll never have to go another class period without internet or computers that are not properly charged (a problem that made us end class early today).

I am working on a guidebook for the teachers to help them troubleshoot any computer problems they or the kids come up with. I am also working on a work plan with project ideas for the weeks ahead. I am hoping the teachers will keep me posted regularly about what they're doing with the kids. Next week we want to explain basic Internet safety to the kids and help them set up email accounts. That way they will be able to email me in the USA and keep in touch via their XO laptops.

We have one class period left and I am going to miss these kids very much. But I'm also very satisfied today with how everything is working out.

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Please click the button below to donate to STEP UP OLPC to support the São João school's computer program in São Tomé:

Donate $200 and you will be paying for a computer for at least FIVE very special children at São João (as estimated computer life is five years). Thanks so much!

Want your donation to be tax-deductible? Send a check to STeP UP with OLPC in the memo. Then mail it to:

Eric McClafferty
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3050 S St. NW, #400
Washington, DC 20007