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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Aula Como Deve Ser (Class As It Should Be)

Sometimes we have bad days, that is for sure. But the ratio of good days to bad days is getting better and better. Yesterday we had an amazing class. Today we had an amazing class, too. I'm so proud of these teachers for taking a difficult subject and making the most of it.

Explaining animation was a little bit difficult for the kids (for the teachers, too). Many thought the only solution was to change the color and watch the drawing automatically color-shift. But I explained to the teachers that if the students didn't actually make something MOVE (make a person dance, a sun shine, a car's tires rotate, whatever) they won't fully understand what animation will do. So it took a couple of false starts for the teachers to actually get where they were supposed to be. But then we got some great animations going (videos to follow) and the kids were really proud.

Bunião did the best animation, with my help. He had a man with a gun, with multiple bullets coming out of the gun. Ok, so maybe in the USA this isn't the perfect picture, but we worked with it. I told him, how about we make the gun fire a bullet? So we made a picture of the man with the gun. Then we added a bullet. Then we added another bullet. Then we added another bullet. That way, when it animated, it showed a man with bullets streaming out of the gun. It wasn't particularly graphic- just a stick figure with a weapon (ok, that sounds graphic when I say it like that, but I promise it wasn't anything overwhelming), but Bunião went crazy when he saw it working. I used his animation to show the rest of the class and I think it helped them to understand. From there kids started to get more imaginative, making cars spin, people grow and change clothes, and flowers bloom. It was a really fun day in class.

The kids also paid really great attention. Just like they did yesterday. More kids seem to be coming to class again. I'm so proud of them. One of the girls, who I mentioned the other day, took her computer home again. I saw her take her computer out of her backpack. I didn't know what to do and I mentioned it to one of the teachers.

"Oh," Professora Adelina said. "When James came by at the beginning, he told her that she could keep her computer. That's why she takes it home."

"But only her?" I asked. "No other student?"


Apparently before I came along, James and someone else told this one girl that she could keep her computer forever and ever. The teachers stood there in a mixture of shock and confusion. They didn't think they could question James so they just let him do whatever. Well, the deed is done and we can't take this computer away from this girl anymore. But I told the teachers that if anything like this happens again and someone tells them what to do, remember that they are absolutely in charge of their own program. And if they don't feel comfortable being in charge, they can ask me and I will be in charge. Only listen to me, I tell them. If someone else tells you to do something, don't do it if you don't want to because they are not in charge of you!

I think when the teachers first got these computers, they were confused as to what was going on. Ok, so they get a whole bunch of computers...great, I guess, but what in the world are they doing here and why us? Nothing was really communicated to them very well, so anyone who looked like an authority figure they just listened to. I came in at a very opportune time when they were just hoping for someone to give them some direction. And in that way, we have grown together.

After class, we had a repairs class. A couple of days ago we learned how to take apart the computers. This time I taught the teachers how to reflash the computers, the alt+period command to unfreeze Etoys, and a few other things. I'm going to edit the Repair Guide tonight so that more things apply to the teachers as well, so they have them.

Tomorrow Miguel and I are going to survey the space where we're going to build the cabinet. Faia should be done with the cabinet next week. I talked to Faia about how the power strips are breaking. Miguel said that he will fix the power strips himself, and buy outlets that won't break. I trust Miguel to do the job well, not that Faia was necessarily trying to cause trouble or anything, but just that Miguel is more directly connected to this program and it makes more of a difference to him that the outlets work. I told him to go to the store, find out how much outlets will cost, bring a receipt and bring it to me tomorrow when we go to look at the space for the cabinet. Then I will give him the funds to buy the supplies he needs.

The teachers are hoping for laptops that are suitable for themselves. I have two friends that are willing to donate their old laptops to me so that I can send them to the teachers. If you have a laptop that you'd like to donate to this cause, please let me know as I am looking for a couple more (I need between 4 and 5 laptops total). I definitely think the teachers deserve some laptops that they can use for their teaching. This isn't directly related to the computer program but it sort of is. Anyway, even if the computers are used, that's ok. The teachers are willing to pay the shipping if I arrange for the computers. We're going to work that payment out when I get home.

So things are running smoothly, to some degree. Tomorrow is my last day and I already can't believe it. So much to do, so little time. But...the talk I had with the teachers today was just amazing. They really took responsibility for this project. Tomorrow we are going to have a long discussion about how to structure the upcoming school year. Today we had a talk about our responsibilities. My responsibility is to keep coordinating the class and fixing little problems as they come along, and staying in contact with the teachers via email throughout the school year. The teachers' responsibility is to keep the class going and to teach the students how to use the computer (I suggested that this year we focus less on how to use each activity and more on doing different projects that employ the use of various activities at once, that way students can have a more rounded experience. But we'll talk about this tomorrow.). The principal's job is to submit the hours worked by the teachers, which he has been doing, but the only thing is that the teachers don't know how much money they make for this extra class and would like to know so that they can keep track of their finances (this is fair).

The teachers asked me how in many countries these laptops are being used. I told them I didn't know...probably at least 30. Their eyes went wide. 30?! I don't think they were expecting this number.

I tried to explain a little more about OLPC. OLPC is an organization that makes these computers, I said. But they don't teach how to use them, necessarily. They send the computers out and then the country has to develop their own program with them. I am here because many individuals, and individual organizations, feel it necessary to accompany the teachers and give them a little bit more help in identifying how they can best use the computers and then putting them to use. When I first came last year, I had no affiliation with OLPC besides being a sort of "expert" on these computers (ok, so that was a blatant lie- as many of you know, I didn't even know what OLPC was when I first arrived, but the point is I'm an expert of sorts now). Then I joined an organization  (Waveplace) that works on the side of developing educational curricula for this laptop. Waveplace is independent of OLPC. But many independent orgs like Waveplace, some in the USA and some in the country where the program was developed, have taken these programs under their wings and have tried to develop them. And this is why I'm here.

The teachers had never really gotten this explanation, and I think it made a huge difference. Last year, I didn't really know what I was doing there either. But now that I have a more established role with this program, I understand what we're doing and what our goals are. Being able to verbalize that was as good for me as it was for them. Now we all are very certain of our history, what we're doing here, and what we must do (roles and responsibilities). The teachers understand that OLPC isn't telling them what to do anymore- it's just them and me that decide things. The computer program is to be their own.

We talked about what the Ambassador of Taiwan said, and the Ministry of Education. The Ambassador wants to donate 100 computers to five different schools. This doesn't accomplish our goal, but it's certainly nice because the computer program can be a country-wide project, which will certainly help our visibility in other places around the world and maybe even in the long term help us get more funding. The good news is the teachers are getting paid extra for their work on Saturdays, so it's not the end of the world if our Saturday classes have to continue for a while. But Miguel looked me in the eye and said, "Beth, you know how people are. We need to keep up with this issue and make sure to follow up with everyone so they finance this program as they said they would."

I told him I agree with him completely, and though I can certainly keep up with things via email and the phone, I will need their help to stop by the Ministry of Education and check in on things to make sure that the Ministry and the Embassy keep talking. The teachers definitely seemed poised to take on this role.

Can you imagine the change that would happen around this country if we could get computer programs developed in six secondary schools in São Tomé? It would be incredible. It wouldn't be perfect, but I definitely think the 100 computers in each school would affect more than 100 students. It might be directly used by 100 students but it will inspire many more. And that will make a difference. Just the idea of being able to do more with your life will make the difference.

I'm sad to be staying only one month. I am going to miss São Tomé when I leave (tomorrow is my last day already). But I do feel that I have accomplished my mission. I've talked to the organizations I wanted to talk to, I've fixed little problems like power strips and space issues, I've gotten this summer program going, and adequately prepared the teachers for the year to come. And in this way I am very satisfied. I know I will be back, hopefully every year se Deus quiser (if God wills) and I can find funding for it. It might be better to come in the winter when flights are cheaper. But I am so grateful for a bright future I see at the São João School, and in these children.

Talking with Jeff at the University of Illinois about the idea of doing a long-term study of these students after having participated in the computer program. May need to be something that waits a year, but it's certainly something that can be done. It'd be interesting to see how these computers affect students' future schooling and careers.

Like a beaming mom, I am proud.

1 comment:

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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