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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Etoys: Day One

At 10am I began my walk from the STeP UP office to the São João school. Walking there takes about 30-40 minutes total, and though my bags are heavy I somewhat enjoy it- passing through neighborhoods, a long stretch of bakeries, shops and a garage, the bustling market with many taxi and motoqueiro stands, then waterfront, with old, rusted ships that beached ashore long ago and soft waves lapping at the sand below a short cement barricade. And then, of course, the São João School, a pinkish colored cement building behind gates, outside of which women sell jaca and bananas and cookies and lollipops.

The teachers were inside the school, waiting for me. Professora Arlete wasn't here yesterday but she's here now. Her eyes smile as I walk in. “Elizabeth!” She exclaims. “I am this very moment writing an email to you!” I look at the computer screen in front of her- one of the big clunker computers that are from the early 90s- and sure enough there is an email addressed to me there. Professor Nelys is there too and we laugh as Arlete writes her email to me, in front of me.

When Miguel, Adelina and Mirian arrive, we head to an empty classroom and set up shop. Today, I explain, we're going to learn Etoys. My idea is to have students create their own storybooks by the end of the summer camp. But first, of course, we need to learn how to use it.

Unlike the teachers of other Waveplace deployments, these teachers have been using the XOs all year long so they are extremely comfortable with the way they handle (in fact, Nelys instant messaged me on Microsoft Messenger yesterday, from his XO. I had thought it was impossible and asked him how he did it. “I have tricks,” he had responded with an emoticon smile). For this reason, we literally breezed through lessons 1, 2 and 3 with ease. Even Professora Adelina, who is a bit older than the other teachers, was keeping up quite well.

And it wasn't even that the teachers were hanging on – they were actually surpassing me to the point that I could hardly teach the material. When I showed them how to pull text from the Supply Box, they were immediately asking how they could resize it, change the color, etc. When I showed them the grab patch and the lasso, they used that and then quickly started recording their own voices with the sound recorder, without me even having mentioned its existence yet. In some ways the speed at which they were learning was a negative thing- they seemed to lose interest relatively quickly because this stuff was easy for them.

But, of course, this is only the beginning. There's a lot more than that came from.

Like for example, the idea of creating little pictures to compile into one big picture is new to them. They get it but they still don't *quite* understand why one would do that. When we move to animations soon I think it is going to make a lot more sense.

We are focusing less on “how to teach” at the beginning, and just working on getting the teachers comfortable with the material. The reason why we're doing this is because the teachers have already been teaching this computer class for an entire school year. The material has certainly been different, but I'd like to see what they're doing. With each teacher taking over a group of about 20 students by themselves, I want to see what their technique is and will be. They are experienced so I am hoping for the best. However, I do know that the high teacher/student ratio will be different, interesting, and, well, potentially hazardous. But there's no way to truly know until we get started.

Miguel's computer nearly ran out of battery in class. He went to the office to grab a big long power strip that the OLPCorps had made for them. He plugged his computer into it...but the power strip wasn't working all that well. We weren't sure why. After some shifting the plug around in the socket and a bit of confusion we got it to work relatively well, but I'm concerned that one day these power strips may stop working entirely. And when they do, the teachers are going to have to learn how to make new ones...or something.

The computers are quite dirty and definitely need to be reflashed. Arlete took one of the students' computers out of the director's office as she had left hers at home. It was covered – I mean COVERED! – with orangeish dust from the schoolyard. I told the teachers that it might be a little extra work, but they should wipe these computers clean and then reflash them before the fall. I might actually consider doing that myself before I leave. Even though the students will be using the computers over the summer program, at least there's a smaller chance that they'll mess them up in two to three weeks.

Talked with Roberta today. She said the US Embassy is currently accepting funding applications, which is great news! She's going to call them and find out when we can come over to talk to them. We're working on making the funding application a little bit different for each location we approach, in hopes we can divide the costs and conquer that way.

No word yet on the car battery. I basically need to ask Dany about it right now but haven't had a chance to.

Tomorrow we're starting with lesson 4, which I actually think the teachers are going to like very much, as it has to do with resizing and re-coloring their creations, which is something they've been wanting to do for a while now.

Getting dinner tonight with Polly and some of her American friends in town. Tomorrow is Ned's welcome/goodbye party for us...very excited to see a bunch of my friends again all in one place!

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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
Kelley and Drye
3050 S St. NW, #400
Washington, DC 20007