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Friday, July 2, 2010

Lesson 5...hellooo students!

Today was a pretty successful day.

I had forgotten when I arrived at São João that the students would be here today, not for class but in order to hear how the class would be structured in general. It was awesome to see these students- suddenly I remembered every single one of them, and they were just the same, if not six months older. And at that age, in six months, kids grow! Maybe 10 or 15 of the girls were waiting by the gate for my arrival. When I got there, they stayed by my side as I walked to the school building. It's a little bit of a power trip to have 100 kids look up at you, 100 kids run into the classroom as soon as they see that you are here, ready to begin class. I wonder what they're excited about more- using their computers or having me (read: white woman with funny accent) as their teacher. Well, whatever it is, I'm happy they're here!

Anyway, the kids run inside and we meet for about ten minutes to talk about class. The teachers designate me to be the one to lay down the law. I laugh. The “law” is that for the next month, we're meeting five days per week for about 1.5 hours each day. Next week we're meeting at 2pm but we'll most likely start around 9am on other weeks (we're beginning at 2pm next week because teachers have required exam grading in the morning). I also think that after next week the class will be extended to the regular 3 hour schedule- and we'll do a variety of fun things to break up the time. We're going to be learning Etoys and making storybooks, and at the end of the program students will receive colorful certificates in their name. But the biggest “law” of all is the fact that, this time around, the students will not be able to take their computers home, as per the request of the teachers.

This is because the students have now finished with the sixth grade, which is the last grade at the São João School. They are technically no longer students of São João, and because of this, if a computer goes missing, it will be that much harder to track a student down. For the sake of the continuation of the program, all computers need to be accounted for this summer and in September. So we have to keep them here. In pride, the teachers asked the students to raise their hand if they were continuing onto the seventh grade. Nearly all of the students besides a couple raised their hands. The teachers were beaming. I would love to know if there is actually a notable difference in continuation to seventh grade between students in this computer class and students at São João in general. If there is, that would be a powerful quantitative analysis, I would think.

The good news is that unlike the past school year, students will be meeting everyday instead of once per week so they'll be able to use their computers quite regularly. On Monday morning I'm going to go to the school to install Etoys 4 on all of the computers so that they can be ready to go on Monday afternoon. I'm debating as to if I should reflash them too-- if I don't, the teachers will have to reflash at some point and then they'll have to install Etoys 4 anyway. Some of the teachers may join me in the work, if they are available, but I told them they didn't have to if they had other things to do. I also told the students to think of their favorite parts of the computer and their favorite programs, because we would be recording little films of students showing these different things. Then the films would be used as helpful material for the incoming sixth grade to learn more efficiently how to use the computer.

I am also, as per the suggestion of Kris Haamer, going to be interviewing students on camera and asking them what they like most about the program and such. I'll take little videos of class in action in hopes I can make some sort of fundraising video.

When the students left, the teachers and I settled down for Lesson 5. A few of the students continued to play in the schoolyard- one of them asked to use my camera and I allowed her, as long as she was careful, to take pictures and videos outside while I taught the teachers inside. Lesson 5 is all about the viewer and the very first steps of animating- how to make an object go forward 10 and turn 90 at once, for example. I was pretty surprised at how well the teachers seemed to understand the concept of the viewer- it seems that they had more trouble with the actual manipulation of the touchscreen and buttons (particularly when they had to hold down shift, click and drag something) so things like drawing or just understanding the basics of the supply box seemed difficult for them. But now that they get those things, Lesson 5 was nearly a breeze. The teachers really got it, and they were helping each other. I told them that our class is going to be quite big- they've been dividing the students in half lately with 2-3 teachers in each group- so we need to put particular emphasis on being flexible and letting students experiment on their own, and also asking students that understand the material to help the students that don't understand. That's the only way we'll keep our heads above water with so many students and two teachers.

I'm interested, however, in seeing how things go with so few teachers. I know Waveplace has never taught Etoys this way so if anything it'll be quite an experiment – and certainly an important part of this is learning how to best teach Etoys, particularly under limited resources.

We talked about how we would conduct class on Monday- asking students what they already know about Etoys and then talking a little bit about what Etoys is and what it does, explaining the idea of making storybooks over the summer course, then going into Lesson 1, looking at the gallery of projects, maybe even hitting up Lesson 2 if we have time. Those are the hopes of what we will accomplish.

There are a few obstacles that I am already aware of. The first is that the fabulous power strips that the OLPCorps made are already beginning to fall apart. Only a few of the outlets on each one work. That's not going to be good on Monday, when everyone needs to charge their computers and no charger is available. We also made a stricter attendance policy. I had thought that teachers were keeping track of the students but apparently they weren't. So at the beginning of next year, we're going to request a list of students, write the computer's number beside each student's name, and then keep attendance every class period. If a student misses more than three (or four, or five, I'm not sure yet) classes, then they will be pulled from the computer program. There are plenty of other students that want to be a part of the program and it's not fair to deny them inclusion while their peers are skipping class. I thought the teachers were already taking attendance and such but apparently that is one thing that fell through the cracks, so we're going to pick it up again now.

Roberta and I went to the Embassy of the USA today to talk about fundraising for the program. When they saw the nearly $300,000 price tag (this pays for 1,100 computers, maintenance fees and human resources for the entire school for five years) they shut down. They can only fund projects that are about $5,000 maximum, and they cannot fund parts of projects. Roberta and I are looking into what “full projects” we can do with $5,000. Maybe we can get a library started like the one in Petite Rivere des Nippes, for past program participants to use after they finish their studies at São João. Maybe $5,000 will help pay for a summer program, should we continue to offer that. I'm having a good think about it, because I know there must be something that can be done.

However, it has become obvious that we need to seek our funding in other locations. Ned suggested approaching organizations that have already donated to One Laptop per Child, and showing them how successful São João has been and seeking support to continue its success. This is a great idea that I'm going to look into more.

Dany and I are going to hopefully head to an electrician next week to talk about using a car battery and an inverter to power the wifi when there's no electricity at the school. I would be delighted if we could get that moving before I leave São Tomé. The teachers are hoping for their own adult-sized laptops and I have a few friends who are willing to donate their used laptop computers, install something simple like Puppeee Linux on them and ship them over. I told them that when I returned to the USA I would look into it for them, but that I don't want to rely on other people shipping them at the moment, and they agreed that this was the safest way to do things. I wanted to bring them computers this time around but I already had so much stuff, I could hardly take any more. But they said they would pay the shipping if I mailed the computers, and that I believe I can do.

As you can see, there's a lot to be thought about these days. If anyone has input about anything, let me know. Hope everyone is enjoying July- the US Embassy is having a party in São Tomé on July 9th (just a few days after July 4, but it's because the Embassy is actually based in Gabon so they need to do their July 4 party in Gabon) for us Americans. I'm actually sort of really excited about it. Our other volunteer, Polly, left us early this morning. It was so sad to see her go! I know she'll be happy to get home though, after living here for four months! Now it's me and the boys at the house again. I'm trying to take extra good care of Ned's kitten, because Polly always treated her so well. Might as well get in touch with my mothering side while I'm here.

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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